Al Gore and Reverend William Barber II visited Buckingham, Virginia on Tuesday, February 19, as part of their “Moral Call for Ecological Justice” tour to spread environmental awareness. Co-hosted by The Poor People’s Campaign and the Climate Reality Project, the event focused on bringing awareness to the environmental struggles of Union Hill, one of the many towns directly impacted by the route of the 600-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline.
The pipeline, which is being developed by four U.S.-based companies: Dominion Energy, Duke Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas, and Southern Company Gas, will carry natural gas from West Virginia to Virginia and North Carolina. Union Hill is designated site for an industrial pipeline compressor station, which has been linked with severe environmental and health risks.
According to Dominion Energy, the project will promote lower energy costs and economic growth by creating 17 thousand new jobs and generating $2.7 billion in economic activity. However, the pipeline has faced significant backlash from environmental organizations and community members who say the project will disrupt both environmentally and culturally rich sites.
In order to build the station and pipeline, Dominion Energy has taken private land from owners through eminent domain laws—land that includes burial sites of former slaves and other cultural areas important to the community. The land seizures also will impact the agricultural community by altering farming and livestock practices.
The pipeline comes with significant environmental impacts as well. The pipeline will cut through national forests and parks, including the Appalachian Scenic Trail. Along the route of the pipeline, forests are being clearcut and the ground torn up, increasing the risk of landslides and erosion. The pipeline also is set to cut through the habitat of four endangered species within North Carolina. While Dominion claims to have adjusted the pipeline route more than 300 times to avoid environmentally sensitive areas and comply with landowner concerns, it still poses a threat.
Union Hill residents, faith leaders, musicians, and environmental icons all gathered in Buckingham to speak out against the injustices Union Hill faces because of the pipeline proposal. Gore and Barber both called out Dominion Energy and Virginia Governor Ralph Northam on their decision to construct this station despite community opposition, potential environmental risks, and the clear historical importance of the area.
In response to this failure to protect the public interest, Barber said, “to ignore the impact of this pipeline on folk is scandalous.” Gore seconded his opinion, describing the project as a “rip-off.”
Dominion has attempted to resolve the strained relationship with Union Hill by investing $5.1 million into a new community center and other community revitalization projects. However, both Barber and Gore disapproved of this tactic to win resident support, saying the state of Virginia should already be investing in these initiatives.
“We are here to say to Union Hill, that you are not standing alone. We are standing with you,” said Gore.
Because of litigation and issues with the permits necessary for construction the pipeline has been delayed for several months. Originally set to be complete by 2020 with a cost of $4.5 billion, the pipeline now is estimated to be finished in 2021 for a whopping price tag of $7.5 billion.
If you would like to support the residents of Union Hill, check out organizations like The Poor Peoples Campaign and Friends of Buckingham, where you can find information on petitions and events. You also can spread the word by using the hashtag #WeAreAllUnionHill.