They'll be singing Kumbaya

What do gun totin’ conservatives and hip liberal environmentalists have in common these days?

Not much frankly.

That is, unless we zoom in on two states on the brink of transforming the United States’ energy future. 

Inside Virginia’s town halls, outside North Carolina’s state capital, and deep in the hollers of the Blue Ridge Mountains, property rights fundamentalists are standing arm in arm with tree-hugging Berniecrats to oppose the biggest, most expensive corporate infrastructure project you’ve never heard of: The Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP). 

This 600-mile, $5.5 billion-dollar beast of a pipeline is slated to lug natural gas from the fracking wells of West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Ohio to electric power plants in Virginia and North Carolina. At full capacity, the pipeline would move 1.5 billion cubic feet of gas per day at a pressure of 1500 psi (imagine a basketball pumped up to 187 times the recommended pressure). This would be enough gas to provide roughly 4.7 million homes with electricity. 

The pipeline’s builders say the pipeline will bring lower energy costs, thousands of permanent jobs, and a cleaner energy supply. 

Of course, you already know why the sensitive greenies are crying foul: habitat loss, drinking water pollution, destruction of the Appalachian Trail’s pristine views, mountain-top removal, increased risk of mudslides, disproportionate pollution placed on African-American and tribal communities, risk of deadly explosions (remember that basketball? Now imagine it with highly flammable gas inside), more fracking and more fossil fuel dependence. Same old stuff. 

But where do the “drill-baby-drill” conservatives come in? Why the sudden hate on jobs and lower energy bills? What happened to the calls for “energy independence”?

Well, their Energy Independence showed up. It drove its shiny American-made Ford down their scenic parkway, took a right past the red “NO TRESPASSING” signs on their cracked gravel driveways, and knocked on their door. It told them to sign the dotted line; a high-pressure natural gas pipeline would be coming through their backyards, their farms, and the nature resort they invested thousands of dollars and years of planning into. 

Either they could sign and receive a paltry compensatory check for the land that would be stolen from them, or they could refuse to sign and get taken to court by Mr. Independence himself. Either way, the pipeline would come and they would lose their land. There was nothing the snake on their “DON’T TREAD ON ME” license plates could do about it. 

The three utility companies teaming up to build the Atlantic Coast Pipeline—Dominion Energy, Duke Energy, Southern Company—are able to offer homeowners this abysmal deal because of a legal procedure known as Eminent Domain. If the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) determines the pipeline to be a needed “public good,” then these corporations are granted the right to seize any land necessary for construction as long as they pay a “fair price.” 

For the red-voters joining the traditionally blue anti-pipeline struggle, this violation of property rights is the central concern. 

Yet for moderately minded citizens living far from the ACP’s path, sacrificing slivers of property and nature’s distant beauty might seem like the reasonable price to pay for enjoying our modern industrial society. Their TVs needs electricity from somewhere, and the cheerful ads promising lower energy bills certainly make the pipeline sound like a good deal. 

Unless, of course, none of those claims is true. 

For those of us who have the time to drill beneath the propaganda and see the facts behind the ACP, our position on the political spectrum doesn’t matter. It’s a bad deal. 

The 600-mile pipeline is entirely unnecessary for delivering all this gas to power plants. You can read about why here, here and here. With just a couple, much cheaper adjustments to existing pipelines, natural gas demand in Virginia and North Carolina could be more than satisfied.

Lower energy bills? Perhaps, if you trust the analysis commissioned by the builders, who stand to receive a guaranteed 15 percent annual return on their $5.5 billion investment, regardless of how much gas flows through the pipeline. 

If, however, you’re a little skeptical of information coming from the three companies who rank fourth worst, third worst and worst among all utilities globally for promoting climate denialism and fossil-fuel friendly policies, then perhaps you might want to read the independent analyses (here and here) that explain how energy bills will go way up, not down. 

For everyone besides the builders, it’s a bad deal. 

But not a done deal. 

After a receiving 7,500 negative written public comments, North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality pushed back their decision on the pipeline two weeks ago. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has not yet approved the ACP, and thus has not deemed it a “public good”. Also two weeks ago, anti-ACP activists received an unexpected surge of hope; West Virginia revoked its approval of the similarly unnecessary Mountain Valley Pipeline. 

For now, the hippies are learning to stomach (and maybe even encourage) their neighbors’ talk of bearing arms against pipeline builders, and the conservatives are tolerating (and maybe even coming around to) all this climate change hysteria. But if they’re going succeed, they’ll need some help from the folks somewhere in the middle. 

Tyler Wakefield is a Trinity senior.


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