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Activists continue fight against Mountain Valley Pipeline

People attend a community meeting at Eastern Montgomery Park in Elliston
People attend a community meeting at Eastern Montgomery Park in Elliston to protest the Mountain Valley Pipeline project. As a part of a deal to pass the Inflation Reduction Act, Senate Democrats agreed to expedite permitting for the project. (Photos: Patrick Larsen/VPM News)

ELLISTON — Gazing up from a park in Southwest Virginia, a lush forest sits atop the surrounding mountain range. The view is interrupted by a strip of land dug out to make room for the Mountain Valley Pipeline. 

Dozens gathered this past weekend in a picnic shelter at Elliston’s Eastern Montgomery Park to protest the pipeline project in what was called a “Circle of Protection.” 

“We're here to celebrate each other and this incredible resistance community that's here,” said Deborah Kushner, of Staunton. “And we're also here to kind of gather our energies for the next round, which proves to be even more difficult.” 

The collection of activists, faith leaders, musicians and community members provided a space for those affected by the pipeline’s construction to voice their concerns and offer testimonies. 

The hourlong event was hosted by the Protect Our Water, Heritage, Rights Coalition, an interstate environmental coalition focused on preventing harm caused by the expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure — including the MVP.  

Initially proposed in 2014, the Mountain Valley Pipeline is an unfinished 303-mile natural gas pipeline that runs through six counties in Virginia and 11 in West Virginia. The pipeline is more than 90% complete, according to MVP’s website. However, it has been blocked by lawsuits from environmental justice organizations and protests from residents of the areas that have been affected throughout its construction. 

Russell Chisholm, co-chairperson of POWHR, called the Circle of Protection a “movement-building and solidarity effort,” as well as an opportunity to heal during stressful times for those fighting against the MVP construction. 

“Especially through the pandemic, a lot of people who work in the service industry lost their jobs or they lost wages or they got sick and they have no health care,” Chisholm said. “So, for us — for people who are very active organizing against this pipeline — it is a way to uplift some of those other struggles and uplift the people who are trying to address some of those struggles.” 

Chisholm lives in the nearby rural town of Newport and can’t reach his home without driving through the construction area around MVP — and its blast and incineration zones. These zones are where crews plan to detonate explosives to clear a path for construction.  

“There's two ways I can come and go from my house,” Chisholm said. “And they both go through that blast area.” 

Many attendees at the weekend event were senior citizens who run generational farms in the area. They said the MVP construction cuts right through their property, affecting their water and endangering local wildlife. 

Sixty-seven-year-old Kushner is one of the leaders of Third Act Virginia, part of a national organization that mobilizes people 60 and older to protect the environment and democracy for future generations.  

“It makes perfect sense for us to gear it up into motion,” she said while discussing why retirees might want to engage with the organization. “We've got the time. Many of us have the energy.” 

Though Kushner said she loved her job, after retiring five years ago, she felt that there was much more she could do for the planet. 

“It's truly the only kind of work that makes sense to me,” she said. “If we aren't working to protect each other, and nature, all this beautiful scenery around us and future generations, we're not just treading water; we're working to the detriment of our society.” 

Chisholm said members of Third Act provide support in the MVP fight, describing them as the “leading elders” of the movement: “I would say that within our movement, that elder leadership has always been there, within POWHR, and within the frontline directly impacted communities. I think Deborah really helped raise the visibility of the MVP fight long before this bright spotlight has been brought on us with the Inflation Reduction Act discussion and this other side deal.”  

The Inflation Reduction Act is a recently passed $370 billion bill, which includes climate and energy directives, passed by Senate Democrats. Because Senate Republicans voted unanimously against the bill, Democrats needed all 50 votes in their caucus for the legislation to advance. Though Democrats succeeded in securing the necessary votes, leadership had to make a deal with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WVa.) to ensure his support.  

Manchin told fellow Democrats that he would agree to sign the legislation if he could secure a commitment from the Senate and President Joe Biden on permitting reforms to streamline the construction of the pipeline. Manchin has described MVP as necessary for maintaining an affordable and reliable energy system for his constituents. 

The Mountain Valley Pipeline LLC., the organization overseeing the project, said it’s acting with care to ensure the safety of communities along the project’s route. 

“Since inception of the project, Mountain Valley has been, and remains, committed to full adherence of all state and federal regulatory requirements, and matters of noncompliance, at any level, are unacceptable,” said Natalie Cox, spokesperson with Equitrans Midstream, MVP’s lead developer, in an email to Mountain State Spotlight

Despite assurances from the company, as well as Manchin’s assertion that the project is a necessary part of the region’s energy strategy, some remain unconvinced. 

“The changing of the rules every time there is an obstacle thrown in their way is not new to us,” Chisholm said. “If anything, it has made people more angry than I have seen them at any point in the fight.” 

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