Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley Pipelines Disproportionately Target Minority and Low-Income Rural Communities, Say Tribunal Witnesses

People’s Tribunal Judges Call for Immediate Suspension of Action on Pipelines


Lakshmi Fjord, Friends of Buckingham: (510) 684-1403;
Cat McCue, Appalachian Voices, 434-293-6373,

November 7, 2017

Charlottesville, VA — Low-income rural communities – particularly those with significant African-American, Native-American, and Appalachian populations – will bear disproportionately the environmental, health, and economic costs of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) and Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP), according to testimony at a People’s Tribunal recently held in Charlottesville, Virginia.


People impacted by one or both of the projects, scientists, and economic experts cited specific violations of laws and policies intended to protect property rights, clean air, water and agricultural lands, indigenous and former slave heritage communities, and violations of rights to participation in decisions about proximity to environmental risks and hazards.


“We are being made the sacrifice zones for corporate profit,” said Pastor Paul Wilson, the minister of Union Hill Baptist Church built in 1868 by Freedmen on former slave plantation lands. Union Hill in Buckingham County, in central Virginia, is where ACP proposed to build its only “mega-compressor station” for Virginia. The facility would be much larger than industry standard size to allow it to propel 1.5 billion cubit feet per day of volatile fracked gas hundreds of miles in each direction where the ACP would intersect with the four pipelines of the existing Transco pipeline.


At the People’s Tribunal on Human Rights and Environmental Justice Impacts of Fracked Gas Infrastructure held on October 28, more than 170 participants heard testimony from 58 witnesses. The organizers convened this people’s tribunal in Charlottesville because for three years, these violations by the ACP and MVP have been brought to the attention of Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, to federal and state elected officials, and local boards of supervisors – without adequate response or remedy.


Based on the relevance of testimony to six principal human rights signed by the U.S. in agreements to protect its people, the environmental justice experts presiding as judges over the Charlottesville tribunal “strongly recommend that the states of West Virginia, Virginia, and North Carolina and their environmental agencies 1) suspend all actions [to proceed with the ACP and MVP pipelines]; 2) immediately cease and desist eminent domain actions; and 3) thoroughly investigate the environmental, cultural, and health impacts [of the pipelines and infrastructure] with real voice and real vote from the community.” The judges also strongly recommended that the United Nations Human Rights Council put the United States on trial for crimes against human rights – as the U.S. has recommended for other countries in violation of their agreements.



Serving as people’s tribunal judges:

  • Lois Gibbs, founder of Center for Health, Environment, and Justice, Nobel Peace Prize nominee, and recipient of the Goldman Environmental Prize, ad hoc advisor to the Environmental Protection Agency on Superfund sites;


  • Adrienne Hollis, environmental toxicologist and lawyer, Director of Federal Policy at WE ACT For Environmental Justice and member of the U.S. EPA’s Clean Air Act Environmental Justice Advisory Committee; and,


  • James Igoe, Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Virginia, expert in international human rights and environmental justice participatory actions by communities facing toxic development.


On Oct. 31, Gov. McAuliffe announced the creation of Virginia’s first Advisory Council on Environmental Justice to provide advice and recommendations on ways to avoid disproportionately negative environmental impacts on “environmental justice” communities. These are exactly the kinds of communities that were represented at the tribunal. But the timing of the governor’s announcement comes after the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approved certificates for both ACP and MVP on Oct. 13, and after the environmental justice experts presiding as judges at the People’s Tribunal found substantive human rights abuses related to these Virginia pipeline projects. The question becomes: what does the state of Virginia plan to do to protect these now imminently endangered environmental justice communities?


Union Hill Compressor Station: Hazards to African American Freedmen community


Key testimony at the people’s tribunal focused on the location of ACP’s Virginia compressor station in Union Hill, an 85% African American community where 99 households are 500 feet to 1 mile on every side. The population is 500% higher than reported by ACP in its application. The neighborhood is predominantly elderly and very young, as young African-Americans leave for more equal opportunity work in urban centers, leaving young children with grandparents in this “beautiful place, one of most quiet, no pollution, lots of clean air,” said resident Ruby Laury. “One-third are known descendants of Freedmen once enslaved on or near ACP’s 68-acre former plantation site,” testified Dr. Lakshmi Fjord, who oversaw Union Hill’s household study to correct ACP and FERC omissions of actual population and all historic cultural resources, including rows of hundreds of unmarked slave burials, Confederate and plantation cemeteries.


Heath and safety hazards are documented among those living near compressor stations that are one-fifth the size of ACP’s for Union Hill. Highly toxic gas emissions and air-borne particulate matter, especially from blow-downs without warning, cause severe respiratory, circulatory, neurological, and developmental issues most impactful to the elderly, pregnant women and young children, testified Barb Gottlieb, Director of Environment & Health for Physicians for Social Responsibility. Residents living near existing compressor stations and studies of the constant low-frequency noise and vibration find these cause cognitive deficits, depression and anxiety, reported Sam Johnston.


Commonly occurring pipeline leaks where six pipelines intersect underground in a large wetlands in Union Hill informed testimonies about human rights to their clean water. Hazards to single source drinking water from individual wells next to this site also include underground storage tanks of methane gas and ammonia. “Dominion Energy representatives gave no assurance that the pipes would not leak,” said John W. Laury, a cattle farmer and Freedmen descendant.


Prospect, North Carolina: ACP terminus poses hazards to Lumbee Indian Tribe community and North Carolina Native Americans


Robie Goins, a member of the Lumbee Indian Tribe from Robeson County, North Carolina testimony: “In Prospect, we already have the Transco Pipeline and a compressor station. We don’t need any more gas lines in Prospect or in North Carolina,” Goins said. He reports on two incidents of fires already. He states that landowners receive far higher reimbursements from solar leases of acreage every year than one-time easement payments to gas transmission lines. A disproportionate number of Native-Americans live along the proposed ACP route, Goins said. “Thirteen percent of North Carolinians living within one mile of the ACP are Native Americans. This is 25% of all Native Americans in North Carolina, where Native Americans only represent 1.2% of the total population. This is not justice for our people.”


Hazards to Appalachian people and primary US water sources


Richard Shingles, who lives in historic Newport Village in Giles County, testified at the tribunal: “With the notable exceptions of the city of Roanoke and Blacksburg, the population [along the proposed MVP route] is largely white and disproportionately poor. The counties in southwest Virginia are some of the poorest in the U.S. This fits the image Americans have of Appalachia. This is part of a calculated strategy to route infrastructure projects through the path of least political resistance.” Many testifiers linked losses of human rights to cultural identity, historic resources, and cultural attachment to land where their families have resided for generations.


These private properties are being taken by eminent domain “not for the public good, nor for the public need, but for a rich and powerful private company that would profit from our loss and the losses of tens of thousands of people on and near the line,” said Bill Limpert, of Bath County, a Virginia landowner whose property, including scenic Miracle Ridge, would be bisected by the ACP. “Miracle Ridge would have to be blasted an average of 30 feet deep through bedrock, for 3,000 feet through our property, 150 feet wide,” he explained.


Donald Apgar, a farmer from Lafayette, Virginia, described the impact of the potential construction of the MVP on his land. “I live on land overlooking the Roanoke River and can see, hear, and taste it every day. I will be an unwilling witness to its destruction right in front of me as the semi-trucks, bulldozers, and blasting invade my river, my solitude, and my home.” The sedimentation from the construction “will suffocate my river; it will no longer be a living entity. [MVP] would cross under the Roanoke River 1 ½ miles from the Spring Hollow Reservoir intake for the auxiliary water supply for Roanoke City.”


Many witnesses at the tribunal amplified concerns about on specific locations of hazards to clean water supply that are basic human rights. The construction of the two pipelines would impact six river basins in Virginia that comprise the majority of Virginia’s fresh water and are a primary source of water for 14.4 million people, explained Tom Burkett of Virginia River Healers. Particularly vulnerable are rural communities that rely solely on well water for drinking and farming.


No need for either ACP or MVP – yet utility rate payers will pay for construction at their own cost


FERC Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur, in a rare dissent to the vote to certify both ACP and MVP by the two other commissioners, noted that there is no need for either pipeline. At the Charlottesville tribunal, former gas and oil utility executive, Tom Hadwin, unpacked the ACP and MVP business plan: “New pipelines are unnecessary for us to have all the energy we need. Rate-payers will pay billions of dollars more. Low-income families pay a higher proportion of their income for energy bills and will bear a greater burden from the high costs of new pipeline projects. Higher costs from new pipelines will result in fewer jobs not more.”


All testimonies and video will be sent as evidence to the Permanent People’s Tribunal on the Human Rights Impacts of Fracking; the United Nations Conventions on the Elimination of Racism and Racial Discrimination and on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment.


Co-sponsors of the People’s Tribunal


Friends of Buckingham, The Madwomen Project, ARTivism Virginia, Virginia Sierra Club, Allegheny Blue Ridge Alliance, Concern for the New Generation, Virginia Student Environmental Coalition, Appalachian Voices, Bold Alliance, Protect Our Water Heritage Rights (POWHR), Yogaville Environmental Solutions, Journey the James, Cville Rising, 350 Central Virginia, Preserve Montgomery, Preserve Franklin, Preserve Giles, Preserve Roanoke, Preserve Bent Mountain, Oil Change International, Rachel Carson Council, Virginia Organizing, Interfaith Power and Light, Cville Indivisible, Friends of Nelson

Subscribe To Our Newsletter!

To Our

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news, updates and event notifications from Friends of Buckingham!

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Pin It on Pinterest


Help spread the word!

Share this post with your friends!