One woman in the crowd reacted emphatically to longtime environmental lawyer Joe Lovett’s self-described, hard-won cynicism about federal agencies.

“Our power is in our numbers and we will stop this pipeline,” declared Carolyn Deck, a resident of Floyd County.

Deck referred specifically to the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline, a 300-mile long, 42-inch diameter buried interstate natural gas transmission pipeline that would pass through five regional counties.

She spoke during an anti-pipeline meeting Oct. 28 at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation church in Blacksburg. Lovett, executive director of West Virginia-based Appalachian Mountain Advocates, was a featured speaker. He addressed a crowd of more than 225 people.

The meeting centered primarily on the limited rights of Virginia landowners confronting the possibility of the pipeline route traversing their property.

One questioner asked Lovett how best to convey to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission a sense of how much environmental damage might result from the Mountain Valley Pipeline.

Lovett’s reply advised against unrestrained optimism that such information would sway FERC or other federal agencies. He said his 17 years of fighting mountaintop removal coal mining, for which he said evidence of environmental devastation is abundant and extreme, has made it clear that federal agencies “don’t care for the most part.”

Instead, he said, the agencies become permit-issuing machines, ignoring the objections of individual agency employees.

Lovett acknowledged, though, that the pipeline opposition has impressed some observers familiar with the FERC process. He said that during a recent conversation with a former FERC lawyer, she said the early and vigorous groundswell of opposition to three proposed natural gas transmission pipelines in Virginia has been unique.

The three pipelines are the Mountain Valley Pipeline, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the Appalachian Connector Pipeline (previously referred to as the Western Marcellus Pipeline).

All three would transport natural gas extracted by hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. As envisioned, all three would begin in West Virginia. Two would end at the same Transcontinental, or Transco, compressor station in Pittsylvania County. The companies involved all say that the high-pressure pipelines would serve demand for natural gas in the mid-Atlantic and Southeast U.S.

A public meeting Wednesday night of pipeline representatives and the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors attracted hundreds of people.

Supervisor Annette Perkins asked whether the demand for natural gas is high enough to justify three transmission pipelines cutting through Virginia.

Christopher Sherman, director of regulatory and legislative affairs for NextEra Energy, said he believes there is likely sufficient supply and demand for natural gas to fill all three.

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