Mountain Valley Pipeline protest

Michael James-Deramo, 26, of Blacksburg is handcuffed by authorities after he had chained himself to construction equipment at a Mountain Valley Pipeline site in Montgomery County.

By Mara Robbins

Robbins is a founding member of Preserve Floyd.

On June 28, the day after the State Water Control Board met in Richmond and once again refused to take emergency action to immediately stop work on the Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC (MVP), Michael James-Deramo chained himself to an excavator and stopped construction in that location for more than six hours. The state police removed him and charged him with two misdemeanors. And how, exactly, did this help stop the pipeline?

Consider, first and foremost, that this was an action taken by a person who has effectively resisted the MVP for five years, who has supported communities in their struggle, who has commented to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), The State Water Control Board (SWCB) and shown up consistently with local governments and community groups to help in whatever way possible. Consider that there is robust and sophisticated legal strategy by excellent, innovative lawyers working closely with those engaging in direct action. Consider the frustratingly stifled efforts of a handful of politicians who try to genuinely represent their beleaguered constituents. Consider voices stifled by back-room, blood money pay-offs to those who swallowed the promise of jobs and tax revenue and other ridiculous and erroneous claims made by out-of-state corporate criminals willing to say or do anything to profit for a little bit longer off our nearly-uninhabitable planet. Consider studies done by reputable scientists in well-respected universities. Consider professors willing to put their lives, families and reputations on the line to resist the further exploitation from the extractive industry of the water, land and communities of Appalachia and beyond.

To call such a courageous moral action “foolishness” only demonstrates the foolishness — and ignorance — of the author of the July 5th editorial “Bad Behavior,” who asked: “Are the laws regulating pipelines really immoral?”

A law is not immoral. Some are poorly conceived, written, managed or applied, but that is the responsibility of the lawmakers and enforcers. People engage in immoral acts. Laws are the result of people’s choices. And given the undeniable truth that our lawmakers and regulators have failed to protect the waters, land and communities of the commonwealth, it continues to be up to the people to do so.

Michael James-Deramo has demonstrated an unwavering devotion to those most affected by this pipeline, working with residents whose lives have been irrevocably altered by the abuse of the EQT corporation and their hired hands, attending innumerable open houses, meetings, public hearings, court cases and providing essential support and encouragement for those living in “frontline communities.”

On June 27, 2019, a year after spending 14 hours locked down to an excavator in an attempt to appeal to the Virginia SWCB and the Virginia DEQ to take immediate action to protect the waters of the Commonwealth, Emily Satterwhite spoke before the SWCB for the first time. Her powerful statement to them, as well as the way she linked it to her own courageous act of righteous defiance, reminded me of an action taken by Michael long before anyone was forced to place their body on the line as a last resort to challenge a project that has been pushed through despite a multitude of valid challenges that should have stopped the MVP a very, very long time ago.

In July of 2017 a delegation from Southwest Virginia visited Richmond to attend a regular meeting of the SWCB. This was before the public hearings regarding the 401 water quality certification in August of 2017 and before the approval of those permits in December of 2017. The board tried to cut off public comments after 20 minutes, but Michael James-Deramo stepped up and said: “It is your job to sit here and wait until everyone in this room has had the time to speak their piece.” This act of advocacy was essential in allowing the delegation, many of whom had traveled several hours or more to attend the meeting, to present evidence that should have convinced the board that the MVP would cause irrevocable harm to our waters.

Two years later? Our waters have been seriously damaged by uncontrolled greed and our commonwealth’s failure to demand accountability. Two years later? People continue to challenge the powers that be to insist upon justice. Two years later? Thanks to the moral and ethical behavior and actions of people like Michael, Emily and many, many others?

We will win.

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