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Pipeline opponents meet with German environmental activists

Pipeline opponents meet with German environmental activists

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BLACKSBURG — Environmental activists from Germany, who have organized mass mobilizations against coal mining operations in their country, are meeting this week with opponents of the Mountain Valley Pipeline.

Members of Ende Gelande shared stories and advice with about 50 people who gathered Wednesday night in a meeting room at Virginia Tech. A second meeting in Roanoke is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Friday at the CoLab on Grandin Road.

Concerned about the environmental impacts of mining and burning coal, the organization has recruited hundreds — and in some cases thousands — of volunteers. Clad in white coveralls, the protesters converge en masse at strategic spots, “and with our own bodies, stop the destruction that is happening,” Ende Gelande member Daniel Hofinger said at the Tech meeting.

In a 2016 event, protesters sat on railroad tracks used to transport coal from mines to power plants.

Enlisting more than 1,000 participants at a time for nonviolent civil disobedience serves two goals for the protesters: It complicates police efforts to make effective arrests and quickly disperse the crowds, and the carefully planned events draw media attention to their cause.

It’s unclear whether such tactics might be replicated in Southwest Virginia, where direct action against the Mountain Valley Pipeline has so far consisted of lone protesters or small groups sitting in trees along the project’s path or chaining themselves to construction equipment.

Members of Ende Gelande — “Here and No Further” in German — are currently touring the United States to share information with interested organizations, Hofinger said, but have no plans to help organize or participate in any mass mobilizations that might occur.

The event in Blacksburg was sponsored by Appalachians Against Pipelines, an organization that has worked with tree-sit protests of the pipeline, and three other groups: the Virginia Student Environmental Coalition, Rising Tide North America and the Environmental Coalition at Virginia Tech.

Mountain Valley officials have blamed “obstructionists” for trying to derail a project that has already received approvals from state and federal agencies.

Court challenges led to the suspension of two key permits, but the company says it plans to get renewed approvals in time to complete the pipeline this year, creating new jobs, boosting the economy and replenishing the nation’s supply of needed natural gas.

Opponents say that construction is contaminating the water and marring scenic landscapes, and that once the pipeline is completed it will contribute to the country’s reliance on fossil fuels.

Of the dozen or so protesters who have sat in trees or chained themselves to construction equipment over the past year along the pipeline’s route through Southwest Virginia, most have come down voluntarily or been removed by police.

The only aerial blockade at this time is in Montgomery County, were two people have been living in tree stands along the pipeline’s right of way since September. In December, Mountain Valley asked a judge to issue a preliminary injunction to have the tree-sitters removed.

U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Dillon has yet to make a decision in the case.

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Laurence Hammack covers environmental issues, including the Mountain Valley Pipeline, and business and enterprise stories. He has been a reporter for The Roanoke Times for more than three decades.

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