By Stacy Lovelace and Jessica Sims
Lovelace and Sims are co-founders of Virginia Pipeline Resisters. They are both from the Richmond area.
As a gubernatorial candidate, Ralp Northam touted his commitment to the environment, using his medical background and personal history with Virginia’s coast as qualifiers. As the campaign progressed, his actions related to the Atlantic Coast (ACP) and Mountain Valley (MVP) pipelines betrayed that public persona.
To give ‘proof’ of his environmental commitment, Northam used a letter he wrote to the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) regarding the review process for the ACP and MVP. In this letter, Northam recommended “that DEQ strongly consider utilizing individual permits. These projects must undergo a thorough evaluation of their impacts on our natural resources.” This is a position echoed by innumerable Virginians, including by more than a dozen legislators who called for site-specific waterbody analysis at a press conference on April 18. Gov. Northam has yet to stand by his recommendation, and these Virginians have been denied.
Northam’s inaction initially revealed its cause at a debate with primary opponent Tom Perriello. When pressed on his lack of pipeline stance and his relationship to the ACP’s primary stakeholder, Dominion Energy, Northam expressed that he “had a working relationship [with Dominion]… We want the pipeline to be built with science and transparency.” Not only did Northam ignore the already established science documenting the harms and unnecessity of these pipelines and the lack of transparency seen throughout the review process, but he also stated that everyone should be able to “sit down at the table and discuss.” That statement has not come to fruition, and those at the table have been limited to the pipeline applicants, Dominion and EQT.
Having secured the nomination with campaign coffers full of donations from the pipeline applicants, Northam announced that he would travel to “places that are affected by the pipeline” and once more mentioned bringing “people to the table [to] figure out how we can move forward in the best way.” This discussion again did not materialize. Instead, Northam relaxed into the same vague but oxymoronic position – cite full support for scientific review, but silently accept that process is not being followed.
Once governor, Northam maintained this ‘environmental advocate’ façade. In his inauguration speech, Northam stated “tomorrow can be better for the men and women who depend on clean air and water for their livelihood and for the children who will inherit the environment we pass on to them.”
Further, Northam doubled down on his deception in a recent subscriber email, stating that Virginians rely on “waterways for jobs, food, tourism, and much more. All it would take to upend countless lives is one catastrophic event – I won’t let that happen on my watch. Virginians should not have to worry about their livelihoods…” He wrote this about the threat of offshore drilling to his beloved Eastern Shore, whose resources and citizens he seems to value over those inland, especially in Appalachia, threatened by the pipelines.
The audacity of Northam’s statements is astounding. An analysis found that these pipelines will devastate air quality by producing emissions equivalent to 45 coal-powered plants. The livelihoods of landowners whose property is set to be ripped apart by the projects will be destroyed, and the pipelines will threaten the drinking water sources of millions.
In another inaugural statement, Northam lamented that “in Virginia, your zip code determines not just how well you do, but how long you will live.” The racial and economic targeting used by the pipeline companies will force predominantly African American, Indigenous, and low-income “zip codes” to shoulder the majority of the pipelines’ toxicity by disproportionately placing these communities in the pipelines’ paths. The governor’s sentiment must have been pretense because these pipelines cannot fit into policies for economic and racial justice.
Northam promised to visit “every city and county” in Virginia and that “his door will always be open.” The governor still has not visited communities directly impacted by the pipelines; thousands of petitions and letters have been sent about the pipelines’ harms, but Northam has yet to acknowledge them; and he has ignored the plight of affected communities and the inhumane treatment of peaceful protesters taking to the trees to protect the land. The governor has already closed his door to countless Virginians.
Gov. Northam has continually broken his promises, and his word carries little value as a result. If he is to reclaim any credibility, the governor must, at the very least, immediately request a stay of construction for the pipelines until site-specific waterbody analysis is completed and legal challenges to the pipeline certifications have been decided.
Catch the latest in Opinion
Get opinion pieces, letters and editorials sent directly to your inbox weekly!