By Katie Valentine, Think Progress
Ten people were arrested in Richmond, Virginia on Monday while protesting a natural gas pipeline that’s being proposed to run through Virginia, West Virginia, and North Carolina.
The protesters had created a blockade at an intersection near the headquarters of Dominion Virginia Power, after participating in the Richmond People’s Climate March, which began at the state capitol Monday morning. They were voicing their opposition to Dominion’s proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a 550-mile long natural gas line that would carry 1.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas every day from West Virginia to North Carolina. Nine people were arrested for blocking a road and released after being issued court summons, and one person was arrested for disorderly conduct after refusing to accept the court summons.
Weston Matthews, a priest at St. Stephens Episcopal Church in Richmond, was among those arrested Monday. He told ThinkProgress that he allowed himself to get arrested because he thinks nonviolent direct action is needed to send the message to Dominion that Virginians aren’t in favor of the pipeline. Running a natural gas pipeline — one with proposed routes that take it through George Washington National Forest and over the Appalachian Trail — through Virginia would be “devastating” to the people and environment in the state, he said.
Matthews also said his religious beliefs played in to his decision to protest the pipeline.
“Being an Episcopal priest who believes creation is blessed and good, it’s my job to stand up or it,” he said. “The integrity of creation matters a lot to me.”
The Richmond People’s Climate March included an interfaith prayer vigil, something the march’s organizer Shantae Taylor said was done to make the protest as inclusive of different races and religions as possible. People of color and indigenous people are among those most affected by climate change, she said, so she wanted to ensure that their voices were able to be heard at the protest. Taylor also said that, with the Pope’s upcoming trip to D.C. and his announcement that he’d be issuing an encyclical urging Catholics to act on climate change, incorporating faith into the protest made sense.
Virginia Gov. Terry McAulliffe has spoken out in favor of the pipeline, saying it would be an environmentally friendly choice for Virginia, as it would act as an alternative to Dominion’s aging coal plants. Matthews disagrees with that sentiment, saying he doesn’t think Virginia should invest in natural gas, especially when pipelines carrying the substance can leak and explode. Instead of building the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which was proposed last year and which, if given approval, could start shipping natural gas as early as late 2018, Matthews and Taylor said they’d prefer to see Dominion and the other three companies behind the pipeline proposal invest in renewable energy.
“We need to invest substantially and truly in renewable energy, and not in fossil fuels — and that includes natural gas,” he said. “It’s not in Virginia’s best interest to have natural gas be an alternative. In the long term it’s going to hurt our economy and our creation.”
The Richmond People’s Climate March is planning on increasing its pressure on lawmakers and government agencies to reject the pipeline this year. Last month, a group of Virginians traveled to Washington, D.C. to meet with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which is in charge of approving or denying the pipeline, to voice their concerns about the project. Along with the Richmond People’s Climate March, groups such as Friends of Nelson, the Virginia Sierra Club, and Augusta County Alliance are also fighting against the pipeline.
Matthews said fighting against the Atlantic Coast Pipeline has helped him realize what it might be like to live in states like West Virginia, where residents are used to contending with a strong fossil fuel industry.
“Dominion has made us realize: you can be sacrificed, just like your friends to the West,” he said.