This is a guest post by my coworker Carolyn Reilly. Carolyn lives in Virginia, and her family's farm could be severely impacted should the Mountain Valley Pipeline be built. Activist in Virginia and beyond will March on the Mansion on July 23rd. Enjoy!
by Carolyn Reilly, Community Organizer
The trees are still this morning, yet life and motion flutter all around them. Birds flit from branch to branch, calling and singing of the dawn. But the tree trunk is steadfast and solid, no wind to bend and sway its body. Underneath the ground, there’s a root web, connecting these breathing beauties. I believe there must be spirit and life that dwells within each and every one. They are their own little worlds with life swarming and dwelling on and under each tree. To disrupt and destroy hundreds of thousands of trees just to bury a pipe underground and pump a fracked fossil fuel is murder and mass destruction of habitat.
Oh! But the Governor of Virginia (McAuliffe) wanted to plant a tree; a humble American chestnut, inside the Smith Mountain Lake State Park, where over 100 water crossings upstream would be made by the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline. And not to mention thou-sands of trees clear cut and burned. Several pipeline fighters and I decided to let the Governor know how we felt about this and how contradictory it is as he has been supportive of two massive fracked gas transmission pipelines proposed to be buried in the state of Virginia.
We gathered and carpooled on a cool, wet day in early May. Our travels were delayed because of the rain and traffic. I received a phone call from my fellow co-worker Sharon Ponton who was on the ground at the State Park; “McAuliffe may not make it for the tree-planting. He’s running late,” she said. As we meandered our way through the rain and back country roads, we found ourselves behind a shiny black Suburban with Virginia government tags. All in the van were excited as we felt sure we were following the Governor (who wasn’t late at all!). The vehicle took a sharp turn to the right, just a half mile before the entrance to the State Park. Our van-load of protectors and protestors careened around the corner, following the state vehicle. It sped away and we quickly realized we’d be better off to get to the tree-planting location at the park, even if the Governor didn’t.
In fact, we discovered that he was not coming to plant a tree and sent Molly Ward, chair of Virginia’s Department of Natural Resources, in his place. We obtained a permit from the State Park, giving us the right to protest and the seven of us stood in the cold rain, calmly proclaiming our chant for protection: “Save our trees! Save our water! No Pipelines!” We respectfully abstained during the ceremonial speeches and held out to shout our refrain just as the tree was being placed into the ground. The sacred act of planting a tree is beautiful; a young tree nestling down into the welcoming warmth of spring soil, its roots reaching and connecting to the web of life that sustains us all. And the Governor? His state vehicle zipped by minutes after – on the run from the trees and the people who protect them.
Other Virginia citizens and residents have gathered and garnered energy in the movement to protect our state’s environment. From fracking to Coal Ash, people are meeting to share their experiences and concerns surrounding climate change and the indifference of big business when it comes to the health of communities. For example, Coal Ash dumpsites throughout central Virginia have been leaching contaminants into wells and waterways. Utility giant, Dominion recently purchased a neighboring property purportedly to create a “larger buffer” around its Bremo Power Plant, but soon after a report released by Duke University’s Dr. Avner VenGosh indicated that this same plant has been leaching heavy metal toxins into ground water. Utility corporations rush to apply and receive permits from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (VADEQ) to de-water and close coal ash ponds in communities from Lebanon to Chesapeake. Instead of 1 million tons of coal ash at one Dominion plant, in depositions they admit the total is 3 million tons. The Governor’s inaction and lack of concern that our rivers and streams are being contaminated with “treated” toxic wastewater is astounding, and the belief that these utilities will be allowed to cap in place coal ash ponds when there is current proof they are leaking, contradicts his claim when running for Governor that he cares about the people and our environment.
Several of BREDL’s Virginia chapters are working to obtain fracking bans in the counties of Warren, Fredrick, Clarke and Nelson. Others are working with landowners to understand the consequences of biosolids being spread on their farmland. VADEQ says it’s safe, yet they fail to tell farmers they don’t test the sludge for pharmaceuticals or chemicals which are dangerous to their crops and livestock.
McAuliffe’s climate record has been spiraling down-ward since elected in 2013. Being a Governor who has ignored his constituents and tended to run when opposition shows up, citizens are calling him out – he can’t hide! As more and more people have continued to rise up and hold the governor accountable, a movement has grown, bringing together a variety of organizations, grassroots groups, advocates and faith leaders from communities throughout Virginia. A coalition has formed to organize a targeted action: March on the Mansion. Activists, landowners, people of faith, fighters for justice and many others will gather to rally and march to the Governor’s mansion in the state capital on July 23rd. At this Richmond event, we march for our land, clean water and climate. We demand that McAuliffe stand with the people, NOT corporate polluters! (Join in the movement and keep up to date at MarchontheMansion.org.)
Just as the roots of trees form a web of life and sup-port, so does the connection of many people who pull together and unite to fight in protecting our environment and the climate we in which we live. In Virginia, we are strong, and our roots spread wide to touch others as we encourage life and health for our communities. May we all be inspired by the strength, beauty, and life of trees and nourished from the encouragement our community roots give us.
Watch the powerful video from Virginia Student Environmental Action Coalition here: https://www.facebook.com/vsecoalition/