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Robeson County activists challenge Atlantic Coast Pipeline

Gas Pipeline Map 2017_Blue-01 REVISED.jpg
The Atlantic Coast Pipeline will cross through several North Carolina counties. Photo courtesy of N.C. DEQ

As construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline progresses, there is controversy in Robeson County about the legality of the portion of the project intended to run through the county. 

The ACP is a natural gas pipeline planned to run approximately 600 miles from West Virginia to North Carolina and end in Robeson County. Dominion Energy, a natural gas supplier, is working alongside Duke Energy and Piedmont Natural Gas to construct the pipeline.

Robie Goins is a member of EcoRobeson, a grassroots organization which advocates for environmental protection and public health. Goins is a part of a lawsuit, filed against the ACP and the Robeson County Board of Commissioners, which opposes the construction of a metering and regulating station at the pipeline’s end. 

That station monitors the status of the pipeline, and Goins said its placement conflicts with property rights.

“(The Board of Commissioners) really didn’t give the public notice or information about the project and didn’t give us a chance to speak about it,” he said. “We feel that their decision was influenced by ACP and the false claims of economic development, possible kickbacks to commissioners and campaign money.”

The ACP advertises it will bring over 19,400 new jobs to the three states it is planned to run through, as well as $377 million in energy savings and $28 million in annual local tax revenue. Robeson County, one of the poorest in North Carolina, is predicted to earn nearly $7 million by 2025. 

“The purpose of the project is to bring additional supplies of natural gas to Virginia and North Carolina and to meet the growing energy needs of businesses and consumers,” said Aaron Ruby, spokesperson for Dominion Energy.

NC Warn, an environmental justice group, brought together organizations from across seven counties that dispute the pipeline. In a press release from May 2018, the group said energy predictions do not indicate significantly greater demand. 

The pipeline’s construction also raises environmental concerns. The ACP will draw natural methane gas through a method called fracking, which is opposed by many environmentalists.

Ryan Emanuel, a professor at North Carolina State University, said fracking has been known to affect water quality and impact communities in the Appalachian Mountains. 

Rev. Mac Legerton, executive director of the Center for Community Action, a group focused on sustainability, poverty reduction and social justice, said natural gas extracted through fracking is hardly natural. 

“It’s not natural, it’s not green, it’s not clean and it certainly won’t be cheap,” he said. “It is the last gasp and grasp of the entire fossil fuel industry.”

Goins, Emanuel and Legerton are all activists in Robeson County opposing the pipeline. 

Ruby said the conversion from coal to natural gas is an essential building block to lower carbon emissions as laid out by the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan. 

“The overwhelming consensus of the international scientific community and regulatory community is that natural gas is a cleaner alternative to coal,” he said. 

Natural gas emits 50 to 60 percent less carbon dioxide than does coal burning and poses less of a threat to water and air safety, Ruby said. However, it releases more methane, which is a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, albeit with a shorter atmospheric lifespan. 

The ACP also poses concerns for the Native American communities in North Carolina.

Goins said he worries for the health of people in Robeson County, particularly as a member of the Lumbee Tribe. He said the county’s population, which is 65 percent Native American or Black, has been subject to racial discrimination regarding energy infrastructure for decades.

He said the communities faced discrimination in the 1960s because they had little say in energy infrastructure projects, and he wants to prevent that from happening again.

Emanuel, also a member of the Lumbee Tribe, said he wants the government and corporations to respect the local tribes’ native lands. The federal government is required to consult with Native American tribes before issuing the type of permits that are required for a project like the ACP. 

“Consultation is not a conversation between the developer and the tribe where the developer tries to sell the tribe on their idea,” Emanuel said. “It is a meeting between a tribe and the federal government, so that the federal government, whose making decisions on the permits, can have firsthand information about what the tribe’s concerns are — information that is not filtered through the energy company’s attorneys.”

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This is not the first time Native American communities and the government clashed regarding pipelines. The Keystone Pipeline, a massive system between the United States and Canada, recently encountered significant opposition from native tribes and groups. 

Goins said the majority of the Lumbee Tribe is opposed to the pipeline, alongside many members from other tribes such as the Tuscarora, Meherrin, Coharie and Haliwa-Saponi. 

"We believe in making a better world for generations to come," said Emanuel. "Fossil fuels run counter to that for many native people."