By Margo Maier
Capital News Service
RICHMOND – A trio of environmental activists who oppose the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline in western Virginia confronted Gov. Terry McAuliffe during his appearance Wednesday at a public forum on climate change.
The protesters held a banner saying, “McAuliffe: ACP will be climate chaos.” One demonstrator was removed from the building during the question-and-answer session for speaking out against McAuliffe’s support of the pipeline project.
As they were escorted out the door, the activists continued to address the governor. “Everyone in the state can agree that climate change is about fossil fuels, and we need to divest and have no Atlantic pipeline,” one demonstrator said.
“There are hundreds of pipelines in Virginia,” McAuliffe responded. “Everyone acts like this is the first one being done. This pipeline is the latest technology. You talk about opening up communities … Nelson County needs help. They need economic development.”
The governor was speaking at a conference called “The Next Frontier of Climate Change: State and Local Action in Virginia.” The New Republic magazine and the College of William & Mary sponsored the event, which was held at the Visual Arts Center near Virginia Commonwealth University’s Monroe Park Campus.
The three activists, who did not claim affiliation to any particular group, oppose the 550-mile natural gas pipeline proposed by a partnership led by Richmond-based Dominion Resources. It would run through West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina. Various groups are fighting the project, including the Virginia Sierra Club, Friends of Nelson and the Augusta County Alliance.
Last fall, McAuliffe declared his support for the pipeline, saying it would create jobs and give Virginia access “to the most affordable natural gas supply in the United States.” The governor reiterated his support Wednesday.
The governor also discussed his support for fracking, which critics view as an environmentally destructive method for extracting natural gas.
“There is fracking here. There is fracking everywhere. I, as governor of Virginia, am not going to stop fracking in this country. It’s not going to happen,” McAuliffe said.
“With this pipeline, with cheap natural energy costs, we can take spurs off wherever we want to take it – to grow, build, manufacture. There are parts of Southwest Virginia today that are in desperate need of manufacturing. It’s our highest unemployment communities that we have.
“This will help us bring cheap gas to parts of Virginia that will open up and build. It’s done clean; it’s done safe. Most of the leaders of the state support it.”
McAuliffe was the first headline speaker at the Next Frontier event. He generally echoed a speech he had given the previous morning at the 2015 Energy & Sustainability Conference, sponsored by the Virginia Chamber of Commerce.
Jeffrey Ball, a writer for The New Republic and scholar in residence at Stanford University, moderated the discussion with the governor. Ball quoted a study that placed Virginia 35th among the states in energy efficiency.
McAuliffe repeated a theme he has voiced before – that energy is critical to Virginia’s economy.
“I’m a huge fan of nuclear,” McAuliffe said. “It’s how you frame the issue. When I ran for governor, I tried to put everything in an economic issue –what is good for the commonwealth as we grow and diversify.”
Ball cited a poll showing that Americans do not consider climate change as critical an issue as people in other countries do.
The governor said he has been “very forceful on climate change.” McAuliffe launched into a familiar story recounting a 45-minute rainstorm in Hampton Roads that quickly flooded half of the streets there. He said this was proof enough for him that climate change is an issue.