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Appalachians Protest Manchin’s Mountain Valley Pipeline Plan

The extractive industries that create sacrifice zones to profit must be stopped, say organizers.

Climate activists from as far away as Alaska, Indigenous peoples and Appalachians rallied in Washington, D.C., Thursday against the construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline. The protest — No Sacrifice Zones! — spoke out against concessions to West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin included in the Inflation Reduction Act that would expedite the pipeline slated to cut through Appalachia, as Senator Bernie Sanders gave an address on the Senate floor calling it a “disastrous side deal” to the Inflation Reduction Act that undermines climate activism. We speak with two environmental activists in D.C. who helped organize the protest, Crystal Cavalier-Keck and Russell Chisholm. “We do not want this dirty deal that Senator Joe Manchin is pushing forward,” says Cavalier-Keck. “This project must be stopped, and these extractive industries that create sacrifice zones must also be stopped,” says Chisholm.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: As California faces a record-breaking heat wave, climate activists joined Indigenous and Appalachian groups at a rally in Washington, D.C., Thursday to protest against the Mountain Valley Pipeline. The protest came a month after President Biden signed the $739 billion Inflation Reduction Act, which included major concessions to West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, the biggest recipient of fossil fuel money in Congress. One provision expedites fossil fuel permitting, including for the controversial MVP — that’s Mountain Valley Pipeline. If built, it will carry 2 billion cubic feet of fracked gas across more than a thousand streams and wetlands in Appalachia, including parts of West Virginia.

On Thursday, Senator Bernie Sanders, the independent of Vermont, slammed what he described as a “disastrous side deal.”

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: In the coming weeks and months, the Senate has a fundamental choice to make. We can listen to the fossil fuel industry and the politicians they pay, who are spending huge amounts of money on lobbying and campaign contributions to pass this dirty side deal, or we can listen to the scientists and the environmental community, who are telling us loudly and clearly to reject this side deal and eliminate the $15 billion in tax breaks and subsidies Congress is already providing to big oil and gas companies each and every year.

Mr. President, while the legislative text of this side deal has not been made public, according to a one-page summary that was released last month, this bill would make it easier for the fossil fuel industry to receive permits to complete some of the dirtiest and most polluting oil and gas projects in America. Specifically, this deal would approve the $6.6 billion Mountain Valley Pipeline, a 303-mile fracked gas pipeline spanning from West Virginia to Virginia and potentially on to North Carolina. We’re talking about a pipeline that would generate emissions equivalent to 37 coal plants or over 27 million cars each and every year. Mr. President, it is hard for me to understand why anyone, anyone who is concerned about climate change, would consider for one second voting to approve a pipeline that would be equivalent to putting 27 million more cars on the road each and every year.

AMY GOODMAN: Senator Sanders spoke on the same day as protesters rallied in Washington, D.C., against the Mountain Valley Pipeline.

We’re joined now by two guests who took part in the protest. Russell Chisholm is the Mountain Valley Watch coordinator for the POWHR coalition — P-O-W-H-R, that’s the Protect Our Water, Heritage, Rights coalition. He’s also an Army veteran of Operation Desert Storm. Crystal Cavalier-Keck is a citizen of the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation in North Carolina, chair of the Environmental Justice Committee for the NAACP.

Welcome you both to Democracy Now! Crystal Cavalier-Keck, let’s begin with you. And if I mispronounced the name of your nation, please pronounce it correctly for us. But talk about why you’re in Washington and why you went to the White House, as well, for a meeting.

CRYSTAL CAVALIERKECK: Meku. Thank you so much for having me here. Well, it is the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation.

And I am here — well, we were here yesterday to lobby Congress, but we were also here to have a rally, and we organized this rally in less than 30 days. And we were here to have our voices heard all across Turtle Island, which is the United States, to show that our fights are very similar, and we do not want this dirty deal that Senator Joe Manchin is pushing forward. That is the number one reason we were here. But we were here to uplift our voices, especially our Indigenous communities here on the Southeast coast. We are often invisibilized, and we’re not really listened to and heard here.

AMY GOODMAN: And talk about just what the Mountain Valley Pipeline — what kind of map — describe the map for us and how it goes from West Virginia to North Carolina, and what it would mean.

CRYSTAL CAVALIERKECK: So, the map, it starts in West Virginia, and it goes through the mountaintops. And on these mountaintops are our sacred burial grounds of our Monacan, Saponi and Occaneechi nations. And, you know, the MVP, they call these burial mounds “rock piles,” and they often say these do not exist, which often makes us — they’re trying to extinct us or genocide us again. But it’s going through these very sacred mountains, going through waters, boring under rivers — and these sacred waters of, like, the Roanoke, the Dan and the Haw River, which is very sacred to my tribe and my community. This pipeline, the MVP Southgate, Mountain Valley Pipeline Southgate extension, is coming five miles from my home. It’s also going through the backyard of my relative, Renée, who lives in Rockingham County. And so, it’s going to destroy a lot of water.

And what these companies don’t understand — they don’t come and consult with us, and these agencies, like FERC, do not do a good job of listening to the community. And we are here to talk about the NEPA process, which is the National Environmental Policy Act, which this dirty deal is going to gut. It’s going to cut the time in half of what we, especially here on the East Coast, the state-recognized tribes, we get to respond to that. We get, I believe, about a seven-year period to respond to that, due to the NEPA process, which helps all tribes with the consultation process. But when they gut this, this limits our time to respond back to these dirty pipelines and dirty asphalt plants that are coming through our communities. And usually these agencies, they don’t do a good job of advertising the comment periods. So, therefore, I feel that they’re helping these dirty companies.

AMY GOODMAN: Russell Chisholm, if you could talk about what you discovered, what happened to your community in Virginia, if the Mountain Valley Pipeline is completed? And what stage is it at right now?

RUSSELL CHISHOLM: Thank you, Amy. Good morning.

Currently, the best way to describe this stage of the Mountain Valley Pipeline is segmented all along those 303 miles. For example, the first incomplete stream crossing that they come to is less than three-quarters of a mile from mile post zero on the project. So, what is remaining is some of the most difficult and challenging work and all of the heavy construction work adjacent to, around, under streams, wetlands, rivers, creeks. And Dr. Cavalier has described it well. These are water sources that feed our communities, feed our households, that people use to take care of their livestock. And all of that runs downstream, destroys habitat and puts people’s health and safety at risk.

So, there is a lot of heavy construction remaining on that project, and yet there is a lot that we can also save, which is why we continue to show up, continue to show up and link up with other frontline communities to stand together, as we did yesterday, to say this project must be stopped, and these extractive industries that create sacrifice zones must also be stopped wherever they are happening.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Dr. Cavalier-Keck, what do you say to Joe Manchin, to the senator, the largest recipient of fossil fuel money in Congress, his power, and what Bernie Sanders called this “dirty side deal”? What do you say to the other senators?

CRYSTAL CAVALIERKECK: So, they need to wake up. I honestly believe — how could this not be an ethics violation? But you are killing millions of people, millions of animals, and you’re ultimately killing our water. This is how we are going to survive. This is how the human race will survive. And it’s at your hands that you’re causing the destruction and death of these. And I just can’t believe that this is happening. Like, I was talking earlier today. Like, this is how government works, these backdoor, side-room deals to help a child who throws a temper tantrum because he can’t get the MVP pushed through? Like, he’s being very childish. And, you know, just disappointed. Like, you’re letting your constituents down. And also, the other senators who are not saying, like, “Whoa, wait. What’s going on?” or the other House of Representatives, do not given in to his demands. Like, he is literally twisting your arm behind your back to get what he wants. Like, this is not how government should work.

AMY GOODMAN: And the connection of the MVP developers to Joe Manchin, the senator?

CRYSTAL CAVALIERKECK: Oh, most definitely. NextEra, they donated to his campaign, as well as, I believe, they donated to Chuck Schumer’s campaign, too. Like, how are you guys not in ethics violation? You should have recused yourself from this and appointed someone else to do this. Matter of fact, listen to Bernie Sanders. He should have been heading up this, and he would have made sure we wouldn’t have had no side deal, especially the MVP coming through our backyard. That’s horrible. Like, in this side deal, well, this whole IRA, you’re going to give the IRA, and you’re going to still push fossil fuels? What is that? Like, come on, President Biden. Like, why did you sign that? So you just think it’s OK to, like, give a little bit of fossil fuels, but it’s OK, because we’re going to give you, what, $700 billion? No, I don’t think so.

AMY GOODMAN: Crystal Cavalier-Keck, I want to thank you so much for being with us, of the Occaneechi Band —


AMY GOODMAN: — of Saponi Nation in North Carolina, chair of the Environmental Justice Committee for the NAACP of Alamance County, and Russell Chisholm, the Mountain Valley Watch coordinator for the POWHR coalition.

That does it for our broadcast. And we end today on a very sad note. We want to extend our deepest condolences to our Democracy Now! producer María Inés Taracena on the death of your grandmother, Ana Elsa Herrera, in Guatemala. Mama Elsa was 94 years old. And also, dear Maria, on the passing of your brother, David Miller Flores, in a tragic car accident in Arizona. He had turned 26 years old last Sunday. Our condolences to your whole family.

That does it for our show. Democracy Now! produced with Renée Feltz, Mike Burke, Deena Guzder, Messiah Rhodes, Nermeen Shaikh, María Taracena, Charina Nadura, Sam Alcoff, Tey-Marie Astudillo, John Hamilton, Robby Karran, Hany Massoud, Mary Conlon. Our executive director, Julie Crosby. Special thanks to Becca Staley, Jon Randolph, Paul Powell, Mike Di Filippo, Miguel Nogueira. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks so much for joining us.

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