The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Appalachian, Indigenous pipeline foes protest climate deal

Charly Lowry, left, and Alexis Raeana, right, demonstrate in D.C. on Sept. 8 with other advocates against the Mountain Valley Pipeline project, approved as part of the Inflation Reduction Act. (Craig Hudson/For the Washington Post)
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Roishetta Ozane and her six children squeezed into a three-bedroom trailer, paid for by FEMA, after their Southwest Louisiana home was destroyed by two hurricanes, only six weeks apart.

The single mother and her children lived in this cramped space for nearly two years before Ozane, after working three jobs, could afford to buy a new home this past June. Now, it’s hurricane season again.

Ozane, 37, traveled this week from her home in Sulphur, La., to the nation’s capital to rally on Thursday with others who have been displaced by climate catastrophes and those who are advocating against pipelines in their communities. She said she is sharing her story in meetings on Capitol Hill in the offices of her local representatives in hopes that those in power listen to her concerns and reject any bills that further invest in polluting infrastructure.

“For so long … these industries have been placed in BIPOC communities that are too often targeted by these projects. It’s time for them to stop. We can no longer be made sacrifices for oil and gas,” Ozane said, referring to Black and Indigenous people and other people of color. Emphasizing that her home near Lake Charles, La., is surrounded by oil and gas refineries, chemical manufacturers and other industries, she had this message for lawmakers: “Breathe the air we breathe. Drink the water we drink. And feel everything we feel in a community where everywhere we look we see industry.”

Appalachian, Indigenous pipeline foes say climate deal ‘left us to burn’

Though last month’s passage of the Inflation Reduction Act — a climate, energy and health-care package — was the climate movement’s biggest legislative success, Ozane and others say their communities were sacrificed as a bargaining chip. To secure the support of Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), Democratic leadership reached a side deal with Manchin that would overhaul the process for approving new energy initiatives and expedite the 300-mile-long Mountain Valley Pipeline project — a natural gas pipeline across West Virginia and Virginia that those rallying in D.C. on Thursday have opposed for years.

Ozane, an organizer for Healthy Gulf, an environmental justice organization, was one of the hundreds protesting Thursday at the Robert A. Taft Memorial Carillon, joining people from Appalachia and as far away as Alaska to demand that lawmakers reject this side deal, said Grace Tuttle, a lead organizer of the rally who has been advocating against the Mountain Valley Pipeline for three years. Tuttle said the demonstration will be a show of solidarity among communities affected “first and worst” by fossil fuel developments.

Surrounded by fossil fuels, they fear climate bill leaves them behind

The landmark Inflation Reduction Act will significantly advance the fight against climate change, spending about $370 billion to bring the country closer to achieving the emissions cuts scientists say are required to avoid the devastating consequences of the Earth’s warming.

Rally organizers argue that the side deal, if passed, would “gut bedrock environmental protections, threaten tribal authority, endanger public health, fast-track fossil fuel projects, cut public input and push approval for Manchin’s pet project, the Mountain Valley Pipeline.”

The White House did not respond to a request for comment but previously said environmental justice leaders were key to developing the bill, calling it “the most significant investment in climate, clean energy, and environmental justice in U.S. history and defeating the special interests who for decades have blocked progress.” A representative for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) did not respond to a request for comment.

Those rallying are especially concerned with the easing of permitting restrictions, warning it could weaken an important environmental protection law that Indigenous people have frequently used to challenge projects they believed would harm their communities.

Donald Jones’s family has owned interconnected farmland in the hills and valleys of the Blue Ridge Mountains since the late 1700s. Though parts of the property have been sold off through the generations, Jones and his siblings still own 70 acres of the Giles County, Va., farmland, inherited from their father, and have fought for years to keep the Mountain Valley Pipeline out from their land, worried it would harm the mountain spring, the peach orchard and other ancestral land.

Appalachian, Indigenous pipeline foes say climate deal ‘left us to burn’

His father was one of the about 300 property owners in southwest Virginia who, after refusing to sell easements for the project, was sued by the pipeline company. Construction on the pipeline, which would transport Appalachian shale gas and cuts through Jones’ property, began in 2018. But Jones, like many others, kept pushing back.

Over the years, he has outlined his complaints about the pipeline and its construction in filings to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. He cited felled trees placed in mounds on the side of the mountain, deep holes of muddy water where his golden retriever got stuck, the removal of bat houses and a hand-stacked rock pile that was on the property for generations.

“Within the Federal Court System, their only concern is of current land value,” Jones wrote in one of the filings. “There is no ‘value’ for ancient ecosystems. There is no ‘value’ for clean mountain spring water. There is no ‘value’ for generational lands. There is no ‘value’ for all the time we spent protecting Dad’s property rights. There is no ‘value’ on the unforeseen damage created by ‘pipeline survival.’”

Jones, 61, of Salem, Va., traveled to Thursday’s rally as one of the rural landowners opposed to the pipeline. He said he is dismayed by political maneuvers made to pass the Inflation Reduction Act and worries about what kind of planet will be left as his 4-year-old grandson grows up.

“Appalachian people, we don’t have a lot of money, but we fought this pretty hard. It’s hard to go up against this big money,” Jones said. “I’m not giving up now.”

This pipeline project, proposed in 2014 and now mostly finished, is a key priority of Manchin’s. He and supporters have argued that this project, designed to carry 2 billion cubic feet of gas a day, would increase the nation’s exports of liquefied natural gas, which the United States is sending to help Europe during the war in Ukraine.

When asked Thursday about this rally and the permitting side deal, Manchin told reporters: “I’m done. I’m all said out … Everybody’s working so hard.”

Natalie Cox, a spokeswoman for Mountain Valley Pipeline, said that “federal and state officials have carefully evaluated MVP’s plans and concluded the project can be built safely and responsibly.

“Mountain Valley also previously announced plans to voluntarily offset its operational emissions and has committed funding to preserve more than twice as many acres of land as will be used for the project’s long-term operation,” she said.

At the rally, Danger Winslow stepped forward to speak, but the lectern was too high for the 7-year-old to reach.

So his mother, Amber Merideth, scooped him up, holding him toward the microphone.

“My life means more than your money,” said Danger, of Asheville, N.C. “Water is sacred. Water is life. Without water, we have no future.”

Maxine Joselow contributed to this report.