“Violence on the land is violence on our bodies”
On September 6, a delegation of frontline women leaders from Appalachia and advocates met with UBS Bank to highlight concerns of human rights violations along the Mountain Valley Pipeline, as well as environmental harms in the Appalachian region as a result of the pipeline.
During the meeting, the Appalachian Frontline Women’s Divestment Delegation provided testimony and shared stories, data and research on the multiple ways that the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) and its construction pose a serious threat to communities, water, air quality and the global climate.
Originally expected to be completed in 2018, the MVP Mainline now runs five years behind schedule and USD 3 billion over budget. UBS Bank is one of the banks financing MVP, and during the meeting, delegates highlighted that since the project's inception, the joint owners of Mountain Valley Pipeline have sustained financial losses. In May, 2022, RGC Resources, parent company of Roanoke Gas, disclosed a USD 29.6 million impairment charge on MVP. Similarly, NextEra announced an USD 800 million loss in February, 2022, and stated that it was reevaluating its investment in MVP. Additionally, Mountain Valley LLC has incurred millions in fines and settlements for environmental violations and billions of dollars’ worth of expenses in legal battles, permit negotiations, and costly construction delays.
Delegation members provided eye witness accounts and detailed information about specific impacts Indigenous communities and communities of color face in regards to the construction and operation of MVP. The pipeline route will go through Black, Indigenous, Latino, and low-income communities across Appalachia who would experience the brunt of environmental injustice. According to the company’s own 2017 Final Environmental Impact Statement, elderly, disabled, poor, and medically underserved residents are over-represented in the path of the project. Pollution caused by pipelines and methane gas infrastructure has been linked to several adverse health effects, including respiratory diseases, cardiovascular diseases, and cancer. The racial inequities that will ensue from the MVP construction route are so indisputable that the Virginia Air Pollution Control Board denied an air permit on environmental justice grounds. Additionally, construction of MVP has already damaged sacred sites on the homeland of the Monacan Indian Nation, Occaneechi, Saponi, and Tutelo tribes, including a burial mound near Roanoke, Virginia, which dates back several thousand years.
In June 2023, a provision in the Fiscal Responsibility Act approved all remaining permits for the Mountain Valley Pipeline. Another provision stripped the judiciary of any authority to assess the legality of the permits, and therefore opportunity for challenges and input from local communities, forcing the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals to dismiss two long-standing legal challenges against the MVP that had been staving off construction for years. Construction is now moving forward on the MVP Mainline following Congressional intervention deemed unconstitutional by well-regarded legal scholars.
Delegates shared research on how MVP can negatively impact local ecosystems and the global climate. Experts state that MVP will emit over 89 million metric tons of greenhouse gas pollution annually, equivalent to the pollution from 24 average US coal plants. The pipeline route will cut across over 1,000 waterways and harm the ecosystems of multiple species of concern, including six federally endangered or threatened species and an additional four state listed species. The pipeline will also run over terrain susceptible to landslides in an active seismic zone, raising concerns over pipeline ruptures and explosions. Delegates highlighted the August 2023 Notice of Proposed Safety Order by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) stating that conditions along the MVP may “pose a pipeline integrity risk to public safety, property, or the environment.”
The Appalachian Frontline Women’s Divestment Delegation, organized by the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN) and Divest Invest Protect (DIP) includes: Dr. Crystal A Cavalier, Ed.D, MPA (Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation), Adjunct Professor and Co-Founder, 7 Directions of Service; Dr. Emily Satterwhite, Professor and Director of Appalachian Studies (Appalachian Resident); Crystal Mello, Community Organizer, POWHR (Appalachian Resident); Michelle Cook (Diné), Founder of Divest Invest Protect; with Osprey Orielle Lake, Founder and Executive Director of Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN).
“Violence on the land is violence on our bodies. MVP is literally a death sentence for many in our communities and region, threatening our health and livelihoods. Our communities are disproportionately burdened with health hazards through policies and practices that force us to live near sources of toxic waste, such as pipelines, sewage works, mines, landfills, power stations, compressor stations, major roads, and emitters of airborne particulate matter. As a result, our communities suffer higher rates of health problems attendant on hazardous pollutants.” Dr. Crystal A Cavalier, Ed.D, MPA (Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation), Adjunct Professor and Co-Founder, 7 Directions of Service
“Mountain Valley Pipeline, a fly-by-night LLC is incapable of construction in compliance with environmental laws. MVP’s leadership clearly has no idea what they’re doing— but that hasn’t stopped them from rushing to place corroded and defective pipes in our land and water before PHMSA’s Notice of Proposed Safety Order can take effect. MVP is putting our lives at risk and then prosecuting us in the courts for trying to protect ourselves.” – Dr. Emily Satterwhite, Professor and Director of Appalachian Studies (Appalachian Resident)
“We’ve been devastated by the forward progress of the Mountain Valley Pipeline. We're being sacrificed and it’s hard to imagine at times that this is even real. We’re literally in the fight for our lives – The struggle for my home, the struggle for clean air and water, the struggle for the planet, it’s a constant stresser in my life and in the lives of others in my community. We’ll never give up on protecting our home." Crystal Mello, Community Organizer, POWHR (Appalachian Resident)
“The Appalachian Mountains, the oldest mountains in the world, her peoples, and countless other species, are under an urgent threat from the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP). We call for everyone to listen to the Mountains; the river’s babbling brook; the Fish; the Black Bear; the Hell Bender; and Falcon, and even the stones. Life itself cries out for urgent intervention against risks of fire and catastrophic explosions; their siren song sings screaming, Stop the Mountain Valley Pipeline. Our peoples of Appalachia were not created to be sacrificed to their altars of money and profit. Our peoples of Appalachia were not created to serve corporate extractivists agendas that destroy our bodies, health, water, and lands. We will protect our Mother the Mountain and we will protect one another. Our Mother the Mountain, she who is worthy of adoration and defense. The berry jewels of her forests, her glittering crystal silver waters, her golden harvests of grain and corn. She provides all we need for eternity and only requires respect for this opulence. UBS in this historic moment needs to do their due diligence to prevent risks relating to their financing; to respect internationally recognized human rights obligations to both people, planet, and the earth’s biodiversity.” – Michelle Cook (Diné), Founder of Divest Invest Protect
“The Mountain Valley Pipeline will have disastrous impacts for frontline communities who will experience the worst of fossil fuel pollution, for biodiverse species whose very habitats will be destroyed, and for our global climate which cannot take another pipeline project. It is time to end the era of fossil fuels for the health of our communities and planet. We must stop the very worst of the climate crisis before it is too late. We are calling for financial institutions to listen to communities and science, conduct thorough due diligence, and stop the harms of fossil fuel extraction. UBS and other banks have an opportunity to be leaders in the just transition by divesting from fossil fuels and instead financing projects that support the well-being of communities, ecosystems, and our planet. Now is the time for financial institutions to firmly respect international human rights standards and climate agreements as we collectively move towards a clean, just, and healthy future for all. There is no time to lose!” – Osprey Orielle Lake, Founder and Executive Director of Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN)