Groups say approval of Atlantic Coast Pipeline cheated vulnerable residents out of federal civil rights protections for low-income communities and people of color
Durham, N.C. – An alliance of community, statewide and national groups today filed a federal complaint seeking to stop a hotly contested pipeline that would pump so-called natural gas from Appalachian fracking fields into and across North Carolina. The complaint alleges that Gov. Roy Cooper and several state agencies cheated communities along the proposed pipeline route by skirting requirements designed to ensure that such projects don’t target areas deemed to lack political power due to their racial and economic makeup.
Filed with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Civil Rights Compliance Office, the complaint calls on the EPA to require three state agencies to overturn the permits granted for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP), to require a new environmental justice analysis that adheres to federal law and to conduct a public hearing in eastern North Carolina. (See attachments here)
The alliance includes community groups from seven of the counties through which the 36-inch, high-pressure pipeline would travel in North Carolina. The $6 billion project is in the early stages of construction by Duke Energy and Dominion Power and was expected to primarily serve power plants in North Carolina and Virginia, though electricity demand is expected to remain flat for many years.
Robie Goins of EcoRobeson, whose Lumbee family land is being impacted by the pipeline, said today: “Our people live off of the resources that our ancestors fought so hard to protect. Companies like Duke Energy and Dominion once again are considering those families sacrificial. It’s time this stops and it’s time to allow the families who are affected the chance to determine what their communities need, instead of outside corporations intruding and deciding that for them.”
The groups say federal and state agencies discriminated on the basis of race and color because they failed to assess the disproportionate impacts of the proposed ACP on communities of color as required under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. They allege that the agencies failed to assess the environmental and health impacts on families and communities along the route caused by construction and operation of the pipeline and its cumulative impacts such as climate extremes that are already impacting the region and are being made worse by the increased use of fracked gas.
Attorneys for the groups say both state and federal regulators paid only passing attention to Title VI when approving the ACP. The civil rights division was created after analysis showed that, for years, polluters in North Carolina and other states targeted low-income communities and people of color for noxious facilities because they were seen as lacking the political power to stop such projects.
Belinda Joyner, President of Concerned Citizens of Northampton County, said today: “This pipeline will benefit us in no shape, form or fashion. The economic development types don’t mind harming us, but if a pipeline were planned close to their homes, they’d say it would bring their property value down. Well, for people of color in sacrifice zones, not only will it bring our property value down, it will kill us at the same time. But do they care?”
In the complaint, NC WARN attorney John Runkle described the curious way federal regulators measured potential ACP impacts on local residents: comparing the incomes of residents close to the pipeline with statewide incomes, while only comparing racial characteristics of residents close to the pipeline with the county in which the project is located. He noted that the FERC analysis masked large disproportionate impacts on communities of color, particularly Native American and African-American populations along the route.
Valerie Williams, a member of Concerned Stewards of Halifax County and an African American landowner in Halifax County, said: “The land is our family tree and it speaks of legacies, heritage, and memories. No one would take that away from us.” She resolves, “No pipelines on our valuable historic farms. No Intruders on our land.”
The complaint cites a recent study by the Research Triangle Institute that demonstrates the failure of the federal analysis – which was adopted by the state agencies – along with the ACP’s impacts on communities of color. RTI concludes, “The counties crossed by proposed ACP route collectively have a significantly higher percentage minority population than the rest of the counties in the state.”
A 2017 analysis by an NC State University professor determined that the agencies failed to acknowledge disproportionately large Native American populations living along the proposed pipeline route, noting that in North Carolina alone, some 30,000 Native Americans live in census tracts that FERC considers to be part of the project area. Compared to their statewide numbers, the analysis also found that Native Americans are over-represented by a factor of ten along the North Carolina section of the pipeline route.
Compounding the failure to perform a rigorous environmental justice analysis, the regulators refused formal consultation with the tribal governments along the route, according to the complaint.
Naemma Muhammad, co-director of the NC Environmental Justice Network, added: “How many more Title VI Complaints have to be filed before our government takes seriously the concerns of the communities, and is honest and comprehensive about environmental impact statements. These poor communities of color face an enormously disproportionate burden of a wide range of impacts.”
Gov. Cooper has been criticized from across the political spectrum for announcing – just as a critical state water permit was issued – a deal whereby the ACP owners put up $58 million for mitigation, clean energy projects and economic development. This raised questions about whether state agencies had completed their review of water and economic development impacts, especially because Duke and Dominion were openly pressing the Governor and NC DEQ for final approvals.