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"I don't believe the Governor, or any of our other state legislators, are taking the impacts of climate change seriously," said Quan Baker of Norfolk before being arrested outside Terry McAuliffe's executive mansion on Wednesday. "If I have to get arrested to make that statement clear then, so be it." (Photo: CCAN)

23 Arrested Protesting McAuliffe's "Stunning Lack of Political Courage" on Climate

Countering claims of powerlessness, demonstrators tell Virginia's Terry McAuliffe: "Governor, you can do your job"

Deirdre Fulton

Twenty-three people were arrested Wednesday outside the Virginia governor's mansion, following a three-day picket that demanded Democrat Terry McAuliffe show some backbone by protecting citizens from toxic coal ash, stopping fracked-gas pipelines, and committing to renewable energy solutions. 

"We're fed up," demonstrator Russell Chisholm, of Newport, told the Richmond Times-Dispatch. "We're not professional activists. We're real people who are being impacted by and care deeply about these issues. Enough that we're willing to risk arrest to make our point."

"Governor McAuliffe has shown a stunning lack of political courage when it comes to climate change—and my generation will pay the price."
—Izzy Pezzulo, Virginia Student Environmental Coalition

According to the Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN), which organized the act of civil disobedience, participants included "grandmothers, an Army veteran, a nurse, faith activists, a student, and people living on the front lines of sea-level rise." Potomac Riverkeeper Dean Naujoks and pastor Paul Wilson, who ministers to two churches in Buckingham County—in the "impact zone" of a proposed (pdf) pipeline compressor station—also took part.

The protesters pushed back against prior statements by Hillary Clinton confidante McAuliffe, who has repeatedly claimed he lacks the authority to take action on these issues.

In fact, CCAN says, "McAuliffe's administration can do the following using its direct regulatory authority and political leadership:"

  • Stop fracked-gas pipelines using state permit authority under section 401 of the Clean Water Act.
  • Permanently protect waterways and drinking water from toxic coal ash, starting by rejecting energy company Dominion's "pollute in place" plans.
  • Champion state-based adaptation solutions and 100 percent renewable energy to keep Virginia's coastal communities above water.

"Governor McAuliffe has shown a stunning lack of political courage when it comes to climate change—and my generation will pay the price," said Izzy Pezzulo, a junior at the University of Richmond and member of the Virginia Student Environmental Coalition. "We're at the point where half-measures are unacceptable. Climate leadership means keeping fossil fuels in the ground, and that means saying 'no' to pipelines."

Indeed, the public backs this call, with a September poll showing that only 28 percent of Virginia voters support the governor's efforts to build two major fracked-gas pipelines, and 55 percent oppose them—a nearly 2-to-1 margin of opposition.

Furthermore, the same survey showed the overwhelming majority of voters polled—fully 71 percent—believe McAuliffe "should follow the approach of other southern states on coal ash disposal," requiring removal of the ash to modern landfills instead of allowing Dominion to bury it in place near rivers and drinking water sources.

"I am here today to remind Governor McAuliffe that when called to serve I did not shrug my shoulders and claim, 'Not my job'."
—Russell Chisholm, protester and U.S. Army veteran

Meanwhile, Environmental Health News reported, this week's actions in Virginia come "amid a growing—and increasingly successful—focus by environmental groups on stopping infrastructure necessary to develop and transport fossil fuel reserves."

As Monique Sullivan of CCAN put it in a statement: "Opposition to fracked-gas pipelines is growing across our region and the country—and a loud, local, community-driven climate justice movement is growing with it. The White House is beginning to shift. The economics are beginning to shift. And people, from the Standing Rock Sioux in North Dakota to landowners in Giles County, Va., are coming together to protect their water, land, and heritage."

Russell Chisholm, a US Army veteran who served in Desert Storm, being arrested on Wednesday. (Photo: CCAN)

In the face of this movement, McAuliffe has a responsibility to respond, as Chisholm, a U.S. Army veteran who served in Desert Storm, said at Wednesday's press conference.

"I am here today to remind Governor McAuliffe that when called to serve I did not shrug my shoulders and claim, 'Not my job'," Chisholm said.

Addressing the governor, he declared: "If you continue to insist that defending Virginia from fracking, from pipeline overbuilding, from coal ash and from the disastrous consequences of these projects for our coastal communities is not your job, then you can at least carve out time for one meeting and tell us to our faces."

"Governor, you can stop Mountain Valley Pipeline from destroying our springs and wells," Chisholm continued. "You can stop the disfiguration of Giles County's thriving ecotourism landscape into pipeline alley. You can stop Mountain Valley Pipeline from trampling our property rights. Governor, you can do your job."

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