By: Julie Silverman, Communications Intern
Since 2014, the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League (BREDL) began campaigning to counteract the planning and construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. After six long years of dedicated work, BREDL and its partner organizations succeeded on July 5th, 2020 in cancelling the construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline: a major victory that likely would not have been accomplished without the work of Lou Zeller, the executive director of BREDL as well as key BREDL leaders and supporting partners and coalition groups.
The Atlantic Coast Natural Gas Pipeline was a multi-billion project led by Duke and Dominion Energy companies and was planned to go through rural and low-income parts of North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia. The construction of the pipeline would have not only damaged local ecosystems but jeopardize the health of many nearby residents through emissions from compressor stations and pollution in both waterways and drinking water systems. The pipeline targeted poor communities and would have had a tremendously detrimental impact on community members’ health and agricultural success. For example, a sweet potato farmer in Johnston County, North Carolina allowed an earlier branch pipeline to come through his farm and said that the land never produced again despite it being 20 years after the pipeline’s construction. Therefore, the opposition to the pipeline was centered around risks of public health and environmental degradation as well as economic and agricultural concerns.
The victory that we saw over the Atlantic Coast Pipeline is “relatively rare. We don’t normally get the satisfaction of knowing that [the fight] is really over,” said Lou Zeller.
One of the key tactics in leading to BREDL’s massive success was uniting community members against the pipeline from all across the political spectrum. By reaching out to people who are both conservative and liberal and everywhere in between, BREDL was able to create a cohesive and extremely powerful bipartisan movement, one that you don’t see often in today’s political climate. Regardless whether people cared about the environment, public health, or land rights and eminent domain issues, there was a welcoming spot at BREDL for people to get involved and fight against the pipeline. This strong base allowed BREDL to cast out to a larger audience and gain a diverse following that appealed to people who would not have normally joined an environmental organization. By allowing different groups of people to focus on what issues impassion them, BREDL was able to create an extremely strong movement that even the most powerful companies, such as Duke and Dominion Energy corporations could not face.
Another tactic that was used to create a successful movement and opposition to the pipeline was organizing in communities and creating coalitions with organizations that were directly in the path of the pipeline’s planned construction zones in both Virginia and North Carolina. Lou Zeller described this process as stringing beads on a necklace. By engaging those closest to the pipeline, BREDL was able to create opposition along its entire route. This was an extremely tough task since the pipeline’s planned construction spanned across 12,000 acres of land that would have been disturbed from West Virginia all the way down to Southern North Carolina.
The success of BREDL in defeating the Atlantic Coast Pipeline is one that should be greatly celebrated. The idea of never giving up fighting for what you believe in and working together despite differences are important themes that led to BREDL’s victory. In the words of Janet Marsh, BREDL’s founder, “one person speaking alone may not be heard, but many people speaking with one voice cannot be ignored.”
Please visit http://www.bredl.org/index.htm if you are interested in BREDL’s work or would like to learn more or get involved with their campaigns.
If you are interested in hearing more about BREDL’s Atlantic Coast Pipeline, click here to watch a Zoom recording of CHEJ’s Living Room Leadership Event from July 15, 2020: a conversation with Lou Zeller and other key leaders in the organization.