Delaying pipeline denies opportunity

Published 10:01 pm Monday, September 23, 2019

To the editor:

There have been plenty of opinions shared about how pipeline projects slated to serve Virginia will be harmful to low-income and minority communities — but few have come from voices who live and work in those very communities.

We represent congregations of hundreds of servants to the community who experience this way of life every day. And as we witness other counties and states prosper from pipeline construction and manufacturing job opportunities thanks to increased natural gas supply, we wonder why so many voices are claiming to be helping by slowing down projects like the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

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We support this project and the opportunity it will bring that our families so desperately need.

According to the government’s own data, low-income households spend a larger portion of their income on home energy costs than other households spend. About one in five households frequently reduce or forgo food, medicine and other necessities to pay an energy bill.

But we don’t need the government to tell us that — we hear it firsthand from our congregants. Many of them still live in homes that require heating oil to be delivered and stored in underground tanks, often located in basements. This is not cost effective over the long term, nor is it a good option for our environment.

We are acutely aware that Virginians have saved more than $10.9 billion in energy-related expenses over more than a decade thanks to natural gas. Our communities want to benefit from those savings as well, but some of our local natural gas suppliers say new pipeline infrastructure is needed to address both long-term residential demand, and demand for new economic development opportunities like manufacturing sites.

Construction of the pipeline alone would bring a rare economic opportunity for communities in need. Unionized construction jobs for the ACP start at $20 to $25 per hour (the minimum wage in Virginia is $7.25) which bring with them benefits such as health insurance and retirement plans. Many of the workers who were contracted for the project before it was delayed had not started in the construction industry; some are returning veterans or have been previously incarcerated and received professional certifications through formal, free training programs that qualify them for future work beyond ACP.

As soon as a pipeline crosses into a county, precedent shows that the unemployment and house values improve. For example, out of the 11 counties in North Carolina crossed by the Transcontinental Pipeline — currently the only interstate natural gas pipeline serving the region — only two (or 18 percent) have unemployment rates at or above state average. In contrast, seven of the eight counties (or nearly 90 percent) along the ACP proposed route currently have unemployment rates higher than the North Carolina state average.

The pipeline will bring opportunity, but there are groups that are letting ideology stand in the way. Some organizations have challenged the pipeline route because it crosses the Appalachian Trail, which is a beacon for all Virginians. But a closer look at the facts shows that the line would run several hundred feet below the trail — which already has more than 50 other pipelines crossing it.

These kinds of arguments are said to be made, in many cases, to protect “vulnerable communities.” But we question whether delays to the pipeline are instead spurred by not-in-my-backyard politics.

We want the chance for our communities to thrive, and increased energy supply to our neighborhoods and towns at least put us in the game for more manufacturers to move in and better energy options for our homes.

Our politicians must consider the hard facts and give everyone, and not just a fortunate few, the opportunity for a brighter future.

Bishop Leon Benjamin

New Life Harvest Church


Apostle Tony Carter and Prophetess La-Tanya Carter

Kingdom of God Reigns Ministries


Pastor Christopher Carter

New Hope Baptist Church


Rev. Joe Chambers

First Baptist Church

Rev. Henry During

Star Bethlehem Missionary Baptist Church


Joii Goodman

Crystal Cathedral Ministry


District Elder Ivan Hargrove

Refuge Temple Ministries


Pastor Stephen A. Parson Sr.

Richmond Christian Center

Richmond Community Development Center


Pastor Rodney Waller

First African Baptist Church


Rev. Sharon Williams

Jerusalem Baptist Church