This Land: There are many reasons to oppose natural gas pipelines

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe has rightly lauded decisions by two West Coast breweries to build East Coast facilities in Virginia. But he doesn’t seem to truly understand why Virginia — and specifically the Roanoke area — appealed to those executives.

One of the coolest things about living in Roanoke — and there are many — is easy access to the Appalachian Trail and other great hiking locations. There are several awesome hikes along the trail within a short drive. You can hike up Tinker Mountain and get a great view of Carvin’s Cove, or drive out 311 and either climb Dragon’s Tooth or head out the other direction to one of the most photographed spots in Virginia: McAfee’s Knob.

When Deschutes announced its decision to build an East Coast brewery in Roanoke, executives specifically mentioned the region’s outdoor recreational opportunities and other quality of life issues. The company’s headquarters is in Bend, Ore., an outdoors paradise, and executives wanted a similar location.

Roanoke’s got great hiking, biking and paddling opportunities in and around the city. Natural beauty is everywhere — and more people have begun to recognize that being a cool mountain city is a good for business.

But McAuliffe doesn’t seem to understand that allowing the construction of multiple natural gas pipelines through Virginia will have a negative impact on those qualities, and not just in and around Roanoke. The Mountain Valley Pipeline and Atlantic Coast Pipeline will both cut across the Appalachian Trail and the Blue Ridge Parkway.

The Mountain Valley Pipeline would cross the AT at a spot in the Jefferson National Forest in Giles County. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy said the location is “an area of unbroken wild landscape consisting of forest, rocky outcropping and grassy bald” free of human development. The pipeline company has said it might drill a borehole under the Appalachian Trail to minimize the impact, but hasn’t ruled out cutting a trench across the trail.

Though both pipelines will be buried, the disruption from construction and the ongoing maintenance of the 125-foot utility corridor will create a visual blight visible from the Appalachian Trail, the Blue Ridge Parkway and other locations, marring scenic vistas across the state.

Visual pollution isn’t the only problem. Compressor stations along the pipeline will contribute to air quality problems and noise issues. And, of course, the pipelines will be at constant risk of exploding.

But none of that makes an impact on McAuliffe, who continues to support the pipelines as economic drivers — ignoring the long-term economic damage they will do. McAuliffe also ignores the long-term environmental damage the pipelines will cause and their major contribution to climate change.

According to a recent study by Oil Change International, methane leaks from the two pipelines will cause as much greenhouse gas pollution per year as 45 coal-fired power plants. The multibillion-dollar investment in the pipelines will also discourage the development of renewable, clean-energy alternatives.

Former congressman Tom Perriello, running for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination against Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, is strongly opposing the pipelines. “If elected governor, I will use the authorities available to me to prevent these pipelines and instead encourage all stakeholders to invest in opportunities that create far more Virginia jobs, keep more value in the community, protect our landholders’ rights and protect our beautiful natural heritage,” Perriello said during a Richmond news conference.

Perriello said the threat of climate change and the need to invest in clean energy drove his decision — and he further promised not to accept any campaign contributions from Dominion, which has given $20,000 to Northam and has been a major supporter of McAuliffe’s.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Denver Riggleton, who lives in Nelson County near the Atlantic Coast Pipeline route, is also opposing the pipelines. He’s running against former Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie, a pipeline enthusiast like McAuliffe.

These pipelines aren’t good for Virginia — or West Virginia. They aren’t good for the economy, the environment or the future well-being of the people who live here. It’s a shame McAuliffe is blind to that.

Radmacher is former editorial page editor of The Charleston Gazette and The Roanoke Times. This Land is a weekly column produced by Appalachian Mountain Advocates.