On Feb. 3, the dangerous marriage of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and billionaire energy companies was on full display.
For three years, residents of Lancaster County have demonstrated unprecedented opposition to the proposed Atlantic Sunrise pipeline. Yet when Williams gas company sent a brief letter to FERC asking that a decision be made seven weeks early —for no other stated reason than the company’s own convenience — FERC eagerly obliged.
The decision was so premature that the commissioners themselves had to include a 100-page addendum of issues that had yet to be resolved before permission could legally be granted.
The LNP Editorial Board last week opined that “protests and arrests aren’t going to change the reality” of this situation. To the contrary, history has shown that large-scale, nonviolent civil disobedience is one of the few, and arguably most effective, ways of changing systems of exploitation when all other means have failed.
The women’s suffrage movement did not achieve success by patiently waiting for the Supreme Court to acknowledge women’s right to vote. Nor did the civil rights movement overturn segregation by making timid, well-behaved appeals to Congress. Disciplined, creative, courageous civil disobedience gave women the right to vote and broke the back of legalized segregation.
Industry billionaires — along with cowardly politicians who serve them on both sides of the aisle — are hardly motivated to abolish the system that lines their pockets. The system will not change unless we, the people, force a crisis of conscience on a scale that can’t be ignored. Every successful movement to check systemic abuse in this country has known this.
It is not easy to protest.
At Standing Rock, North Dakota, members of local tribes spent months enduring enormous sacrifices to peacefully protect their sacred land and drinking water. My daughter was among those who faced pepper spray and attack dogs by industry-hired security thugs after Native Americans held a sacred ceremony on ceremonial tribal grounds threatened by construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Originally, the Dakota Access Pipeline was going to cross the Missouri River just above the city of Bismarck. However, the plan was scratched due to complaints that the route put the capital city’s drinking water at risk. The solution? Reroute the pipeline through the reservoir that provides drinking water to the entire Standing Rock Sioux Nation.
Chris Stockton, the ubiquitous spokesman for Transco/Williams, loves to talk about all the adjustments they’ve made to the Atlantic Sunrise route due to public comments. He forgets to mention that our community doesn’t want an explosive, high-pressure, fracked gas pipeline-for-export running anywhere through our county. Moving the route simply poisons different streams, violates different Amish farms, permanently fragments different forests, threatens different families.
When someone is threatening to beat you in the head because you’re standing in their way, and they ask, “Would you rather I smash your kneecaps, instead?” we hardly praise the abuser for his mercy.
Lancaster County residents are facing the very real prospect of having our water poisoned, our forests clear-cut, our preserved farms violated, our Amish neighbors shamelessly exploited, and our ancient indigenous burial grounds desecrated. Thirty landowners in Lancaster County alone are facing condemnation proceedings for refusing to allow a company halfway across the country to inflate their profits by shipping explosive gas through their property to foreign markets.
Each of these abuses represents an unacceptable harm. Taken together, they represent an assault on Lancaster values and basic American liberties than many of us refuse to tolerate.
No wonder more than 500 local residents, in the past three weeks alone, have signed a pledge vowing to participate in creative, nonviolent, civil disobedience to stop this dangerous project.
The gas industry is already attempting to paint us as “radicals” or “outside agitators.” But here in Lancaster County, we know better.
We are teachers and students, counselors and construction workers, mothers and grandfathers, Republicans and Democrats, farmers and business owners who believe this land and community are worth defending, even at risk of arrest.
This is not the time for hanging our heads and saying “what a shame.” This is the time for courageous, creative, nonviolent, massive civil disobedience.
After three years of public comment, town halls, lawsuits, fruitless meetings with elected officials, and expert testimony confirming the irreversible harms we face, FERC’s approval Feb. 3 leaves us one option. We are compelled by a moral imperative to use nonviolent civil disobedience to change this fatally broken system.
For anyone willing to join us, we welcome you to our peaceful encampment at The Lancaster Stand.
Mark Clatterbuck, of Martic Township, is a founding member of the group Lancaster Against Pipelines.