Lawmakers call out treatment of pipeline protester in trees

Published: Apr. 18, 2018 at 3:36 PM EDT
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A Virginia woman who has spent weeks camped in trees protesting a natural gas pipeline that would cross her property is being treated inhumanely by authorities, who have cut off her deliveries of food and water, Democratic lawmakers said Wednesday.

Around a dozen Democratic members of the Virginia House and Senate held a news conference in Richmond to protest authorities' response to the 61-year-old Mountain Valley Pipeline protester. They also raised a host of other concerns about that multistate project as well as the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and called on Gov. Ralph Northam to impose further regulatory conditions on both.

"The pipelines, quite frankly, have been called into question the last couple years: whether we need them, whether environmentally they make sense, whether or not the fossil fuels that they will transport are really necessary for today's economy. ... People now are getting smart," said Sen. Chap Petersen.

Developers and other supporters of both projects say they can be built in a way that's protective of the environment and pledge they will help lower energy costs and boost the economy.

The approximately 300-mile Mountain Valley Pipeline would start in West Virginia and run through southwest Virginia before connecting with a compressor station for another interstate pipeline in Pittsylvania County. Pittsburgh-based EQT Midstream Partners, which owns a significant interest in the joint venture with other energy companies, recently announced plans to extend the line with a new branch stretching into North Carolina.

The pipeline would cross the Roanoke County property of the protester, who has identified herself in interviews with local news outlets only as "Red." Red climbed into a tree stand in protest April 1, said one of her neighbors, Genesis Chapman. Her daughter has also posted up in another tree, he said.

The county said in a statement Friday that police had advised the "individuals sitting in two trees" that they were in the right of way granted to the pipeline company through a court order.

"They will no longer be allowed to receive supplies from supporters. Anything the individuals need will be available to them when they come down from the trees," it said.

Sen. John Edwards, whose district includes the city of Roanoke and several surrounding counties, said Virginia prison inmates are treated better than Red.

"She hasn't been convicted of anything, and she's being treated in an inhumane fashion. I think it's outrageous," said Edwards.

A county spokeswoman couldn't immediately be reached Wednesday afternoon.

Pipeline opponents filled the small room where the news conference was held, in which a Capitol police officer was stationed. Many of them held signs that said, "Stand with Red."

Natalie Cox, a spokeswoman for the Mountain Valley Pipeline, said in an email that the company respects opponents' right to peacefully and lawfully protest but that work for the project has been authorized by state and federal regulators.

"We recognize there may be individuals who will always oppose the safe construction of Mountain Valley Pipeline, regardless of the significant effort made by public officials and regulatory agencies to review the project, and the hundreds of route adjustments and modifications made during the past three years to address concerns of landowners and community members," she wrote.

Aaron Ruby, a spokesman for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, said in a statement ahead of the news conference that the pipeline opponents' tactics will hurt the economy and waste taxpayer dollars, all without enhancing environmental protection.

Brian Coy, Northam's spokesman, couldn't immediately be reached.