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Appalachians Slap Back: Pipeline Work In National Forest Halted Again

In Response To Mountain Valley Pipeline SLAPP Suit.

Peters Mountain, VA — On Monday afternoon 10/9/23, pipeline fighter Ben locked himself to a sleeping dragon in the path of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, preventing tree cutting and clearing in the area. A banner at the site read “Appalachians Slap Back,” in reference to a SLAPP suit (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) filed by MVP in September.

“This is a pipeline that cuts through every county in Virginia that I’ve ever called home,” Ben explained. “I grew up here. I live here. In 2018, people started putting their bodies in the way of the Mountain Valley Pipeline. They’ve been called a lot of things, including outside agitators and paid protesters. These narratives mask a powerful truth — that from the beginning, resistance to this pipeline has been driven by people who are fighting because we care about protecting the land and water where we live.

“In the end, most of us are guests on this stolen land — land that was founded on atrocities and extraction. Today is Indigenous People’s Day — a day to acknowledge centuries of horrific genocide, a day to celebrate Indigenous resistance and defense, and a day to remember that struggles against colonialism continue every day of every year. Institutionalized greed is not new to this land; the Mountain Valley Pipeline is an extension of violent settler colonialism. Ongoing habits of extraction, exploitation, and domination come at the cost of our planet and our humanity. This struggle is about more than Appalachia and more than a pipeline. The continued use and expansion of fossil fuels impacts every single one of us. We should all be in this fight.

“Recently, Mountain Valley Pipeline sued a random group of people for peacefully protesting them, seeking over 4 million dollars and trying to prohibit their opposition with intimidating legal consequences. This kind of thing is generally referred to as a SLAPP suit (strategic lawsuit against public participation.) They want to scare the opposition away. It’s not a new tactic, and I want everyone to know that it isn’t going to work.

“I’m one of the folks being sued, and it feels more like a call to action than a threat. It inspired me to come out here and get in their way. I hope to stop work for a long time. I hope people see this action and are called to help. I hope more people realize that this local fight against this one pipeline is so much bigger than it seems. And I’m here to say again: we won’t back down.

“We’re Appalachians. Appalachians slap back.”

Ben’s banner and statement reference a series of recent lawsuits filed by MVP against pipeline opponents from all backgrounds, across multiple jurisdictions. These SLAPP suits are an intimidation tactic designed to bully opponents by entangling them in years-long battles against dehumanizing bureaucracy, massive legal costs, increased criminal penalties, and the emotional distress of being wrongfully targeted by teams of lawyers with millions at their disposal. Pipeline fighters including Ben refuse to submit to this bullying and intimidation.

After deploying Monday afternoon, Ben spent 2 nights on Peters Mountain blockading Mountain Valley Pipeline work. On the first evening, he stated, “I imagine I’m in for a long cold night on the mountain, but I can’t wait to see the sunrise light up the leaves on the trees that still surround the easement. And especially on the trees that have been growing back for the last five years. I hope to give them a little more time in the light.”

Throughout Ben’s blockade, supporters gathered to support him on Pocahontas Rd and Mystery Ridge, holding signs with phrases including, “No MVP,” “Shut It Down,” and “MVP Just Give Up.” National Forest law enforcement also gathered nearby the blockade but did not extract Ben.

On Wednesday, National Forest personnel gave MVP the go ahead to continue working and clearing trees dangerously close to Ben. At one point, MVP was operating an excavator within a few feet of Ben’s blockade site — which is both illegal and a huge hazard! The continued proximity of MVP crews (including workers clearing trees close enough to disturb those directly above Ben’s head) posed serious and direct danger to Ben’s life. Despite a “phone zap,” during which dozens of pipeline resisters called the National Forest to demand they stop putting Ben in danger by allowing MVP to work, the construction continued. This is yet another example of law enforcement colluding with Mountain Valley Pipeline to protect the profit of a multi billion dollar corporation at the expense of local people, ecosystems, and communities.

On Wednesday afternoon, Ben chose to unlock himself from his blockade due to these safety concerns. He was briefly detained by law enforcement, but was released without arrest.

The Mountain Valley Pipeline is a 42-inch diameter fracked gas pipeline slated to cross 300 miles of Appalachia. The project has a long record of environmental violations and court battles about failures to hold on to key permits, and is emblematic of the struggle to transition away from fossil fuels. In June 2023, congress passed a law to fast track the MVP, despite the pipeline’s long history of environmental violations and failure to hold on to key permits. People have been resisting the MVP since it was initially proposed and — despite escalating scare tactics by MVP and the legal system — continue to fight this toxic project.

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