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Why WNC Should Be Worried About The Atlantic Coast Pipeline

Above Photo: Waterkeeper Alliance Inc./ Flickr

Regulators have recently given Duke Energy and Dominion Resources permits to construct the 600-mile, $6.5 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) from West Virginia, and Virginia, into North Carolina. In N.C., the pipeline will be 36 inches in diameter and will cross 1,300 parcels of land. It will carry at least 1.5 billion cubic feet of fracked gas per day. Some gas may possibly be available to North Carolina customers. Much, though will be headed to S.C. and beyond for export to China and Europe.

Since the ACP is being built in eastern North Carolina, 200 miles from Asheville, many think that it is not our problem, and will not impact us.

Nothing could be further from the truth.  The ACP will hugely impact all residents in N.C., including Asheville.

Cost of pipeline: Since planning started, the cost of the pipeline has risen fast. Duke’s commitment is now about $3 billion. Because Duke is a regulated monopoly, it can automatically pass these costs on to us, the ratepayers.  But not only that, it can also charge us 14 percent profit. So on a $3 billion pipeline, we will also pay about $400 million in profits to Duke shareholders. In addition, Duke has recently asked the N.C. Utility Commission for another huge rate hike to pay for past activities, including a failed nuclear power plant, and the disposal of coal ash. In the process, Duke’s shareholders are enriched while the rest of us are impoverished. (e.g., Duke CEO Lynn Good’s pay last year increased 55 percent, to $21.4 million.)

Cost of fracked gas: Duke has argued that the pipeline will lower gas and electricity prices. They are wrong. While gas is cheap now, once ACP gas is exported, its price will skyrocket. We Duke ratepayers from Western North Carolina will be charged for a pipeline that benefits China and Europe more than it benefits us. Also, since Duke has perfected the “art of the self-deal”, and will supply the gas which it sells to itself, it will likely try to keep gas pries high: the higher the price of gas, the more money Duke makes.  Duke gets enriched, and we the customers are again impoverished.  Of course, the burden of this falls most heavily on poor people, who may have to choose whether to pay Duke or buy food or medicine.

Climate change for all peoples: Duke says that fracked gas is better for the climate than coal. This is wrong. In its entire life cycle, from extraction to transport to burning, fracked gas, which is mostly methane, traps much more heat in the atmosphere than coal. Since large amounts of methane leaks, the ACP will result in catastrophic climate change of the sort we saw in this year’s hurricanes, and in the wildfires in California and in the Smokies, too. If we are to avoid catastrophic climate change here in WNC and elsewhere, ACP cannot be built.

Duke is already responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than any other U.S. corporation, and its record of dealing with coal ash toxins is abysmal. Dominion’s record is not much better. Why should we trust them to responsibly manage a more toxic fracked gas pipeline?

Also, to reduce greenhouse gases, we must make a rapid transition to wind and solar. But the $6.5 billion budgeted for the ACP will wed us to toxic fossil fuels for the indefinite future.

Corruption of our state government: In exchange for N.C. permitting the ACP,  Duke and Dominion pledged $57 million to the governor for a “mitigation fund”, which some have called a “bribe.” This creates the appearance that the flawed and dangerous ACP “bought” its permit. Whatever the reality, the fact that the Governor’s Office is tainted by this hint of corruption means that the ACP reinforces Duke’s corrupt and expensive monopoly over N.C.’s economy and energy. What we in Asheville really need right now, and what N.C. needs, is energy democracy, in which local governments control not only their energy supplies, but over other local resources like water. Asheville should resoundingly oppose the ACP, and put its support behind a Community Bill of Rights that will reinforce democratic control over our community, its energy production, and its resources.

Conclusion: For many reasons the ACP is a huge danger to Western North Carolina. It must not be built.

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