Fifteen people were arrested Friday night outside Gov. Roy Cooper’s office after an all-day sit-in to protest the construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.
The group had started with about 30 people Friday morning in what organizers called the next stage of their opposition to the planned natural gas pipeline. The act of civil disobedience came a week after Cooper’s administration issued a key environmental permit for the 600-mile underground conduit. The activists said the permit approval represents a failure of democracy in the face of political and business pressure.
The protesters, including activists from other states invited to organize and participate, gathered on the ground floor of a state office building and sang songs, held hands, led prayers, shared testimonials and displayed handmade signs. One hugged a police officer.
The activists said a core group would remain on the premises until forcibly removed or arrested. State Capitol Police officers did so shortly after 6:30 Friday night after the group refused to leave. Thirteen of those arrested were from out of state. All were charged with second degree trespass and removed from the building without handcuffs.
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“This is an escalation,” said Steven Norris, 74, of Fairview, near Asheville. “This is the first civil disobedience, this is the opening salvo. We’re ready to go out in front of bulldozers.”
Among their grievances: The pipeline will cross some of the poorest counties in the state, passing through communities of African-Americans and Lumbee Indians.
“Gov. Roy stuck a stick in a hornet’s nest,” said Greg Yost, a 51-year-old ninth-grade math teacher from Mars Hill. “This occupation today is the leading edge of what’s going to happen as the pipeline fight enters a new stage.”
Yost said the “blast zone” of the interstate pipeline will expose local residents to grave danger.
The sit-in was staged by APPPL, or Alliance to Protect our People and Places we Live, a North Carolina organization. The activists said the pipeline, which will supply a fleet of Duke Energy power plants and heating fuel for households, would prevent the development of renewable energy projects. They also warned that methane, the main component of natural gas, is a potent greenhouse gas.
Norris was particularly incensed that in the weeks before Cooper endorsed the pipeline, he declared his opposition to offshore drilling. Norris noted that coastal residents tend to be affluent and white.
“Gov. Cooper is standing with the white and privileged people of North Carolina,” he said. “But this pipeline will damage some of the poorest citizens of this state.”
Aimee Ryan, a 30-year-old conflict transformation and restorative justice consultant from Helena, Montana, said she was among 23 people from 14 states who were invited to North Carolina to help with organizing and protesting. Ryan said she arrived Monday and has spent time talking to local residents, including African-Americans and Lumbee Indians, about their fears and frustrations with the pipeline.
The Atlantic Coast Pipeline is an energy consortium led by Charlotte-based Duke Energy and Richmond-based Dominion Energy. The 600-mile underground pipe will deliver natural gas from shale gas fields in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, with a terminal point in Robeson County. The protesters echoed a common concern that they expect the line to be eventually extended to South Carolina and Georgia.
Cooper’s staff met with the protesters for more than an hour earlier in the day, hearing their grievances and assuring them that their concerns matter. Cooper’s office issued a statement saying that natural gas is a necessary bridge fuel that will be needed to transition society from dirty coal to clean renewables.
“We appreciate that North Carolinians are making their voices heard on this issue and will continue working toward a full renewable energy future,” the statement said. “As we move away from reliance on coal-fired power plants we will still need to rely on other fuels like natural gas, and the Department of Environmental Quality is taking rigorous steps to insist on clean water and good air quality along the path of construction.”