Chuck Bubbas, Corruption and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline

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FERC held a “scoping” meeting at Stuarts Draft High School on March 19th, 2015.  This was an opportunity for members of our community to voice concerns and participate in the democratic process about the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP).  If it’s built it will bisect Augusta County, Virginia, the place where we live.

The news media reported what was said…not what happened.

Area resident John Geary, who owns a farm that is on one of the current proposed routes for Dominion's Atlantic Coast Pipeline, speaks about his concerns Thursday, March 19, 2015, at the FERC scoping meeting at Stuarts Draft High School. (Photo: Randall K. Wolf/The News Leader)

Area resident John Geary, who owns a farm that is on one of the current proposed routes for Dominion’s Atlantic Coast Pipeline, speaks about his concerns Thursday, March 19, 2015, at the FERC scoping meeting at Stuarts Draft High School.
(Photo: Randall K. Wolf/The News Leader)

We arrived at 4:40pm for a 7pm meeting. There was already a line formed for people to sign up that wished to speak.  We joined the back of the line.

The ACP is one of ten proposed high-pressure natural gas pipelines crossing the Appalachian Mountains moving fracked gas to the Atlantic Coast.  This pipeline will be a 42-inch pipeline – the largest Dominion has ever attempted.

Dominion, the largest energy company in Virginia “Pre-filed” with FERC to build the pipeline. This meeting is part of the “Scoping” process. We were in line to speak in opposition to the proposed route.

A steady flow of people filed in. A woman with a clipboard met selected people at the door. She did not greet us, so I wondered whom she was assisting. She would greet certain people, check something on her clipboard and then walk them to the line and insert them into the line in front of me.  “What is going on?” I thought.  It happened again and again, then I realized what was going on.  It brought back memories of middle school bullies.

Here’s how it works: put one of your bully friends in line as a “place holder” so the person you really want in line doesn’t have to wait like everyone else. We refer to them, whose time is more important than ours, as “Chuck Bubbas”. In the couple hours we stood in line I watched four people inserted in front of me, and many behind me.

I asked “clipboard woman” what was going on and she informed me that these “guests” were not butting in line because she had “place holders” saving them a spot.  Dominion was “stacking” the deck with people that would speak in favor of the pipeline. Not only did they bring in their hand picked people, most from outside of our County, they also handed bottles of water to them. I learned later Dominion also hosted a “reception” room in the same building, which is a “public” high school.  It was exclusively for their pro-pipeline “guests” with food and drinks provided.  We were not allowed in nor welcomed. We tried.

It made me angry. And it made me think about Dominion’s domination over our politicians in state government. This year laws passed in their favor and bills were killed in committee that would have brought transparency to Eminent domain “takings”.

Chuck Bubba #4 was speaker number 16.  I was 17th.  Here’s my three minute speech.  When I left the auditorium after speaking, a woman came up to me and asked, “Are you Mr. Whitecarver?”  She left out the “s” in my name.  I replied, “Yes ma’am.”  She was wearing a pro-pipeline sticker and I did not know her.

She scolded, “Well, I guess all you people in Augusta County ought to move out!”

Perhaps there is nothing illegal about using “Chuck Bubbas” or having a reception room for only selected people in a public building, but it’s wrong.  Dominion’s actions prevented people whose land is threatened by the ACP and concerned citizens from expressing their opinions.   It distorts the facts and is disrespectful.  Plain and simple it’s dishonest and corrupt.

I’m against this pipeline for many good reasons.  This is the widest part of Karst geology in Virginia and the area with the most subsidence/sink hole collapses, making this a very dangerous place for a large diameter, high pressure natural gas pipeline.   Other reasons include protecting our water resources, the devaluation of our farms and forests and the beauty of the Shenandoah Valley.  I’ve got another reason now – how can we expect a corporation that is dishonest and corrupt at a meeting to ethically build a high risk pipeline?

To find out more about why this is not the right place for this pipeline go to the Augusta County Alliance website.

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See our campaign here – All Pain No Gain.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”         

Margaret Mead

Comments

  1. Leo Tammi says:

    Thank you, Bobby, for investigating the true circumstance of the event and that important reporting. Do we remember that George Orwell imagined a time when some were “more equal” than others?

  2. Kate Guenther says:

    I was out of town for the meeting so I greatly appreciate your describing what happened. Thank you for your service in going and reporting. It makes me angry, too. And very disappointed.

  3. Bobby, thank you for this accurate report of what happened at the scoping meeting – I was eye witness to the same as one of the first to arrive. When the line of “place holders” were marched in it impressed me how young they were, and in fact learned that at least one was a student from the College of William and Mary. Makes one wonder if they were paid. For certain they were treated well with food and drink in the “party room” and didn’t hang around to hear about the concerns of our community. What kind of lesson is this for young people. This extraordinary show of “bad corporate behavior” needs to be made known to our elected officials and FERC commissioners. Please call Senators Kaine and Warner today and add this incident to your list of concerns.

  4. Whit Morrriss says:

    Nice piece, Bobby. I was also quite disappointed at the proceedings. This would make a great letter to the editor(s)! Thanks

  5. Carol Taylor says:

    Thanks for this excellent post, Bobby and for your great speech. “Unaccustomed as I am to public speaking” I spent a lot of time that day writing the best 3 minute speech I could. We were not able to arrive very early and I signed in as #91. By the time we had to leave at about a quarter to ten, they were up to #64 so I did not get the chance to speak. On the positive side, some 90% of the “anti’s” were articulate and passionate, approaching the problems from every side. A similar percentage of the “pro’s” mumbled and spoke untruths or generalities. It was almost farcical and any self-respecting institution would have nixed the pipeline there and then. The width and depth of anti-pipeline sentiment in that room was palpable. A grass-roots organization must surely spring from this and the All Pain No Gain folks which coalesces all our love for the environment, our water and our wildlife. We will email your blog to our friends and thank you again.

    • Bobby Whitescarver says:

      Carol, thanks for posting. Your words are so true. I too, thought the pro-pipeline speakers were pitiful including Chuck Bubba #4 that spoke just before me. I am so sorry you did not get to speak. You were #91??!! That was exactly my point…they brought in folks to take your place! And they got their way…errggghhh….

      We must preserver….

      Thanks for your insight, energy, encouragement and friendship.

      bobby

  6. Erik Curren says:

    Bobby, I’m sorry but I’m not surprised that Dominion would try to manipulate the public meeting to further their ends. I trust Dominion to keep the power on and keep the rates reasonable (which they are, compared to other states) — but on protecting our local area, I think we can only rely on ourselves. The pipeline really does seem to be all pain and no gain for the Shenandoah Valley and so I’m grateful for you and others who are asking citizens to take a closer look at the project.

  7. Freeda Cathcart says:

    Thank you for letting us know what Dominion is up to. There are many reasons to oppose the natural gas pipelines even if you don’t live in a county where they are proposed to go through. This Commentary I wrote which was published in the Roanoke Times explains why:
    http://www.roanoke.com/opinion/cathcart-free-market-will-doom-natural-gas/article_7d066c0c-91c1-5fe2-bb0a-c49a7248da29.html

  8. David Fuller says:

    Bobby, thank you for reporting this despicable behavior on behalf of Dominion Power. I wish I could say I was surprised but they did not get the name Dominion Power by playing by the rules. I do think you should submit this in a letter to the editor to the News Leader , the News Virginian and the Charlottesville paper. Hopefully it will galvanize support for further resistance. I will call the offices of both Kaine and Warner as it is futile to rely on our State elected representatives.

  9. Rick Pfizenmayer says:

    We were out of town and couldn’t attend this meeting so this report is especially welcome. Thanks. Well done. This needs wider circulation with emphasis on the “move out” scold. Dominion’s behavior is not surprising. It’s how they do business. I am sure they were surprised and stung by the strong opposition they have encountered in Augusta and Nelson counties and now realize they are losing the battle for hearts and minds. So by resorting to bullying tactics, they are trying to dilute the opposition voice and plant enough seeds for FERC to hang a favorable decision on. Now is the time to fight fire with fire. The Dominion annual meeting of shareholders is May 6 and there needs to be a huge turn out for that. It will take some planning as these affairs are tightly controlled and scripted. First step would be for several articulate spokespeople like you and Nancy to buy a few Dominion shares before the record date if that has not passed so you can get into the meeting and sign up to speak. You will get no sympathy from that crowd or change Dominion’s determination to push forward, but you might get some helpful press coverage. In addition, a large protest outside the meeting would give force to comments made inside the meeting and itself draw media attention. Outside protests need to be well organized to make sure they take place where allowed and are orderly. If done well this will not only get the opposition publicity and show it’s strength to the powers that be, but will divert the Dominion PR team from what they want to be talking about. Dominion needs to feel the pain to the point that it is driven to pursue a more responsible route.

    • Bobby Whitescarver says:

      Rick, sorry you could not be at the meeting. Thanks for the information will process and forward.

      bobby

  10. George Ohrstrom says:

    Bobby
    Thanks for the post. Unfortunately, nothing you say in your post surprises me. Dominion Resources has never played fairly in any of their endeavors. I remind you of the shocking bill passed in The General Assembly this year that allows Dominion to raise it’s rates without any SCC oversight. They own the General assembly, and Gov. McAuliffe’s office too. It’s sad, but true.
    Thanks though for your post about it.
    George

  11. John Jaske says:

    AS always, great job Bobby. Exposing Dominion’s corrupt ways is so valuable. John Jaske

  12. Virginia A says:

    These meetings are supposed to be for the people to have their opportunity to speak and this is obstruction is set up by the organizers? Was FERC responsible for allowing Dominion to hold space at the top of the list for speakers they brought in? Or was Dominion responsible for this arrangement? Truly abhorring lack of respect for the people who live in these counties. Speak volumes about the character of whoever is responsible for this scheming behavior.. or, rather, lack of character.

    • Bobby Whitescarver says:

      Virginia, thanks for posting. FERC representatives did not arrive until about 5:45pm and I don’t think they knew about it and maybe they don’t care. From other comments I have received it happens all the time. The “Chuck Bubbas” were there as the result of Dominion’s recruitment.

  13. Joe McCue says:

    Thanks Bobby.

    In its 2013 Annual Report to Stockholders Dominion boasted that part of its energy portfolio was 10,900 miles of natural gas transmission lines. The ACP would be transporting natural gas to Dominion’s partners, not to Dominion’s own plants. So, the ACP is an investment, adding another 550 miles of pipeline to Dominion’s portfolio. The expected rate of return will enhance stockholder dividends. I think it is safe to say that Dominion would never build anything of this magnitude or cost unless it were profitable. There is nothing wrong with Dominion making a profit. Utility companies have to make a profit in order to pay above average dividends to attract stockholders.

    What about the ACP route? It goes through the GWNF, across sensitive water resources, near schools, near flood control dams, etc. Why use such a controversial route when Dominion could go a little farther north and use an existing pipeline easement that could accommodate proposed ACP?

    The answer is profitability. They have chosen the route through our community because it’s the most profitable route, and they are counting on FERC to go along with it, just because they are Dominion. One of the speakers at the FERC meeting summed it up well when he said that the shortest distance between the gas extraction fields and the end point of the pipeline was a straight line through our area. End of argument – tough luck for anyone in the way.

    Dominion doesn’t want to highlight this motivation. All they have to say is that “this country needs energy independence and this is in the public good.” And because they are a utility company they can gain access to your property without your permission. Our Virginia Legislature has seen to that. For the ACP to cross Augusta County, Dominion will have to use eminent domain to force landowners along the route to give up their property rights. Those landowners would be forced to allow the pipeline across their land, forced to give up their right to use their land, but they would still own the land (now greatly devalued), and have to pay taxes on it. All of this, just so Dominion can make more money.

    Like you and many others, my opposition to the ACP has nothing to do with any bias against natural gas transmission. It has everything to do with a large, for-profit, politically influential corporation forcing people to give up their property rights so that that corporation can enhance its portfolio. Dominion has yet to prove that the ACP is anything more than an enhancement to their bottom line, and it is at the expense of many property owners . If this pipeline has to be built, it should be built on existing rights-of-way where fewer property owners have to give up their ownership rights. Neither Dominion nor any other company should be allowed on your land until after they have proven that there is a legitimate public need.

    Has Dominion built a solid case that supports their argument that this project is necessary for domestic energy needs, that it is in the interest of the public good, and that it should follow this route? I, for one, don’t think so. Descartes said, “I think, therefore I am.” Dominion says, “I’m Dominion, therefore I can.”

  14. Constance Brennan says:

    Same thing happened here in Nelson County. The Chuck Bubbas used up almost an hour of time.
    FERC had to know what was going on, as the people they had signing folks in allowed these folks to sign up people who were not even there and never did come to the meeting. I tried to sign up for someone else and was told that was strictly forbidden. Does not inspire confidence that FERC will be fair in their assessments.

  15. Michael Yuhas says:

    This kind of childish strong-arming, for lack of a better word, pisses me off. Seems kind of ironic that this bullying happened in a meeting in a high school. The folks with Dominion obviously don’t have any interest in listening to local concerns. Bobby, if there is any way for your students to get involved in fighting Dominion I know that we’d love to take action to protect our state.Keep fighting the good fight. – Your student, Mike Yuhas

    • Bobby Whitescarver says:

      Michael, thank you for posting your comment and for your continued support. Hope you are doing well, we will be burning the NWSG soon. I will keep you posted.

      bobby

  16. Anybody contacted Dan Casey yet?

  17. Hotchkiss Jennings says:

    It wouldn’t surprise me if that’s what Dominion did. Lets concede that point. The article did mention that local citizens spoke up in support. I believe it mentioned Mt Solon and Stuarts Draft. Is it your contention that those voices are also illegitimate? Were they bused in or paid off? By failing to mention those local voices of support as a contrast to the shadier practices you describe , haven’t you committed the same sort of journalistic error/oversight that you accuse the Newsleader of? Can we acknowledge that people of good faith fall on both sides of this issue?

    Would you have an issue with non-local groups in opposition participating in these meetings? Local food for thought….

    • Bobby Whitescarver says:

      Hotchkiss, thanks for taking the time to post your comment. Out of the 109 people that signed up to speak only a handful of local folks spoke in favor of the ACP. One very nice gentleman was behind me in line for two hours. We had a delightful debate. He informed me that he had received an email from Dominion asking him to come and speak in favor and that if he could not be there to wait in line they would save him a spot. Dominion did not do that for those in opposition. What I don’t like about the process is the coercion and favoritism. Folks in opposition were not afforded the luxury of “place holders”. I don’t mind if people from outside the local area speak but as in other public meetings the speaker must state their address. What happened in Nelson and Augusta and perhaps other venues distorts the truth. There were many local people that signed up to speak that did not get an opportunity to speak. In my opinion this violates due process no matter which side they were on.

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