Nearly one year ago, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approved the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP), stating that it posed no environmental justice concerns. Now, a group of academics and attorneys say that FERC used data from unreliable statistical methods in an effort to disregard the impact that the pipeline will have on Black and Indigenous communities.
If completed, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline will run for 600 miles underground, carrying gas from West Virginia to North Carolina. It is being built by a coalition of companies, and the lead developer is Dominion Energy. According to Pacific Standard magazine, President Donald Trump considers it a “priority” project. Per Pacific Standard:
FERC conditionally approved the ACP in October of 2017, after its Environment Impact Statement concluded that there would be "no disproportionately high and adverse impacts on environmental justice populations." [Co-developer] Duke Energy has claimed that the pipeline will benefit economically distressed communities by attracting jobs and development.
Many people living in the area disagree. "It’s going to be a lot of pollution in our community," says Robie Goins, a Lumbee Native American who lives in the evacuation zone of the pipeline’s proposed route. "The people who are in low-income, poverty-stricken areas are targets for these types of projects. It’s like we’re being targeted by the big corporations. It’s like they want to kill us all."
According to Ryan Emanuel, an associate professor at North Carolina State University and a member of the Lumbee Indian tribe, approximately 30,000 Native Americans live near the proposed pipeline route. He says this number is larger than those affected by the Dakota Access pipeline.
It is federal policy that FERC must review all major federal projects that could affect the environment. With the ACP, it based its review on data from the Census—a method that critics and environmental justice groups cite as faulty. FERC only considers a community near the proposed pipeline route to be an “environmental justice” community if the population’s residents of color are 10 percent higher than the county average. “FERC repeatedly shifts its baselines,” wrote Pacific Standard. “Each of the eight counties through which the pipeline runs has a distinct demographic make-up. That means a minority community is unlikely to be flagged unless it sits within a largely White county.”
Emmanuel believes the Indigenous populations affected constitute a textbook definition of disproportionate impact, telling the Pacific Standard, “If you’re using a mathematical tool that can’t recognize that, then that tool is giving a false negative reading. It’s telling you there’s no problem when there really is a problem."
On May 15th, a coalition of environmental groups based in North Carolina filed a civil rights complaint with the Environmental Protection Agency against the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, accusing it of discrimination based on race and color when it issued permits for the pipeline. A decision is pending on the complaint.