This blog post was written by POWHR’s Communications Director Denali Nalamalapu.
Every day, when the moon sinks and the sun rises, the werewolf transforms into his human form. He cleans his teeth from his nightly hunt and checks in the mirror to verify that he now looks “normal” to the outside world.
Ten years ago, his fur fluffed with youth, he leapt into Appalachia, promising jobs, economic growth, and cheap energy costs to get the people in power on his side.
Empowered by his human form, he extended a hand to local organizations that the local communities respect: community centers, trail conservancies, police departments. He wanted to seem like one of them… another helpful guy coming to town to make things better.
Every night when the moon rose, he returned to his true form. As he tore up the mountains, he would salivate at the acute vulnerabilities of the communities he preyed on secretly during the day and overtly at night. They were poor, rural, and often elderly – people in power barely heard their cries for help.
He tears about these mountains for a reason. His calling is to insert a metal monster into the land so that his masters will be pleased. The work he does each night is visible. It’s what he does during the day that is harder to see.
When he encounters resistance to his nighttime escapades, he makes sure to extend a moneyed hand to the police so that they’ll back him up. The police put the money into the community, which makes him look good but is really just to make it easier to get this work done.
The destruction he wills on the mountains is irreparable but good thing most people won’t notice once it’s underground and threatening the most vulnerable. He giggles gleefully when he thinks about the money he will get back from this project and the steps forward he has made for future endeavors.
And off he leaps back into the mountains.
One of the most effective strategies utilized by the fossil fuel industry to grow its influence is donating money to community initiatives. By donating money to key local organizations, the industry embeds itself as a seemingly positive driver of prosperity and renewal for its targets and gains useful allies like the cops.
The fossil fuel industry has long targeted under-resourced communities with its projects and pollution. By doing so, it assumes it can avoid the visibility of government regulation and community advocacy by believing these places don’t have robust political will and community cohesion. The industry bolsters this likelihood by throwing money at community initiatives in order to make itself vital to the life of the community (as it kills it).
We’ve seen this with the Mountain Valley Pipeline. The MVP targeted rural, elderly, poor communities with its route through West Virginia and southwest Virginia because they see them as weak, easy targets. They threw money at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy to preserve the beloved McAfee Knob while they bury a fracked gas pipeline underneath the Appalachian trail and endanger the communities living around the AT. This makes them look like part of the future of Appalachia, and helps certain organizations turn a blind eye to their destruction.
The fossil fuel industry loves to partner with local cops to involve itself in community affairs while getting the police on its side. This allows them to buddy up with the cops when local resistance to the deadly projects rises.
We’ve seen this on the MVP frontlines. In July of 2023, Roanoke County dropped a lawsuit against MVP protestors, noting that “media might ‘report that County police is aligned with MVP and is punishing elderly people who are trying to protect County citizens’ property rights’. The County had never filed a lawsuit like this to recover police officer time. The County police adopted new measures to recover money from protestors including writing a “wishlist” of equipment they wanted for “any future pipeline-related incident “. Ultimately, the County dropped its demands for payment of police time and equipment.
Two weeks ago, the Rocky Mount Police Department, located in the MVP impacted Franklin County, accepted a donation from MVP. The Police Department says this money will go towards their “Community First” Initiative. This is a blatant example of the fossil fuel industry sinking its claws deeper into a community impacted by a massive, reckless project.
As I write this, fires have consumed more than 8,000 acres of Virginia due to extreme drought. As the climate crisis, which is largely caused by the fossil fuel industry, intensifies, Virginia is enduring severe droughts.
Additionally, our fossil fueled electricity bills are too high. Appalachian Power’s monthly bills have increased 35% since 2021. Inflation has increased 3.5% during that time. The MVP has already doubled its original cost – now $7.2 billion – and continues to tout claims that it will bring cheap energy to our region. However, fossil fuels are increasingly more expensive than renewable energy and MVP analysts say the pipeline is not likely to run at full capacity.
The forces we are fighting against have more power and money than we do. But they don’t get to have us. Every time we show up, we are resisting them. The biggest threat to their reign is our vigilance and the strength of our relationships. The path forward might not be clear but the only way to find the answers is to come together.