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Activists Protest Gov. Northam’s Position on Pipelines

By Brandon Celentano, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – About 25 environmental activists demonstrated at Gov. Ralph Northam’s inauguration Saturday to protest his refusal to oppose two natural gas pipelines that energy companies want to build across Virginia.

The demonstrators unveiled a banner saying “our water > pipelines” and waved other signs as they chanted “water is life” through megaphones.

The protesters were with Virginia River Healers and a coalition called “Water is Life. Protect it.” They were demonstrating against the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the Mountain Valley Pipeline, which would cut across the western part of the state.

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline would carry natural gas 600 miles from West Virginia to North Carolina, and the Mountain Valley Pipeline would run more than 300 miles from northwestern West Virginia to southern Virginia. Dominion Energy and other companies that have proposed the pipelines say they are important for meeting the region’s energy needs and will create jobs.

Tom Burkett, the lead organizer of Saturday’s protest, complained that the pipelines would carry gas extracted from hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The technique involves injecting high-pressure mixtures of water, sand or gravel and chemicals into the ground – a process that opponents say damages the environment.

“In doing this, there is a lot of water contamination concerns because of the millions of gallons of chemicals that the process uses,” Burkett said. “There is also the concern that with these pipelines being constructed, the fracking companies will have a better infrastructure and will then get a business incentive to continue fracking even more.”

Burkett noted that Northam has accepted campaign contributions from Dominion Energy. He said he wished politicians would pledge to not accept money from energy companies that have a stake in pipelines.

Northam has given mixed signals on whether he approves of the pipeline projects.

During the Democratic gubernatorial primary, Northam avoided taking a firm stand for or against the pipelines – drawing criticism from his opponent, Tom Perriello, and environmentalists.

Northam has said he supports the pipelines if they can be constructed in an environmentally safe way and the rights of property owners are not violated. Last week, Northam said he supports U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine’s proposal that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission reconsider its vote to approve the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

About 10 of the demonstrators at Northam’s inauguration were immigrants’ rights supporters. Wearing their signature orange beanies, they were showing their support for undocumented immigrants known as Dreamers, who were brought to the United States as children.

Dreamers had been protected against deportation by an Obama administration policy called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. President Trump has indicated he may end that policy.

Women’s Equality Coalition Releases Legislative Agenda

By Sarah Danial and Brandon Celentano, Capital News Service

RICHMOND -- The Women’s Equality Coalition is supporting  a legislative agenda focusing on issues  ranging from Medicaid expansion and birth control to redistricting and no-excuse absentee voting.

Coalition representatives from Progress Virginia, Community Mobilization for the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia and their supporters called on lawmakers to advance rights and programs for women and families. 

Coalition members said they are focusing on three umbrella issues in legislation they hoped to see filed and considered this session -- women’s health, economic justice and democratic participation.

In addition to Medicaid expansion, no-cost birth control and ensuring a right to abortion, the group supports workplace and economic reforms. It backs legislation to raise  the minimum wage in Virginia to $15 an hour, establish pay equity  and combat employment discrimination. The group additionally wants improvements in paid family and medical leave.

The coalition also supports the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

At its news conference Monday, the group also called for non-partisan redistricting reform and no-excuse absentee voting.

‘“Every citizen has the right to make their voice heard, but in too many parts of Virginia, women don’t have a say in choosing their representatives because the election outcome has already been rigged,” said Anna Scholl, executive director of Progress Virginia.

 “Non-partisan redistricting reform and no-excuse absentee voting would allow women to more fully participate in our democracy and give responsible Virginians across the Commonwealth the ability to have their voice heard, even if they can’t make it to the polls on Election Day.”

Joyce Barnes,  a home health care worker and a member of the Service Employees International Union, spoke in support of the coalition.

“I work for minimum wage, and I currently have two jobs. I don’t get home until 10 p.m.and I miss time with my family and friends. I never get a vacation or time off  because I have to put food on my table and pay my rent,” she said. “We need to pass these bills so that women like me can live like everyone else and get the compensation they deserve.”

Tarina Keene, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, noted that Virginia is one  of 19 states that has not expanded Medicaid. Gov.-elect Ralph Northam has said that Medicaid expansion will be a priority in the coming legislative session.

Keene said legislation that would confirm abortion as a fundamental right and prioritize birth control said it is “a common sense bill which makes Virginia lives better.”

Republicans hold a narrow majority in the Virginia General Assembly. A spokesman for the Senate Republican Caucus declined to comment on the coalition’s goals. Requests for comment to the Family Foundation, which seeks to “empower families in Virginia by applying a biblical worldview” to public policy. were not returned.

More information about the Women’s Equality Coalition and its legislative agenda is at vawomensequalitycoalition.org.

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