BUCKHANNON — If you happened to stroll by Chase bank on a blistering hot, sunny Wednesday last week, you may have noticed a few friendly activists handing out fliers.
If they offered you literature and you said no, they didn’t sweat it; they simply moved on to the next passerby. That’s because they’ve decided to stand firm in their mission to do whatever it takes to slow the construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and West Virginia’s general dependence on fossil fuels.
Led by the Mountain Lakes Preservation Alliance, the ultimate goal of activists April Pierson-Keating, Kevin Campbell and Ann Chopyak was to get you to take your money out of Chase Bank — an institution they believe invests in the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a 42-inch pipeline that would transport natural gas about 600 miles from West Virginia to eastern North Carolina.
Pierson-Keating says last Wednesday’s Divestment Action was part of larger a movement blossoming out of the spirit of the Standing Rock protests in North Dakota. That national movement is known as Protect and Divest, and its message to banks funding the Atlantic Sunrise, Atlantic Coast, Mountain Valley, PennEast and Sabal Trail pipeline is that “if you choose to continue your relationship with these destructive fossil fuel companies, we will discontinue our relationship with you.”
Inside, in the air conditioned lobby, Chase branch manager Kyle Wilson said he couldn’t comment on the company’s involvement with the Atlantic Coast pipeline. In an email to The Record Delta Wednesday, Christine Holevas, media relations representative with JPMorgan Chase, would not confirm whether Chase does, in fact, funnel money into the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.
“We have energy companies that are bank customers, but we are limited in what we can say about any customer,” Holevas wrote. “We have an Environmental Social and Governance webpage that provides information about work that addresses these issues. We hope customers base their decisions on their experiences with our banks and our commitment to the environment and to our communities.”
As Pierson-Keating, Chopyak and Campbell handed out literature urging people to consider alternative energy sources — such as wind and solar power — they also campaigned to get people to “at least consider” moving their money from Chase to another local bank. Pierson-Keating emphasized that the group isn’t trying to attack local people who are employed by Chase, but rather the financial investments of the corporate conglomerate.
“We’re hoping people who pass by will at least consider taking their money out and perhaps down the road, they may actually do it,” she said. “Sometimes the best way to get someone to do something is to hit them in the pocketbook. Chase is not a small-town bank. It is a huge conglomerate. Maybe people could think about keeping their money in one of the local banks like Freedom Bank or Progressive Bank that invest in local infrastructure, which is better than investing in giant pipelines that don’t benefit us.”
What’s the problem with the pipeline? Pierson-Keating, a staunch and tireless environmental advocate, doesn’t even know where to begin. She says scientific studies and reports are demonstrating that the Earth’s climate problems “are only going to get worse if we don’t move to renewable energy as fast we can.”
“As far as climate-warming goes, methane (the main component of natural gas) is 86 times as bad as carbon dioxide in terms of its ability to warm the plant,” Pierson-Keating said. “Warming of the planet causes storms, floods, droughts, crop failures, the melting of permafrost and the proliferation of microbes that grow better in a warmer climate.”
Climate concerns are not the only impetus behind Mountain Lakes Preservation Alliance’s campaign against the construction of the ACP, however; the group wants West Virginians to think long and hard about how natural gas companies are treating local people and whether the pipelines will bring any long-term benefit to them.
“These companies come in and they take land by eminent domain, but this is a profit-making project, and the need for this pipeline has not been established in a credible way,” Pierson-Keating said, adding that landowners who receive $20,000 in exchange for their land don’t realize that that amount of money is “basically nothing to these companies.”
“People need to realize that our state is where they’re getting the gas,” she said. “It’s a transmission line; it’s not meant to deliver gas to local customers. They’re taking the gas from us and it’s not benefitting us.”
W.Va. state legislators can help by supporting policies that encourage the development of other economic options for West Virginians besides coal, oil and natural gas, Pierson-Keating said. One example might be policy support for solar power initiatives or the support of hemp farming.
And the time to act is now, she says.
“We’ve upset the balance of nature,” Pierson-Keating said, “and we are going to suffer for that if we don’t do something right now.”
Campbell has one idea about what can be done now, he says.
“Upshur County could take all of the abandoned mine land and put up a micro-grid to enable the use of utility grade solar that can feed the grid and power all of Upshur County,” he said.
For more information about the Protect and Divest movement, visit protectanddivest.weebly.com.