Pipeline politics: Virginia's Keystone?

Call it the Keystone next door.

A core group of Virginia Republicans and other landowners is leading the charge against a proposed natural gas pipeline near their backyards and using tactics similar to the environmental crusade against the Keystone XL oil pipeline — the very project Republicans in Congress have elevated into a matter of national economic survival.

Financial services super-lobbyist Phil Anderson is joining other politically active Republicans in carrying out a well-funded campaign against Dominion’s $5 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which would cross Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley while running 550 miles from West Virginia’s fracking fields to North Carolina. They’re calling the effort “All Pain, No Gain,” which echoes the “All Risk, No Reward” coalition that Keystone opponents formed two years ago.

“Job One is to stop this route — it would be a tragedy for the state of Virginia,” said Anderson, whose family has owned land for more than a century along Atlantic Coast’s proposed path 20 miles west of Charlottesville. His allies include other landowners in the area, as well as Tom Harvey, a national security staffer in the George H.W. Bush administration; and Taylor Keeney, a former spokeswoman for Republican ex-Gov. Bob McDonnell.

The pipeline opponents say their fight is neither Republican nor Democratic, and Anderson said his campaign against Atlantic Coast is “not mutually exclusive” with the overwhelming GOP support for Keystone. He notes that Dominion could use condemnation to acquire access to private property for the project if it can’t work out agreements with the owners.

“A lot of conservatives oppose this pipeline — eminent domain for a pipeline that’s not providing any true public utility,” Anderson said. He added: “The XL debate obviously has raised talking points about pipelines to a higher level, but in many ways they are not germane to this issue in Virginia. It’s a different type of pipeline, a different sort of need.”

Still, Atlantic Coast’s opponents acknowledge the parallels with the anti-Keystone push that has pitted President Barack Obama against a chorus of GOP lawmakers in Washington. The dispute is also a reminder of how Keystone has changed the politics of pipelines nationwide, offering a template that activists from New England to Minnesota and Wisconsin are using to grind projects to a halt.

“In some ways, I think we’re not too far from the crowd of folks who say, ‘No pipelines, nowhere,’” said campaign co-Chairwoman Charlotte Rea, an Air Force veteran and self-described independent. “We have a lot of common ground with those folks, more common ground probably than we do differences.”

The activists leading the fight against the Alberta-to-Texas Keystone XL project say: Welcome aboard, Virginians.

“Any effort to slow the building of new fossil fuel infrastructure is a blow for climate sanity at this point,” said Bill McKibben, co-founder of the group 350.org.

“I am happy to see Republicans got their backbone back after selling out landowners along the Keystone XL route for the very same risks and concerns about property rights and water,” said Nebraska anti-Keystone activist Jane Kleeb. She added, “If the K Street lobbyists want to learn how to run a grass-roots campaign to protect property rights and water, they can come visit us in Nebraska.”

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