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‘The fox guarding the hen house’


On Oct. 25 The Farmville Herald published pieces from two strong pipeline supporters.  They insist that many reviews and inspections will be done and the pipelines will be safe.

What they fail to explain is that we must primarily trust the builder/owner of the pipeline to do this. No level of government is sufficiently funded as an independent reviewer/enforcer of safety. Additional budget cuts loom for federal safety enforcers. These will result in cuts to the states’ resources for environmental and pipeline oversight. Local governments along the pipelines’ paths do not have resources to deploy inspectors either. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) describes its role as pipeline approval and has a dismal record enforcing its certificate conditions and other environmental and safety protections. It is completely funded by industry and repeatedly refuses to accept an office of consumer protection to balance industry influence. Its inspectors are guaranteed to “work closely with” the builders.

In 2011, Congress passed new safety requirements for natural gas pipelines. However, they are still not enforceable rules, stalled due to “conflicting priorities.” Worse, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration has concluded that the costs of expanding safety requirements in rural areas would not result in sufficient benefits to be affordable. New rules historically do not apply to already-built pipelines, so we cannot expect to get more protection in the future. Meanwhile industry promotes voluntary self-regulation and continuing Congress’ direction that resources be focused in high consequence areas with high population instead of the low consequence areas in our region.

The fox is guarding the hen house and pressing behind the scenes to be the sole protector of the henhouse. Industry will always put their bottom line ahead of our safety. The FEIS confirms that they believe the land, buildings, people and animals I care about to lack sufficient value to be worth the costs of them giving us as much same safety as is required in populated areas.  They find the pipeline to be more important than anything that might be damaged in our region and dismiss all negative results as temporary and mitigatable.

Promises of protection and safety are hollow. No one has stepped forward to ensure that unbiased reviewers and inspectors with the power to actually ensure our safety will be funded and supported with political will to protect us and our land. We cannot trust the companies that want to take control of our land to protect our interests. 

These writers do not live along the pipeline route and one expects to benefit financially from building it.  Beware.

Irene Ellis Leech