Press Release – Faith Leaders Deliver Letter to Northam Calling for Environmental Justice in Memory of MLK

April 4, 2018

Kendyl Crawford, Director, Virginia Interfaith Power & Light

Faith Leaders Deliver Letter to Northam Calling for Environmental Justice in Memory of MLK

Praying for Communities in Destructive Path of Pipelines

RICHMOND, Virginia – On the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., faith leaders gathered on the Virginia Capitol Grounds for a vigil and to deliver a sign-on letter (pasted below) to Governor Ralph Northam from 70 lay leaders and clergy raising urgent environmental justice concerns felt by communities along the proposed routes of the Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast Pipelines. The letter calls for Northam to reject the pipelines.

“Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said ‘Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness’ and in my view, those who choose and side with pipelines, compressor stations, who deny the devastating effects that man has and inflicts upon nature have chosen the latter,” said Rev. Paul Wilson, Senior Pastor of Union Hill/Grove Baptist Church.

Environmental justice directly intersects with other societal issues, such as racism, economic justice, criminal justice, and voting rights—issues for which Dr. King devoted his life. This time of year 50 years ago, King was in Memphis, TN, to struggle with sanitation workers towards labor, economic, and environmental justice and to stand against the devastating impacts of the disposal of society’s waste on people of color.

“As you may know, communities with people of color, are chosen for these toxic waste facilities. These facilities are life threatening because of the presence of poisonous toxic gases that we would have to breathe,” said Ruby Laury, a Buckingham County landowner in the path of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. “Another fact, is that much thinner pipelines are used in the rural areas and the cut off valves are approximately 20 miles apart. While in the more populated areas the pipelines are many times thicker and the cut off valves are three to five miles apart. Is this justice? No!”

In Buckingham County, the health and wellbeing of a freedmen-founded community, including Union Hill/Grove Baptist Church, are being threatened by the toxic pollution of a fracked-gas compressor station proposed for their historic neighborhood. “All people deserve to have clean and safe air, so we insist that there be both a public hearing and comment period for the air pollution permit for the Buckingham compressor station.” said Kendyl Crawford, Director of Virginia Interfaith Power & Light.

The Mountain Valley Pipeline will go directly through the Village of Newport, only yards away from the Newport-Mt. Olivet United Methodist Church, and could threaten the community’s drinking water. Faith leaders urged that well water within 1,000 feet of the pipeline centerline be tested, and that administration officials should look at the individual stream crossings for both pipelines, instead of using a federal blanket permit to cross the whole region.

“Every faith tradition teaches us to love our neighbors, and we don’t show love for our neighbors by ignoring the potential devastation of communities like Buckingham County and the Village of Newport. We call for administration officials to visit all of the communities endangered by these pipelines to see their real and destructive impact,” said Crawford. “Virginia can invest in pollution-free, renewable infrastructure that will create new jobs, support our energy independence, and protect our land and all of us for generations to come.”

“Join us Governor Northam, as stewards of what God has given us, to take what some regard as an impossible challenge — creating a new reality of low carbon growth — and make it inevitable,” said Rev. Richard Cizik, President of New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good.

This event was sponsored by Virginia Interfaith Power and Light and Richmond Interfaith Climate Justice League.


About Virginia Interfaith Power & Light: Virginia Interfaith Power & Light is a community responding to climate change by gathering, sharing, and advocating ecological wisdom through interfaith collaboration on behalf of current and future generations. For more information, visit


Copy of Letter Text

Dear Governor Northam,
The Rev. Dr. King said that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere—we cannot remain silent while our neighbors’ property is unjustly seized for private gain, drinking water vital for all life is endangered, many of our most vital natural areas are slated for destruction, and while people of color and low-income communities bear the brunt of this assault.
It is fitting that on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., that we, the undersigned faith leaders from across the commonwealth, raise a clarion call to environmental justice and sacredness of life. We are writing to inform you of our strong opposition to the impending construction of the Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast Pipelines. 
At a time when global climate change is accelerating even more rapidly than predicted, and the lack of availability of clean water is becoming a crisis in communities across the United States, committing to a long-term investment in fossil fuel infrastructure that exacerbates both problems is not only immoral, but also unwise and threatens the health of Virginians. 
The costs of climate change, pollution, and commonly occurring pipeline leaks and breaks are felt by all Virginians. But, their direct social and economic costs are health impacts to air, water, and land, loss of land values and rights, forced most often upon communities of color and low-income rural communities with the least political power and histories of discrimination. The proposed Atlantic Coast (ACP) and Mountain Valley Pipelines routes continue this trend of environmental injustice, as evidenced by the decision to site the only ACP Virginia compressor station on former slave plantation lands surrounded on all sides by the populous, 85% African American, historic Freedmen community of Union Hill in Buckingham, Virginia. 
In addition to these costly consequences, we are disturbed by the anti-democratic process by which these unnecessary pipelines were approved. We regret that many politicians have chosen a path of climate science denial and obstructionism, and make backroom deals with powerful fossil fuel companies even as their destructive effects are already being felt by Virginians every day—we do not believe you are one of those politicians. 

There is another path forward for Virginia: we can invest in pollution-free, renewable infrastructure that will create new jobs, support our energy independence, and protect our land and all of our citizens for generations to come. We can sustain landowners with monthly solar lease compensation rather than eminent domain condemnations for pipelines that can destroy current agricultural uses, for a forced one-time easement payment. Join other leaders to build a legacy of clean energy and dignity of life, instead of committing Virginia to an unnecessary, dangerous, and polluting infrastructure. We urge you to do the right thing and reject the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley Pipelines.

If you’d be interested in the list of faith leaders that signed onto the letter, please contact