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A historically Black town stood in the way of a pipeline – so developers claimed it was mostly white

When residents in Union Hill, Virginia, decried the pipeline as a form of environmental racism, Dominion Energy insisted it wasn’t

Buckingham County residents attend a public meeting about a proposed compressor station in Union Hill, Va., for the since-canceled Atlantic Coast Pipeline. AP Photo/Steve Helber

By Ben Paviour for VPM and Abi Cole for Floodlight

As fracked gas fields in West Virginia boomed over the past decade, energy companies jumped at the chance to build massive new pipelines to move the fuel to neighboring east coast markets. The 600-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline would have been the crown jewel.
But Union Hill, Virginia – a community settled by formerly enslaved people after the civil war on farm land they had once tilled – stood in the way. Residents fought against a planned compressor station meant to help the gas move through the pipeline, arguing that because Union Hill is a historic Black community, the resulting air pollution would be an environmental injustice.
Dominion Energy, one of the pipeline’s two developers, kept pushing. It pledged to invest $5.1m in community services in exchange for the imposition. The company hired a former member of the governor’s cabinet, who grew up in Union Hill, to drum up support from church leaders to landowners. They flew local leaders on a helicopter to Pennsylvania to tour a compressor station there.
Dominion’s campaign split the Union Hill community, dividing church congregations, and in some instances, families. While some residents were for the investment, others saw their resolve to fight the pipeline deepen. In response to mounting opposition, Dominion took an unexpected tack: the company hired outside help to argue that the community around the site was, in actuality, mostly white. READ MORE