A group of activists hold signs near the potomac river protesting a proposed pipeline.

These women are leading the campaign against new “Potomac Pipeline” near DC, Maryland

Tomorrow, the Maryland Department of the Environment will hold a public hearing on the “Potomac Pipeline,” a gas pipeline extension that would put the drinking water of millions of people at risk. A women-led, grassroots movement is urgently organizing to stop it.

The proposed route of the Eastern Panhandle Extension Pipeline would cross the Potomac River upstream of Washington, DC near Hancock, Maryland — and would put the drinking water of six million people in the DC, Maryland, and Virginia area at risk of contamination. Contrary to fossil fuel corporations’ claims, pipeline spills are not a matter of “if” but “when”: groundwater leakage from gas and oil pipelines routinely and permanently destroys land and water resources. Just last month, project owner Transcanada (who many of you may remember as the villain behind Keystone XL) leaked 210,000 gallons of oil from its existing Keystone Pipeline in South Dakota. And, it is clear that poor folks, people of color (DC is a majority black city), indigenous communities, and women bear the brunt of environmental catastrophes that result from these projects. Those very communities are also then tasked with leading local fights to block these devastating infrastructure projects across the country. 

The same is true for the battle to stop the Potomac Pipeline.

DC-based organizer Ntebo Mokuena describes the campaign against the pipeline as a show of solidarity among communities across the region, including indigenous organizers, area residents, and environmental groups. Mokuena helped successfully push nine out of thirteen DC council members to urge Governor Hogan and the Maryland Department of the Environment to reject TransCanada’s permits to build the pipeline. Alongside these DC residents, indigenous organizers from the Piscataway tribe — much of DC and Maryland are built on Piscataway land — have led powerful actions to pressure elected officials. Just last month, the group organized 100+ people to take action on the banks of the Potomac River.

So let’s pause here: it is likely many of you reading this have never of this pipeline — or the ongoing efforts to stop it and many others like it across the country. And this is a real problem. Far too often, those of us who care about environmental justice put all our attention toward viral national fights while ignoring the battles in our neighborhoods. The need for movements like the Standing Rock resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline cannot be overstated. But how many of us who “checked in” on Facebook to Standing Rock know about the pipelines being built in our state? How many of us who posted or even protested pulling out of the Paris Agreement pushed our city councils to make clean energy commitments? Our solidarity has to go beyond easy at best — and performative at worst — activism and include organizing against injustices in our own backyards. Though local campaigns require more commitment than the click of a “share” button (though please, keep sharing!), distributed grassroots movements are crucial to building sustained environmental equity that puts the power in the hands of the people rather than big fossil fuel companies.

It’s important to say (for the countless time): when these local movements do crop up and win, they are often jump-started and led by the consistent, persistent, uncompensated and typically unrecognized efforts of badass ladies taking time away from their jobs and personal lives to create a better community for everyone. This campaign to block the Potomac Pipeline is no exception, and its successes thus far are testament to the fact that we should throw our weight behind local women, local leaders, and local fights.

“As an indigenous person to this land, I believe water is the strongest thing on this planet,” says Valarie Proctor, a member of the DC-based women-led indigenous group Rising Hearts and the Wild Turkey Clan of the Cedarville Band of Piscataway Conoy. “We’ve seen pipelines and other disasters rip through the indigenous homelands of other nations, and it’s heartbreaking. I hope that more people will support this fight to stop the Potomac Pipeline.”

I agree.

Live in DC, Maryland, or Virginia and want to do something?

Attend or send comments to the Maryland Department of the Environment’s Public Hearing on the pipeline taking place tomorrow Tuesday, December 19 from 6-9:30pm at 289 W Main Street in Hancock, Maryland. Find a carpool here. After December 19, you can submit written testimony online to the MDE website. Visit www.potomacriverkeepernetwork.org to learn more.

Unable to attend? Join the Twitter storm calling on Governor Hogan to stop the pipeline.

If you want to join local organizers working to stop the Potomac Pipeline, contact 350 DC here on Facebook.

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Rachel Goldstein (find her at @rg0lds). Rachel’s day job is in renewable energy. She also, like the women above, organizes on her own dime with 350 DC and the DC Reinvest Coalition.

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