A Rallying Cry for the Greenbrier River

The blog post below is adapted from remarks our Program Director, Autumn Crowe, made during a public event opposing the Mountain Valley Pipeline. Her words speak to the intense personal relationship people have with their local rivers, and the incredible hurt felt when those waters are exploited and harmed.

A young Autumn enjoys the Greenbrier River.

For me it’s personal. The Mountain Valley Pipeline is attempting to cross the Greenbrier River, the river that helped shape who I am today.

I grew up swimming and fishing in its waters and camping along its banks, which inspired me to pursue degrees in environmental protection and soil science. Whenever I am feeling weary or lost, I go to the river and it gives me energy and purpose. So I’ll do whatever I can to protect that mighty river especially from the unnecessary destruction of MVP.

As West Virginians, we have a strong cultural attachment to the land and the waters that flow through these mountains. Whether you were born here, raised here, or just got here as soon as you could, everyone I’ve ever encountered can speak to that connection.

We care for the land and in return it provides for us. We drink from the mountain springs and forage for food and medicine in the forests, collecting ramps, mushrooms and ginseng. We farm and garden in the valleys, hunt deer and other game in the hills, and fish in the headwater streams for those precious trout. Because we are so integrally tied to the land and water, it hurts deeply when the land is damaged and water is polluted and we will defend the environment and our way of life at all costs.

One hundred years ago, when the coal mining companies threatened that way of life and tried to bust up the unions, the mountain folk donned their red handkerchiefs around their necks and rose up in opposition. Today, West Virginians haven’t stopped fighting the coal industry as they decapitate our mountains and pollute our water. Now, it feels like history is repeating itself with the gas industry as they appear to be using the same playbook.

Mountain Valley Pipeline construction. Photo by Jenny Harnish.

The gas companies and regulatory agencies attempt to downplay the impacts to our land and water as minor and temporary. But we know the MVP’s destruction is lasting.

The best defense for our mountains and streams are boots on the ground and eyes on streams. That why WV Rivers, in partnership with Trout Unlimited, has trained over 1,000 individuals to serve as watchdogs and report pollution.

Our citizen monitors have documented hundreds pollution events across the two Virginias. And each time, the company gets a slap on the wrist. To them, the fine is simply the cost of doing business.

But for us, their sloppy construction practices have caused landslides, ruined mountain springs, which is often the only drinking water source in rural communities, and clogged streams with sediment, detrimental to fish populations and other aquatic life who need that cool clean water to survive. We have proven through the Courts that MVP cut corners, relying instead on their money and power to ram this pipeline through.

They are not following the environmental regulations that were put in place to protect this sensitive ecosystem full of endangered species, pristine headwater streams, and highly erodible mountainsides.

They try to tell us that we need this gas, but we cannot lock ourselves into increased methane emissions that causes even more damage to our climate than carbon. Don’t let anyone fool you into thinking that natural gas is a bridge fuel. What we really need is to transition away from this dirty fossil fuel.

Climate scientists agree that we only have 8 more years to drastically cut methane emissions to avoid climate chaos. Appalachia is ready for the transition to renewables. There are more of us every day putting solar on our rooftops and buying electric vehicles. We’re putting solar farms on mountaintop removal sites, but we can be doing so much more if our lawmakers would get their act together and pass meaningful climate legislation. We need to put our fossil fuel workers back to work infusing renewables into our energy grid and electrifying our transportation system.

I won’t stop advocating for my state’s future, my beloved Greenbrier River’s future and my children’s future.

Autumn’s son, Ridge, experiences the joy of West Virginia’s exceptional rivers and streams. In this photo he is fishing a tributary of the Greenbrier River. 

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