(1) Whether they realize it or not, energy corporations behind these projects operate in ways that amplify these injustices. So, too, do regulators who lack the tools, vocabulary, and (in many cases) the authority to articulate and grapple with injustices. Individuals and communities experiencing these injustices encounter friction and frustration when they attempt to communicate with developers or regulators. The affected people may even lack the ability to communicate their concerns in ways that developers or regulators understand.
For example, regulators may be sympathetic to justice concerns but are unable to act if the community cannot point to a specific statutory violation (e.g., air quality or water quality thresholds). Developers, too, may recognize that their projects have negative implications for certain communities (e.g., noise pollution from compressor stations in rural communities, or the inability to subdivide and build multi-generational settlements on family property crossed by pipelines), but developers encounter resistance or opposition when people are unwilling to accept financial compensation for negative impacts. These points of friction frustrate everyone (developers, regulators, and the public), but this research shows how friction has forged coalitions among diverse groups opposed to these infrastructure projects. In the cases of Cove Point and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, resistance grew from grassroots movements that encountered increasing frustration with decision-making that failed to incorporate various (and highly relevant) categories of justice.
(2) The conclusions of this work add to a growing body of research and personal (or community) experiences confirming that decision-makers (including developers, FERC, and state environmental regulators) operate in an environment ill-equipped to address some of the most pressing social and environmental issues related to fossil fuels. One risk of being so ill-equipped is that decision-makers will be blindsided by opposition. In North Carolina, for example, public statements by Governor Cooper following creation of the $58 million "mitigation fund" by Atlantic Coast Pipeline developers suggest that he believed the fund would ameliorate social justice concerns related to the project. He was blindsided, however, by backlash from a large group of property owners, environmental organizations, faith communities, and Native American tribes, none of whom viewed the pipeline's negative impacts as exchangeable for money. This is only one of many examples related to this particular project; federal and state regulators and energy corporations have been blindsided in other ways. On the whole, I think these examples point to a mismatch between ways in which decision-makers create and regulate fossil fuel infrastructure, and ways in which the infrastructure is actually experienced by front-line communities.
In summary, I encourage you to read the paper in its entirety. My thoughts are influenced by my deep involvement with communities affected by the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, and your take-aways may differ slightly. This research doesn't cover the story of Native American tribes completely, but the authors admit that the Atlantic Coast Pipeline is an ever-evolving story, which makes research and reporting difficult. Overall, this is important work that helps explain some of the reasons why communities experience friction and frustration when they petition decision-makers for social justice. It should encourage communities to continue working and building alliances to address injustice. I'll close this blog post with a quote from the paper's conclusion:
"What if engaged global citizens could not only identify the energy future we did not want, one of racism and run-away climate change, but also what we did want, with informed consent, agency, respect, and ultimately justice?"