PA Nuns Step up Defending Land Against Pipelines

The Adorers pray before Thursday’s hearing resumes, Sister Martha, Sister Bernice, Sister George Ann, Sister Joan and Sister Linda. Photo by Lancaster Online’s Richard Hertzler.

Earlier in July, more than 500 people gathered in a hot and dusty Pennsylvania cornfield yesterday to join the Catholic sisters of the Adorers of the Blood of Christ for the dedication of a new outdoor chapel, built on land about to be seized from them by a corporate developer planning to build a natural gas pipeline. (Read more.)

This past week, five Lancaster County landowners, including the Adorers of the Blood of Christ, were in US District Court in Reading, PA, fighting to keep the Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline off their land. Transco/Williams seeks immediate possession of these properties, even though the eminent domain process is far from finalized, according to a press release.

After two full days of testimony and argument, the hearing came to an end. Judge Jeffrey Schmehl said he would review the cases and “render a ruling at an appropriate time.”

Organizers identified key takeaways from the court hearing:

*The Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline (ASP) still lacks permits from the Pennsylvania DEP that must be obtained before construction begins. David Sztroin, project manager for the Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline, testified at the hearing that those permits—assuming they come—are not expected until early- to mid-September.

*Furthermore, the PA DEP could ultimately deny Williams the necessary water permits to begin construction, effectively derailing the project. Why should Williams be granted advance access to landowner properties for a project that might never be built? In early 2016, the state of New York denied similar permits for the Constitution Pipeline. That project remains stalled to this day.

*Attorney Michael Onufrak conclusively demonstrated that the ASP is largely designed to export Marcellus fracked gas overseas. This fact clearly undercuts the legitimacy of FERC’s approval of the project, as well as the use of eminent domain.

*On Friday, July 14, the Adorers of the Blood of Christ filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against FERC. The suit alleges that a fracked gas pipeline through their farmland in West Hempfield Township violates their long-demonstrated religious commitment to environmental justice.

The Adorers, whose religious practice includes protecting and preserving creation, which they believe is a revelation of God, allege that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and its Commissioner, Cheryl La Fleur, have violated a federal law, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, by forcing the Adorers to use their land to accommodate a fossil fuel pipeline. Such use is antithetical to the Adorers’ deeply held religious beliefs.

The Adorers allege that FERC’s action places a substantial burden on their exercise of religion by taking their land, which they want to protect and preserve as part of their faith, and forces the Adorers to use their land in a manner and for a purpose they believe is harmful to the earth.

See more media stories.

Lucky Lurky Margaret Atwood Retweets On Catholic Sisters

I happen to be reading Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood right now. It’s a delightfully conniving retelling of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, set in a maximum security prison.

Then today I was alerted that Margaret Atwood herself retweeted Developers Are Trying to Build a Pipeline Through a Watershed. These Nuns Built a Chapel in Its Path by Heidi Thompson and myself on land defenders in Lancaster County, Penn., that was posted on the Sojourners website. Wow! (Thank you, @MargaretAtwood!)

(Apparently, some people are dedicated to using their twitter powers for good, not for sowing strife!)

The update on the Catholic sisters of the Adorers of the Blood of Christ in Lancaster County, Penn., is the judge approved the fossil-fuel company’s right to take a portion of the nuns’ land by eminent domain, but then the nuns filed a religious freedom injunction!

This is a unique approach and I’d say this is an important case to follow. (See July 16, 2017 Washington Post article Catholic nuns in Pa. build a chapel to block the path of a gas pipeline planned for their property by Julie Zauzmer. Thank you, @JulieZauzmer!)

Now, circling back to Margaret Atwood: Hag-Seed is part of the Hogarth Shakespeare series published by Hogarth Press (founded in 1917 by none other than Virginia Woolf and her husband). It includes Jeanette Winterson’s The Gap of Time (on The Winter’s Tale), Anne Tyler’s The Vinegar Girl (on The Taming of the Shrew), and Howard Jacobson’s Shylock is My Name (on The Merchant of Venice). And due out soon is Tracy Chevalier on Othello!

It’s all mixed up to quote Margaret Atwood and the land defending Catholic nuns in the same blog post. But it comes together for me in this line from Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, when Cleopatra realizes that, with the death of her love, the earth shall pass away and–I would add–the icecaps will melt shedding tears across the world:

“O see, my women, The crown o’ th’ earth doth melt. My lord!”–Cleopatra in Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra (Act 4, Scene 15)
–Rose Marie Berger