Saving Rural America: The Fight Against the NIET Corridors: Part Two
As she looked out lovingly over their 60–acre farm of rolling hills and green pastureland, Luciana Duvall explained how she felt when she arrived in Virginia from Argentina: “When I walked up to this hill the first day I arrived on this farm, I sat down here, and the wind was absolutely brilliant, and it felt like the station before heaven. It was my first day in Virginia,” she said. As she remembered that moment 12 years later, she continued passionately, “When you see this, you can understand why.”
Sitting underneath a tent canopy in the middle of a hot July day in 2007, Mrs. Duvall reflected, “It’s kind of ironic that today I’m hosting a party for the people of Virginia to protect this land. In a way sometimes you think you choose things, and sometimes things choose you. I believe that this place, in a way, has chosen me.” The party that she and her husband, actor Robert Duvall, hosted on their northern Virginia farm for more than 1,000 members of their community was a “No-Power Picnic” aimed at, according to Duvall, “thwarting Dominion Power.”
The Duvalls are a very community-and socially-minded couple; and, as a result, they have opened their home to other causes. According to the actor, “We’ve done this before for charities at the hospital, but this is even bigger. My wife went out and bought beef for the fajitas; we have tents set up and everything. I think it will be nice for the community, the young people and the children. I think it will be welcoming; this is a community thing.”
“It’s great that Bobby and I can add a little bit to the fight against these people who are so outrageous,” said Duvall’s Argentinian-born wife. The “fight” that Mrs. Duvall is referring to is the one that hundreds of thousands of rural Americans, from all stations of life, are continuing to wage against the National Interest Electric Transmission (NIET) Corridors. The fight is not only against the Department of Energy’s designation of these “corridors” but also, more specifically for the Duvalls and their community, against Dominion Virginia Power and Allegheny Power. These two power companies are working feverishly and aggressively to obtain approval from the state public service commissions to construct a 500-kV power line from southwestern Pennsylvania through West Virginia into northern Virginia.
This Trans-Allegheny Interstate Line (TrAIL) will clear-cut everything in its 200-foot-wide, 240-mile-long path and leave behind 180-foot high interconnected towers with high transmission lines generating electricity via antiquated, “dirty” coal-fired power plants – the primary cause of global warming’s greenhouse gases (GHG). This path runs roughshod over some of America’s most sacred and coveted lands – through forests, lakes, streams, springs, state and federal conservation easements, a National Forest, state parks, protected watersheds, wildlife preserves, historical lands and thousands of rural landowners’ homes, as well as farms that have been family-owned and-operated since America was in its infancy.
And, in the process, the land and everyone’s life will be irreparably damaged by the use of eminent domain to seize private property for the corporate profit of Dominion Virginia Power and Allegheny Power. Ironically, rural Americans will be victimized twice by these power companies: once when they have their lands and homes seized and then again when they pay 100 percent of this proposed approximately $1 billion construction project via rate hikes on their electricity bills.
Thanks to Congress’s Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPACT 2005) and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), these power companies are not required to invest even one cent in this companyowned construction project even though 100 percent of the profits flow back to them. All Dominion Virginia Power and Allegheny Power have to do is take advantage of EPACT 2005’s Section 1221 and take advantage of rural America. This unwitting combination will allow them to feed what many people believe is corporate greed as well as a gross disregard for the Earth and its inhabitants.
“We’re trying to thwart this whole thing, to try and defeat Dominion Power – to keep them from putting these towers up, to keep them from going through this sacred land and to keep them from going through the personally sacred land owned by other people. People are against this, but I don’t know how effective we are. These power companies are pretty powerful; I think they have money in both political parties’ pockets. I call this ‘right-wing socialism,’ if there is such a thing – this eminent domain thing – capitalism taking over other people’s property. We met with one of the top energy guys in the administration early in 2007, and it was like our words were falling on deaf ears. These people weren’t about to do anything to correct the situation,” said Duvall emotionally. “Someone brought up the other day that they were going to do power lines in New York state, and Senator Hillary Clinton got it jinxed. So, there must be ways that things can be done down here in Virginia.”
Like many rural property owners, Robert and Luciana Duvall are “wed” to their land and very concerned about the possible effects to their farm. But, equally apparent is their concern for others who are less fortunate than they are and their determination to leave the land intact for future generations.
“From my point of view,” continues Duvall, “I have a wonderful farm, and I put it in easement several years ago – the whole thing is in easement in order to preserve the land. I feel very much wed to this land, but I’m in a different situation than many people. I’m the kind of person that if they came in and put towers up, I could move tomorrow because of my background, my past, my line of work. I can up and leave, but most people can’t do that. I’m wed to the land only so far that I put it in easement. I love my place; but if I had to sell it, I would, but I would sell it under the condition that it be preserved absolutely. The land as I own it and as I live on it now should be preserved, and this is the premise to go from – to protect this land that we love, that we’re wedded to.”
For many the lines seem to be drawn between those who care deeply for the land and the rich history of America and those who do not. Mrs. Duvall commented, “I learned that (fashion designer) Ralph Lauren donated $13 million to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. So while you have citizens in America who spend millions to restore the history of this country, you have others who just don’t care.” She thoughtfully theorized that maybe in the past putting up power lines for electricity was a bold move that was “ahead of its time” because “it was a way to bring prosperity to your people.” But today she believes that to find ways around these antiquated and harmful practices would be “ahead of the time.”
“Even if tomorrow they said global warming doesn’t exist, still, you have to protect this land. It doesn’t matter if you have the next Ice Age; it’s our duty today to protect the land. We’re going to the moon, but we can’t put these power lines underground?” Mrs. Duvall questioned. She continued by saying that maybe the Dominion Virginia Power and Allegheny Power decision-makers aren’t from Virginia or the other involved states, so they might not have an appreciation for the beauty or legacy of the affected states or the people born to these states. However, she is quick to point out that they still have a responsibility to do the right thing. “When you have power or you have money or you’re famous, your responsibilities are even greater than others’. I don’t know with what faith these people face their children when they go home. And, I’m sure there is a lot of hypocrisy when it comes to them,” she added.
Mrs. Duvall is very much in favor of prosperity and business; in fact, she calls herself a “Reagan Republican,” but she is quick to point out that prosperity must be balanced by the needs of all people, not just a few, and for the benefit of the environment. She commented, “We can’t always have everything we want.” “This is a very unique part of the world, and we want to protect it. We wouldn’t have power lines in the Grand Canyon or in the Nile or through the Great Wall of China, so why have them here? That’s what I stand for, and that’s why I believe in this fight,” explained Mrs. Duvall.
Duvall echoes his wife’s thoughts and feelings. His love for Virginia may have started as a child, but the beauty of Virginia brought him back as an adult. “I lived over in Loudon County for awhile because my father had been from here and my brother had been from Virginia. Before I bought this place, I was living in New York, but I got rid of my apartment when I moved here. I like Virginia a lot . . . a bunch . . . it’s great,” he said.
“My love for Virginia comes from family, but it also comes from the beauty of Virginia. And, here they want to put these power lines through this beautiful Piedmont area. They wouldn’t put them through the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone Park, I don’t think. My wife is from Argentina; she loves this area. And people would say it’s a selfish thing; but if we moved, we would still want the land to be preserved and to be without these towers, for God’s sake. This is a personal and moral issue.”
Duvall continued, “Of all the places in America – and there are some wonderful places – we opt for this area. This is our first choice for living in. I can live anyplace I want to between what I do, but I love Virginia a lot. It’s a beautiful, wonderful area. Another thing about this area: We’ve only won five equestrian gold medals in the history of the Olympics for the United States, and four of those five live in this immediate area. It’s definitely horse country, and the power lines are not particularly advantageous for that lifestyle.”
The Duvalls are working closely with the Piedmont Environmental Council and Virginians for Sensible Energy Policies to secure that lifestyle and the lifestyle of others in the northern Virginia area. Mrs. Duvall explained that the Virginians for Sensible Energy Policies placed a wonderful ad in the Richmond newspaper and in other newspapers to say “if Dominion Virginia Power was a country, it would be more polluted than the Czech Republic.” She feels that the message was very effective in educating many people to the long-standing polluting practices of Dominion.
“I think you have to fight them that way. At some point it becomes abstract because the politics, the lobbyists and the money run the show sometimes; but I think the people here are very strong, and everybody has to do whatever they can – send a letter, send a note, type an email – keep selling it. It’s now or never; there is no ‘second round.’ The Piedmont Environmental Council and other organizations feel very optimistic about this fight. Who wouldn’t be when it’s about defending this country? But, you never know; you cannot underestimate your enemy,” said Mrs. Duvall.
“This has been going on for awhile,” explained Duvall. “. . . and I think people don’t know about it because all the different groups need to consolidate to go against these power companies. I think the power companies are just quietly lying in the background knowing that they might win.”
Whether hosting picnics for a thousand people on their property, traveling to Washington, D.C., to meet with energy administrators or writing letters to governors, Mr. and Mrs. Robert Duvall are not only actively engaged in this battle but also morally compelled to “see it through” to its end. They are committed neighbors and committed members of their community. Their strength of character and willingness to actively engage in issues of importance also make them great Americans. They set the bar for others to follow and act as leaders for the less fortunate to gain strength from.
One could feel the depth of emotion and commitment Mrs. Duvall has for the land and for the environment when she diverted the NIET corridor discussion to what seemed to be one of her oldest and dearest friends – a hickory tree in the center of the yard in front of her and her husband’s house. She spends her days with her old friend as she sits in front of her computer and looks out at its majestic beauty. “I care very much about my trees because, you know, you can’t replace them. It sounds very silly, but we have very old trees – the oldest hickory tree in the county. And we have over 200-yearold boxwoods so I care deeply for these things. They have a history and a legacy. There’s no way that I will see a tree grow to that size in three lifetimes, even if I live to be 100.”
“If you let them cut your trees, then nothing has any meaning,” said Mrs. Duvall as she continued to look out lovingly from her station before heaven.