City Should Continue Fight Against NEXUS Pipeline

When I first arrived at Oberlin in fall 2016, I learned that the impending construction of the NEXUS pipeline was a key community issue that much of the city firmly opposed. I also learned that Oberlin had a silver bullet that would stop the pipeline from being constructed within city limits: its Community Bill of Rights and Obligations.

The CBRO unequivocally states that, following its codification, new gas and oil pipelines cannot be built within the city of Oberlin — without exception. It is a powerful document expressing our community’s commitment to self-determination and affirming Oberlin’s ongoing leadership in combating climate change.

For some time, the outlook for the anti-NEXUS camp was hopeful — particularly after a request from Green, Ohio, to at least temporarily block the construction of the pipeline was upheld in court last November. The prospect that Oberlin, buttressed by its legal prohibition against pipeline construction, would be able to more permanently stop NEXUS’ progress didn’t seem out of reach.

Now, just a year and a half later, all of that optimism has evaporated as City Council appears prepared to accept a $100,000 settlement in exchange for allowing NEXUS construction in Oberlin, despite the clear language prohibiting its development in our CBRO.

According to Council President Bryan Burgess, a court recently ruled that NEXUS has the “right of eminent domain to condemn an easement,” and there is no longer any legal path for Oberlin to oppose the pipeline. Given this reality, Burgess supports negotiating a settlement.

Burgess’ position makes a lot of sense from a certain perspective — and it appears that much of City Council more or less agrees with him. I do not doubt that Burgess proposed the course of action that he believes to be the most beneficial for Oberlin, and I know that he is deeply saddened by the reality that the city can no longer hold NEXUS off.

In my mind, however, a stronger argument can be made for the city’s continued support of CBRO and opposition to the construction of NEXUS — the potential of a settlement is ominous because it seems to compromise Oberlin’s core values, the safety of its residents, and the CBRO itself.

It goes without saying that the construction of NEXUS will not be beneficial to Oberlin. The pipeline — which will transport 1.5 billion cubic feet of gas destined for Canada, not Ohio, every day — will cut through the city, at one point passing next to Splash Zone, a common recreation spot for families and the current practice location for the College’s swimming and diving team. NEXUS will also travel within 500 meters of the Oberlin Reservoir and other bodies of water in the area, increasing the impact of any potential pipeline-related disaster.

The bottom line is that pipelines break, leak, and spill all the time. Spectra Energy, the parent company behind NEXUS, has a history of such incidents, which is not uncommon for similar companies. If NEXUS is ultimately built through Oberlin, which seems overwhelmingly likely, the question of when a problem or crisis will arise seems more pertinent than the question of if one will.

Resistance to oil and gas pipelines like NEXUS is much more urgent than this country’s political and economic elite would have us believe. Any economic benefit created by employing workers to build pipelines is outweighed by the negative impact that pipelines have had, and will continue to have, on communities and natural spaces. City Council clearly understands this, which is why they have fought NEXUS with such strength in recent years — and they should not lose that commitment now.

Continuing to oppose NEXUS is also philosophically urgent. I fear that accepting this infringement on Oberlin’s autonomy and community space without further investment in the CBRO will compromise any future resistance to industrial encroachment and environmental threats. How can we continue to resist pipelines or other infringements if we have already shown ourselves willing to reach a settlement rather than stand firmly by our shared — and voted-upon — community rights and values?

Councilmember Heather Adelman hit the nail right on the head with her comments at the most recent council meeting, the first at which the proposed NEXUS settlement was discussed. She said that negotiating a settlement would mean that council would violate the city’s own law, which was initiated and passed by a significant majority of Oberlin voters. She also emphasized that agreeing to no longer pursue litigation against NEXUS would have consequences for potential litigation in the future, particularly with respect to defending and upholding the CBRO.

At this point, it appears more or less certain that NEXUS will be built through Oberlin. The manner in which the city chooses to respond is the key remaining variable, and whatever course of action City Council settles on will have sweeping implications.

I certainly understand and empathize with the dilemma that council faces, and do not envy them for the decision now in front of them. I also believe that pursuing a settlement is the wrong answer and I agree with Adelman’s argument that it is better to reinforce our commitment to Oberlin’s CBRO and take a stand, however symbolic it may be, against an instance of environmental infringement that will undoubtedly threaten Oberlin’s future safety and sustainability.

Students should become active in pushing City Council in this direction. As with any community issue, student involvement will likely be questioned by some and perhaps even dismissed with others. It is certainly important for students to consider the role they should play in a place they will likely only live for four years, and perspectives for and against college activism in town affairs should all be considered.

Last semester, the Review’s editorial board wrote about student participation in local Oberlin elections. The piece encouraged participation by well-informed students on issues that pertain to them — the same principle should apply here. If disaster were to strike as a result of this pipeline, it will impact everybody in both the College and town communities — so I see great value in students advocating for City Council to take this opportunity to strengthen its commitment to the CBRO and affirm its values as a city that has been on the frontlines of the ongoing struggle against climate change.

It is difficult to overstate the importance of how City Council chooses to address the construction of NEXUS — the future of environmental activism and community-based leadership in the city hangs in the balance. Negotiating a settlement — and thereby violating the CBRO — means that not only will NEXUS be built, but also that the city will be much more directionless the next time a battle like this comes to its doors.

We must stand by the CBRO and identify the legal and political circumstances that led to its failure to keep NEXUS at bay in order to ensure a different outcome in the future. We must state clearly that, even though we have lost the battle over NEXUS, Oberlin remains a steadfast advocate for the environment and for justice in the war to come.