Activists stand against invasive pipeline and solar energy monopolies in downtown St. Pete

click to enlarge Former governor Charlie Crist, now a Congressional candidate, addresses the crowd. - Katherine Sinner
Katherine Sinner
Former governor Charlie Crist, now a Congressional candidate, addresses the crowd.

In St. Petersburg on Saturday, activists had an urgent message about land destruction, water pollution and the expansion of solar power.

Spearheaded by a local chapter of the Sierra Club of Florida, the event aimed to raise awareness of what they see as an approaching environmental crisis that could soon affect Floridians: the Sabal Trail Natural Gas Pipeline. With state and federal approval and with buy-in from companies like Duke Energy, the project is now under construction, and when complete it would run Alabama to Florida. It would bring fracked natural gas to parts of the state.

Activists compare the project to a similar pipeline project that drew raucous protests in North Dakota.

Environmentalists lined the street to voice their concerns. Tearing up the land — which would have to happen in order for the pipeline to be embedded underground — could produce major consequences. The pipeline would run through Florida’s aquifers, springs, wetlands and rivers. Pipelines often leak and pollute these bodies of water, some of which provide drinking water to Floridians. Florida's underground geology consists of porous limestone that makes it vulnerable to sinkholes, especially when construction crews are boring through it. The list goes on.

“As a Florida native, I’m absolutely disgusted by the idea of our land being torn up for natural gas,” said protester Megan Weeks of Orlando.

Protestors displayed a "pipeline" out of what looked like a black tarp to help the public visualize the project.

Former governor Charlie Crist, who is running for a Congressional seat in a district that includes St. Petersburg, voiced his support for the protesters' cause. He noted that even the conservative Georgia legislature voted overwhelmingly against the pipeline — not something that is likely to happen in Florida's pro-big business legislature unless something big happens.

Crist urged the activists not to give up, to “keep talking.”

Two Native American speakers who had protested the North Dakota project also took to the podium with powerful messages. Activist and spoken word poet Tracy Penokie performed live poetry. Fresh from the North Dakota protests, she said she saw firsthand the destruction caused by these types of projects.

"Your only passion is the one you can cash in,” she said, addressing utility companies like Duke, during her performance.

One young man who had also attended the protest in North Dakota said he and several others were trying to pray as police drew guns on them, even though, he said, they were not doing anything wrong.

“Our first prayer was actually to them… We were burning sage,” he said.

Activists hope word spreads about the Sabal Trail pipeline so that opposition to the project gains momentum before it's too late.

With the election just weeks away, organizers also saw the event to call on voters to block Amendment 1, a proposed state constitutional amendment that ostensibly promotes solar power, but actually does the opposite.

Major power utilities and energy companies are backing the amendment and have pushed glossy mailers and other advertisements claiming that Amendment 1 would help solar energy become more widespread. Yet what it actually does is embed the status quo — namely, that solar customers have to sell their electricity back to the grid, not neighbors or tenants — into the state constitution.

“Amendment 1 is a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” said Glickman, Florida director for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. “We must bring a voice to the most important issues we face."

After the rally, the activists took to the streets, marching to the popular Saturday Morning Market, where they further spread their message.

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