Communities near the Atlantic Coast Pipeline route in North Carolina tend to have higher percentages of African Americans or Native Americans

New RTI Press report provides communities with additional tools and methods for evaluating pipeline concerns in their region

May 16, 2018

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, NC -  A new RTI Press Publication, “Environmental Justice Concerns and the Proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline Route in North Carolina,” shows how citizen scientists can assemble and communicate evidence related to environmental justice during National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) public comment periods.  The study also shows that neighborhoods within one mile of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline route tended to have higher percentages of African American Native American populations relative to neighborhoods located further away from the route.

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline is a 600 mile underground natural gas transmission system that comes with a long list of impacts on the surrounding community, including damage to water sources during construction, forest fragmentation, air quality impacts due to compressor station emissions, and land use restrictions for property crossed by the pipeline. Because of the wide array of effects, researchers were interested in helping communities conduct their own evaluations and contribute to National Environmental Policy Act process.

“The purpose of this study was to provide the public with the tools and methods for evaluating environmental concerns regarding the pipeline project within their own communities,” said Julia Hofmann, economist at RTI International and the report’s co-author. “By using highly accessible data, like U.S. Census data, these methods can be used by any community as they voice their concerns during public comment periods and evaluate other federal and state government analyses.” 

The study targeted three areas of data that would serve as indicators for the demographics of communities within one mile of the pipeline: income data, race/ethnicity data and vulnerability data. While a conclusive statistical difference in mean household income was not found between the area within one mile of the pipeline and the comparison communities, there were statistical differences in both the race/ethnicity make-up and the vulnerability of the communities surrounding the pipeline.

Using two counties in North Carolina (Northampton and Robeson) as the reference point for the study, researchers found the average percentages of black or African American and American Indian/Alaska Native individuals were higher than outside the one-mile zone of the pipeline. Additionally, when looking at the vulnerability index scores within one mile of the pipeline, higher indices were found for the communities surrounding the pipeline, indicating more social vulnerability.  In other words, these communities may be more likely to need support in recovering from disasters.  Statistical analyses in both cases show that it was highly unlikely that race/ethnicity or vulnerability indicators were the same inside and outside of the one-mile zone.

Although the ACP environmental review generally followed current best practices for environmental justice analysis, FERC missed an opportunity to explain how the evidence they assembled explains why they concluded there would not be disproportionate impacts,” Hofmann said. “The information presented in the RTI Press publication shows how additional evidence related to environmental justice can be assembled and communicated.”

The research team was made up of Sarah Wraight, Master of City and Regional Planning at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Julia Hofmann, economics researcher at RTI; Justine Allpress, research GIS analyst at RTI; and Brooks Depro, PhD, assistant professor of Economics at Elon University.

The full report is available through RTI Press.