Black farmers fight pipeline plan in Pembroke Township

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A group of Black farmers is fighting plans to build a natural gas pipeline in Pembroke Township in Kankakee County.

Last week, the group traveled to the Thompson Center and joined activists from Chicago to send a message to Governor JB Pritzker.

Frederick Carter and Dr. Jifunza Wright Carter run the Black Oaks Center where they work on sustainable farming and efforts to cultivate the next generation of Black farmers. 

The carters say their community, which is also home to a rare eco-system, is in jeopardy. 

In August, Pritzker signed House Bill 34-04 into law and paved the way for Nicor to bring natural gas to the township.

In a letter to the governor this month, asking him to stop the pipeline plan, the Pembroke Environmental Justice Coalition led by the Carters said locking them into natural gas will lock future generations into continued Thy said It’s divestment at a time when other communities are transitioning away from fossil fuels. 

They’re raising concerns about the impact on the environment and fear farmers could lose the land they love.

“The energy companies are doing what they can to survive and they’re leveraging Pembroke Township from a disadvantaged perspective to monetize a project that they’re trying to do,” Carter said.

But Hopkins Park Mayor Mark Hodge said most residents support the project and its long overdue.

“We want natural gas, just like every community around us as so we can have jobs,” he said. “The residents out here, no longer want to use wood, kerosene or propane. We have been using this for the last 40-50 years and beyond. … We have reached out to wind and solar investors. However, they said return on their money would not that be good in this area. So we have exhausted our resources in that area and we have to seek what’s best for us and that’s natural gas.”

Pritzker’s office released a statement saying they “remain committed to working with local communities to ensure every community has access to reliable energy sources.”

They pointed out the legislation passed with overwhelming support from lawmakers along with Rev. Jesse Jackson and Congresswoman Robin Kelly… and it says the current petition before the Illinois Commerce Commission would NOT allow NICOR to seize private property through eminent domain. 

A spokesperson for NICOR said in a statement: 

The planned route for the project utilizes apparent road rights of way to minimize surrounding land impacts. Having access to this energy source can help spur business, create jobs and encourage economic growth in the community that the residents have been asking for.

But some longtime residents like Mulumbua Bey are not convinced.

“There is no plan, no specific plan for this pipeline,” Bey said. “No community benefits.”

“Please come talk to us,” resident Ephriam Martin said. “Don’t listen to the man who is trying to make money off Pembroke. Talk to the man who loves seeing animals running through the woods!”

The Illinois Commerce Commission is expected to make a decision on the proposal next month.

Last week, an administrative law judge issued a recommendation siding with Nicor.

Members of the coalition are vowing to continue their fight.

Pembroke Environmental Justice Coalition issued a statement that said:

We are very disappointed in the judge’s decision. Nicor is now one step closer to forcing its fossil fuel pipeline through a Black farming community that doesn’t want it there, threatening a world-renowned microbiome and hastening the dangers of climate change. The people of Pembroke demand and deserve to be part of the clean, renewable energy future that Gov. Pritzker promised to deliver Illinois. The fight isn’t over – we need your help to protect and preserve Black land. Visit bit.ly/StopNicor and tell the Illinois Commerce Commission to deny Nicor’s proposal.

Full recommendation from the judge below:

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