Protest targets federal official’s appearance at Duke

A protest at Duke University disrupted an on-campus appearance Tuesday by the acting director of the federal agency that regulates interstate gas and oil pipelines.

Duke chief spokesman Michael Schoenfeld said the protest sparked the postponement of a speech by Cheryl LaFleur, acting director of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

But she later “met with several dozen students and continued the conversation about energy issues,” Schoenfeld said.

The postponement came because two people “unaffiliated with Duke” were holding a protest banner and refused to move from the front of the room where LaFleur was scheduled to speak, he said.

The protesters “were escorted from campus, leaving quietly and without further incident,” Schoenfeld said, adding in contradiction to at least one Facebook post about the incident that “no one was arrested.”

LaFleur’s agency is in the midst of reviewing plans for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a gas line that’s supposed to link points in North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia. The project’s controversial for a number of reasons, including the opposition of some environmental groups to the expanded use of natural gas.

Schoenfeld is Duke’s vice president for public affairs and government relations. His mention that the two protesters were unaffiliated with the university implies that they’re neither students, faculty or staff there.

LaFleur was scheduled to speak at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday in Gross Hall. The Sanford School of Public Policy and the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions were among the sponsors of the talk, signifying that the disruption targeted an academic function.

The scheduled topic of the speech was the federal commission’s “role in the transition to a low-carbon economy.”

LaFleur has been on the commission since 2010, gaining the appointment from former President Barack Obama. She chaired it for about a year and a half during Obama’s tenure and became acting chair again shortly after President Donald Trump took office.

Ray Gronberg: 919-419-6648, @rcgronberg