Air Board Delays Vote

The Air Pollution Control Board voted 3-1 on December 19, 2018, to postpone their vote on the Union Hill compressor station air permit and extend the public comment period. Although Board members said they want to keep the delay to a minimum, they did not schedule a new vote. A spokesperson for Northam said the governor does not expect the two newly appointed Air Board members to take part in the rescheduled vote.

The Washington Post says, “The board voted 3 to 1 to delay action on the permit so the public can submit written comments on the two competing demographic reports, both of which were updated or newly filed since the matter was first considered early last month.”

The demographic report presented by Dominion and the Department of Environmental Quality says the compressor station area is sparsely populated, has no greater percentage of minorities than other areas in Virginia, and has few historic resources of significance. However, a house-to-house study by anthropology scholar Lakshmi Fjord found 99 households within a 1.1-mile radius of the compressor site, and the 75% of those households who participated in her study had 199 residents, with more than 83% minorities. DEQ cited a population density of about 27 people per square mile, with no more than 39 percent minorities. Fjord says the census data on which DEQ based their report is too broad, using county-wade averages rather than site-specific ones. The Washington Post notes, “When the board considered the issue in November, another DEQ staffer — Patrick Corbett of the air-permit office — cautioned against the census data. ‘It’s a screening mechanism. It’s not — I wouldn’t really rely on it,’ Corbett said in November.

Coverage in the Virginia Mercury includes further details about the differing demographic studies.

Some changes to the permit were accepted by the Board.  The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports, “The board on Wednesday adopted changes to the permit that imposed additional requirements, including the installation of continuous emissions monitoring systems on the proposed station’s four natural-gas fired turbines to monitor nitrogen oxide pollution from their exhausts. Other changes include requirements for additional monitoring of carbon monoxide and volatile organic compounds, and establishment of a new ambient air quality station outside the perimeter of the site. The amendments did not include any reference to the community investment plan that Dominion has proposed for Union Hill to compensate for the project’s effects on Union Hill, established around a former plantation that would be the site of the compressor station. The Southern Environmental Law Center and Chesapeake Bay Foundation had objected to the board’s consideration of the proposed changes without a chance for the public to comment on them, especially in relation to concerns about the site’s suitability and whether it posed a disproportionate impact on Union Hill. The board voted, 3-1, to allow public comment on any new information submitted to the board, including demographic studies about Union Hill the state presented Wednesday that community representatives dispute.”

The Air Board delayed the vote to allow the public to submit written comments on the competing demographic reports and any other information that is either new or updated since the November Air Board hearing.