Category Archives: Air Quality

Circle of Protection, Sunday December 16

Circle of Protection INDOORS on Sunday December 16, 2018. The folks of Union Hill have voted to have this Sunday’s Circle of Protection at Union Grove Baptist Church vigil INSIDE THE CHURCH.

Join the interfaith vigil with story and song, and church potluck to follow. Note new location at Union Grove Church, 2522 Shelton Store Rd, Buckingham, VA 23921 (very near Union Hill Baptist where previous gatherings have been) and remember to print out those directions in advance of setting out (cell service spotty!). With music from Evelyn Dent and Farm Use Old Time String Band, prayer from John Laury and Pastor Paul Wilson, poetry from Ella Rose and personal story by Kay Ferguson.

This will be the last Circle of Protection for the season.

In the Court of Public Opinion, Northam Loses

Writing in Blue View on December 8, 2018, two former members of Virginia state environment boards ask Gov Northam to delay the decision on controversial pipeline compressor station in African-American community. Roberta Kellam recently served almost nine years on the Virginia State Water Control Board, and previously was an instructor of Environmental Law and Policy at the University at Buffalo Law School and in private practice in upstate New York. Dr. Vivian E. Thomson, a retired professor in the Departments of Environmental Sciences and Politics at the University of Virginia, is the author of three books, including Climate of Capitulation: An Insider’s Account of State Power in a Coal Nation (2017, MIT Press), a first-person view of who wields power—and how—in air pollution policy-making at the state level.

They say, “Gov. Northam has failed the citizens of Virginia with his sudden decision to appoint two new members to the State Air Pollution Control Board just as the board is considering a controversial permit for a natural gas pipeline compressor station in Union Hill, an African-American community in central Virginia,” and call on him “to signal that the board may postpone its decision until early 2019 to give the two new members time to cast an informed vote.” And they ask Northam to pressure Dominion “to propose an alternative site for the compressor station that does not raise challenging issues of environmental justice.”

Kellum and Thomson note that “the problems go deeper in this case than the appointments chaos and skepticism about the proposed permit’s stringency. In effect, the governor, the state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and Dominion are saying that an historically African-American community is suitable for this compressor station. The governor seems to be ignoring his own environmental justice commission, which has pleaded for more analysis of the pipeline project’s impacts.”

And from personal experience as board members, they speak of witnessing “from the inside Virginia’s bipartisan ‘climate of capitulation’ to the state’s energy and electric utility interests.”

In an opinion piece in the Roanoke Times on December 10, 2018, Mike Ellerbrock, director of the Center for Economic Education at Virginia Tech, vicariate deacon for the Catholic Diocese of Richmond, and appointed member of U.S. EPA’s National Environmental Justice Advisory Council and Governor Northam’s Advisory Council on Environmental Justice, says bluntly, “When economics and ethics clash, bet on the dollar.”

In dismissing the report of his own Advisory Council on Economic Justice, refusing to meet pipeline opponents or even visit on the pipeline route, while meeting with Dominion’s Tom Farrell, Northam has clearly bet on the dollar.

Ellerbrock points out that, “Throughout ‘America the beautiful,’ poor and minority communities are frequently disproportionately exposed to environmental hazards relative to wealthier white neighborhoods. The differences in demographic and public health data are compelling. Hence, all federal agencies are required to identify and address issues of Environmental Justice (EJ) in their work. The EJ movement aims to protect the safety and health of underrepresented citizens who lack the political capacity to control the quality and destiny of their habitat or workplace. Note how the original draft routes of the pipelines shifted from wealthier to lower income neighborhoods.”

He illuminates the difference between an economic and an ethical approach: “Using strict economic logic, Lawrence Summers, former Harvard president, Secretary of the U.S. Treasury and chief economist of the World Bank, advocated that the heaviest polluting industries should migrate to the poorest countries where they would do the least harm to humanity. Let that formula sink in. Conversely, the late John Rawls, eminent Harvard social philosopher across campus and author of ‘A Theory of Justice,’ asserted that the moral measure of a society is how well it treats its weakest members. Secular and religious ethics focus on the dignity of every human life, with liberty and justice for all.”

Rescheduled: Stand wtih Union Hill Concert of Prayer

The Stand with Union Hill Concert of Prayer has been rescheduled to Tuesday, December 18
on the eve of the also rescheduled Air Pollution Control Board Meeting and vote on Union Hill Compressor Station on Wednesday December 19, 2018. This Interfaith Prayer Vigil with story and song welcomes all seeking to protect all our Virginia communities from the threat of the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline compressor in Union Hill. Come for all or any part of the vigil you can. From 7:30 pm to midnight. Richmond Hill 2209 E. Grace Street, Richmond, VA

Dominion’s Incorrect Demographic Data

2018 Google Earth satellite view of proposed compressor station footprint and Union Hill homes in .5 mile radius.

River Healers reports that “on November 16, 2018 the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and Dominion Energy compiled a demographic and income profile for the area of Union Hill in Buckingham County, VA. The report came after the Virginia Air Pollution Board delayed an important vote on the air pollution permit the Atlantic Coast Pipeline needs in order to build a compressor station in Union Hill. The Air Board’s reasons for delaying the vote to Monday, December 10 were numerous, stating concerns regarding environmental racism of the infrastructure project and the injustice Dominion Energy’s gas compressor station would have on a community of color and their air quality.

“The Air Pollution Board stated it needed more demographic information before voting, so it comes at no surprise that Dominion Energy and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline produced their own version of Union Hill’s demographics. In their report, Dominion Energy and The Atlantic Coast Pipeline claim that only four households and 10 people live within a 0.5 mile radius of their proposed compressor station. By bringing the population numbers down to 10, the ACP is now stating that the most impacted area around the project is 77.8% white and 22.2% black, and the average household income is $63,619. This is a gross misrepresentation of the demographics and the number of houses and people that live in that area. A quick study of 2018 Google Earth satellite images shows just how wrong the ACP and Dominion Energy are about the population of Union Hill. We counted 34 houses with in a 0.5 mile radius of the ACP’s proposed compressor station. In the picture [above] you can see a footprint of the proposed compressor station and a 0.5 mile circle radius around the station. A total of 34 houses fall within that circle, with many more homes just outside the 0.5 radius.”

River Healers provides additional images and discussion of Dominion’s incorrect figures in their post on December 8, 2018: Erasing black lives: Dominion Energy misleads Virginia Air Pollution Board regarding demographics of Union Hill.

Letter of Support for Justice for Union Hill

Friends of Buckingham and allies crafted this letter which was sent on December 8, 2018, to the Air Board, the Governor, and other state officials. It is signed not only by impacted Union Hill residents, but by representatives of many local and national organizations.

To: Virginia Air Pollution Control Board
December 8, 2018
An Open Letter Regarding the Threat of Environmental Racism and the Proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline

There is an undeniable pattern of dangerous, polluting industrial facilities being sited in poor communities of color across our nation. “Environmental racism” is a phrase used to describe this systematic positioning.

Right now, a consortium of companies led by Dominion Energy – the largest corporate donor in state political campaigns – is attempting to place the only Virginia compressor station for its unneeded, natural gas Atlantic Coast Pipeline in the low-income, mostly African-American community of Union Hill, in Buckingham County. Many area residents trace their ancestry to the people enslaved on or near the plantation land sold for this site.

Recently, Governor Ralph Northam’s administration announced that it had dismissed two members of the State Air Pollution Control Board, which is made up of independent citizen experts responsible for evaluating the proposed air pollution permit for this huge facility. This happened six days after a November board meeting where detailed evidence of this site’s environmental injustice had been presented. The two people dismissed had stated during the meeting that environmental justice and climate change impacts must be considered in board permit decisions. In addition, Dominion submitted new proposed permit changes during the meeting, including an offer of $5.1 million to a Dominion-controlled “Union Hill community revitalization plan.” The proposed changes to the permit came 50 days after the public comment period on the permit application closed. The board voted to delay its decision on the permit until December 10.

The governor has been justly criticized for interfering with this permit decision. Not only did he announce the dismissal of the two board members, he further interfered with the board’s independence by signaling that he did not expect the new members to vote at the December meeting. It is unethical to interfere in the citizen board’s decision-making process.

Citizen boards perform an extremely important function in our democracy, providing an additional check on the regulatory process. They serve as an essential last line of defense in ensuring that the public interest is prioritized over private corporate interests.

Therefore, we strongly urge the Air Pollution Control Board to allow the public an opportunity during the December 10 meeting—prior to any vote—to respond to any new information that has been submitted after the close of the public comment period. This includes information expected to be presented by the Department of Environmental Quality about the demographics of Union Hill that would underrepresent the community’s African-American majority. Additionally, because the facts in the record show that the proposed compressor station would have a disproportionate adverse impact on Union Hill, we ask that the board deny the permit.

On August 16, the Governor’s own Advisory Council on Environmental Justice called for a moratorium on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline until completion of serious investigations of credible environmental justice issues. Governor Northam, Attorney General Mark Herring, Secretary of Natural Resources Matt Strickler and Department of Environmental Quality Director David Paylor must honor the environmental justice matters in this air permit decision. It must be addressed now.

The legacy of placing toxic facilities in places where they disproportionately affect poor communities of color is unjust and unacceptable and needs acute examination. It is not right to look the other way while this continues.


Pastor Paul Wilson, Union Hill Union Grove Baptist Church
Chad Oba, President, Friends of Buckingham, Impacted Landowner
Lakshmi Fjord, Anthropologist, Friends of Buckingham, Yogaville

Governor Ralph Northam
Attorney General Mark Herring
Secretary of Natural Resources Matt Strickler
Department of Environmental Quality Director David Paylor

Click here to view the 100 other signatories on the letter.

Stand with Union Hill

All night vigil: Sunday, December 9, 7:30pm – Monday, December 10, 8:30am. Richmond Hill, 2209 E Grace St, Richmond 23223

Join the Union Hill community, people of faith, water and air protectors, and artists on Sunday December 9, 2018, at 7:30 pm, for an all night interfaith vigil prior to the Air Pollution Control Board meeting which will decide the fate of the Union Hill community with a vote on the air permit for the compressor station. At the vigil, leaders from many faith traditions will share prayers, music, meditate, and more around the theme of environmental justice. Come to lift up the community of Union Hill!

After the vigil concludes, the group will head over to the Air Pollution Control Board meeting to show up and support the residents of Union Hill and Buckingham County and to witness the decision. The Board meeting will begin at 10:00 am on Monday, December 10 in the First Floor House Committee Room, Pocahontas Building, 900 E Main St, Richmond 23219.