Category Archives: Air Quality

ACP Responds to Buckingham Compressor Station Court Decision

From Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance’s ABRA Update #276, May 14, 2020

Atlantic Coast Pipeline, LLC (ACP, LLC) has finally submitted a response to the January 7 decision by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals to vacate the Buckingham compressor station. ACP, LLC made recently two supplemental information submissions to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), each responding to different issues raised by the Fourth Circuit.

An April 24 submission to DEQ responded to the issue of “why electric turbines are not required to be considered in Virginia’s BACT [Best Available Control Technology] analysis of the Compressor Station.” The company’s April 30 submission addressed the Court’s concern about “conflicting evidence in the record, the particular studies it relied on, and the corresponding local character and degree of injury from particulate matter and toxic substances threatened by construction and operation of the Compressor Station.” It is uncertain when the matter will be taken by the Virginia Air Pollution Control Board, as that body has not yet scheduled a meeting to reconsider the project’s air permit.

Community Protections Before Corporate Bailouts

Congressman Joe Kennedy III urged Congressional leadership to protect environmental justice communities before bailing out oil and gas corporations. An April 11, 2020 press release from his office says, “Following reports that air pollution increases the lethality of COVID-19, Congressman Joe Kennedy III today called on Congressional leadership to provide critical funding for environmental justice communities across the country before bailing out corporate oil and gas interests. As it becomes increasingly clear that health inequities and systemic racism make COVID-19 deadlier for communities of color and other frontline areas, Kennedy raised concerns that the Trump Administration has been more focused on keeping fossil fuels afloat rather than protecting vulnerable patients, workers, families, and communities.”

He asks that an additional COVID-19 emergency response package include “robust funding for environmental justice communities — forced to bear the brunt of this crisis already — and a firm rejection of oil and gas corporate bailouts.”

Kennedy recently introduced the Environmental Justice for All Act (with Congressman Raul Grijalva and Congressman Donald McEachin) and in February introduced the Voices for Environmental Justice Act.

Read the full press release here.

Pandemic Impacts Agencies and Courts Dealing with Pipeline Issue

From Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance ABRA Update #268, March 19, 2020:

The COVID-19 pandemic is having a decisive impact on the activities of regulatory agencies and courts who have jurisdiction over pipeline issues. Within the last few days, the following has occurred:

  • The DC Circuit Court of Appeals indefinitely suspended in-person oral arguments. The Court was scheduled to hear on March 31 for a major case challenging the tolling order policy of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC’s policy of delaying the consideration of appeals of its decisions). The Court will decide on a case-by-case basis whether to hear cases by teleconference, postpone arguments or decide cases based on briefs alone.
  • The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has cancelled its scheduled March 19 meeting and FERC staff began working from home, effective March 16. FERC offices are closed to outside visitors. The next scheduled Commission meeting is April 16. It is uncertain at this time whether that meeting will occur.
  • The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality announced this week it is suspending routine field activities, including inspections and monitoring, for the next two weeks, though it will continue to “investigate significant pipeline concerns” during that period.
  • The Virginia State Air Pollution Control Board will not hold a Spring meeting. The Board had not yet scheduled the meeting. Whenever the Board next meets a primary agenda item will likely be what to do about the air permit for the Buckingham compressor station for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which was vacated in January by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals

DEQ Launches Environmental Justice Study

From Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance’s ABRA Update #264, February 20, 2020

An effort to develop recommendations for incorporation of environmental justice principles into the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality’s (DEQ) programs and actions, announced last September by the agency, will soon begin interviewing environmental justice stakeholders, non-government organizations, local government officials and others in coming weeks. The February 19, 2020 announcement of the forthcoming interviews comes in the wake of the recent decision of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals striking down the air permit for the Buckingham County compressor station for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline for reasons that included the Virginia Air Pollution Control Board’s failure to properly consider the environmental justice impacts of the project.

Click here for a copy of the DEQ’s announcement.

A Committment to Right the Wrongs of Our Past

Writing in an opinion piece in the New York Times on January 23, 2020, Jeff Gleason, Executive Director of the Southern Environmental Law Center, contrasts Dominion’s willingness to relocate a proposed compressor station in Mt. Vernon’s viewshed with its unwillingness to relocate the proposed ACP compressor station in Union Hill: “Mount Vernon tells the history of America, but so does Union Hill. Environmental justice is a commitment to right the wrongs of our past that persist today.”

Gleason’s article, ‘Environmental Justice Is Not Merely a Box to Be Checked’, discusses Union Hill’s Fourth Circuit Court victory after “appeals to Dominion, state regulators and Virginia’s governors went unheeded.”

He says that environmental justice should have required Dominion and state regulators to consider the effects of pollution on Union Hill, and should have required them to give “serious consideration to an electric compressor that would nearly eliminate air pollution from the facility. They did neither. Instead of honoring Union Hill’s past and present, the state’s most powerful forces essentially denied its existence. The courts did not.”

Gleason writes, “While Union Hill may represent the remarkable history of resilience from our country’s unjust beginnings, it also reveals the country’s continuing imbalance of power and the decisions about whose histories we choose to honor.”

Happily, the Fourth Circuit Court’s decision is a step toward righting that imbalance of power.

Read Gleason’s full column here.

4th Circuit Court Vacates ACP Buckingham Compressor Station Permit

On January 7, 2020, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the air permit for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s Buckingham compressor station located in Virginia’s historic, predominantly African-American Union Hill community. The air permit was granted last January by the Virginia Air Pollution Control Board. The suit challenging the permit had been brought by Friends of Buckingham (represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center) and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. In the 3-0 opinion written by Judge Thacker, the Court remanded the permit to the Air Board for further deliberation on two grounds, as noted in these excerpts from the opinion:

  • “The Board’s decision was arbitrary and capricious and unsupported by substantial evidence. As Petitioners point out, ACP’s and Respondents’ arguments on appeal read as ‘convenient litigation position[s].’ . Nothing more. We vacate and remand for further explanation of reliance on the redefining the source doctrine, and/or why electric turbines are not required to be considered in Virginia’s BACT analysis of the Compressor Station.”
  • “We conclude that the Board failed in its statutory duty to determine the character and degree of injury to the health of the Union Hill residents, and the suitability of the activity to the area. We vacate and remand for the Board to make findings with regard to conflicting evidence in the record, the particular stud(ies) it relied on, and the corresponding local character and degree of injury from particulate matter and toxic substances threatened by construction and operation of the Compressor Station.  To be clear, if true, it is admirable that the Compressor Station ‘has more stringent requirements than any similar compressor station anywhere in the United States,’ and that residents of Union Hill ‘will be breathing cleaner air than the vast majority of Virginia residents even after the Compressor Station goes into operation,’ But these mantras do not carry the day. What matters is whether the Board has performed its statutory duty to determine whether this facility is suitable for this site, in light of EJ and potential health risks for the people of Union Hill. It has not.”

We congratulate Friends of Buckingham, the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) which represented them, and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation on the years of hard work which brought about this favorable ruling.

A copy of the Fourth Circuit’s full opinion is here.

A press release from SELC says in part, “The decision marks the eighth time since May 2018 that a federal court or the federal agencies themselves have revoked or suspended Atlantic Coast Pipeline permits. As a result, pipeline builders Dominion and Duke shut down all construction more than a year ago with less than 6% of the project in the ground.  The future of this risky and highly controversial pipeline is uncertain. Developers must evaluate alternative routes that avoid two national forests—potentially redrawing significant portions of their proposal—in order to comply with an earlier court decision. And more than five years after the pipeline was first announced, new evidence makes it apparent that the project is excessively costly and unnecessary.  ‘For the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, it’s the same story again and again,’ said Greg Buppert, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center. ‘Dominion tried to force a pipeline compressor station into a community where it didn’t belong, just like it has tried to force the pipeline through a national park, national forests, and steep mountains. But the people of Union Hill never backed down. Today they’ve won an important victory, not just for themselves, but for every community in Virginia facing the unjust burden of industry and pollution.'”

The opinion specifies a number of difficult issues the Air Board must resolve before reissuing the permit.  Wild Virginia’s David Sligh commented, “The court found that the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and the State Air Pollution Control Board failed to do their jobs. Officials in these agencies refused to adequately analyze whether the compressor station would have disproportionate impacts on the largely minority community around it (it would). As the court stated: “environmental justice is not merely a box to be checked.” Agency officials refused to acknowledge reliable demographic information supplied by citizens or to collect their own. Instead, they relied on flawed sources that even they admitted were unreliable. Our public officials also refused to look at whether the station should be powered by electric motors versus gas and, therefore, create less pollution and risk to residents’ health. The officials tried to explain this failure by citing a federal rule that clearly does not apply and then a state rule that the court said does not exist.”

Richmond Times Dispatch coverage of the story is here (including a photo at the January 2019 Air Board hearing with Friends of Nelson Board members in the audience).  The Court’s ruling was widely covered in local, regional, and national media outlets, including the Washington Post and the New York Times.