Category Archives: Air Quality

Submit Comments to the Air Board

Graphic from WaterIsLife

At their meeting on December 19, 2018, the Air Pollution Control Board delayed their vote on the air permit for the proposed ACP compressor station in Union Hill, asking for a public comment period to address the newly submitted or updated information submitted by both supporters and opponents. What is Governor Northam’s and Department of Environmental Quality’s idea of an open and fair comment period? Two weeks over the holidays, two weeks which include four weekend days and four further days when the state government offices will be closed for holidays. You’d think they really don’t want people to comment!

On December 21, the Friday before Christmas, DEQ opened the comment period (of course, no one at DEQ will be back in the office until December 26.)

Kate Addleson, Director of the Sierra Club Virginia Chapter, released the following statement:

“DEQ’s decision to schedule this comment period over Christmas and New Year’s is nothing more than an attempt to silence the vast majority of Virginians who will now be unable to participate. Buckingham County communities, including Union Hill, have already been through the ringer as this compressor station threatens their community, homes and health, and this extremely brief comment period adds further tension to an already stressful situation.

“Virginians, just like Gov. Northam and those at DEQ, should be able to spend this time with their families and friends, not fighting against corporate polluters and government processes that have been bent to those corporations’ will. DEQ should extend the length of this comment period further into the new year in order to allow for adequate public engagement”

Wild Virginia’s statement said in part:

We must ask who the short window for public involvement serves and the only conclusion is Dominion Energy and DEQ Director David Paylor, both of whom have shown they want this permit shoved through as quickly as possible. …. DEQ has shown that its leaders don’t really want the public to play its proper role in the regulatory process. DEQ can move very quickly when that haste benefits pipeline companies but action is painfully slow when the wider public interest is at stake.  We assume the Air Board members intended the public comment period to be sufficient to gather well-considered and well-supported comments – not to have a comment period designed to make it as difficult as possible for the public. DEQ must extend the period to at least 30 days, a bare minimum for a reasonable process. Fairness demands it.

What should you do? Send your comments, regardless of the attempt to minimize the comment period!  Instructions and links to the documents included in this comment period are on DEQ’s Web site for the Buckingham air permit process, https://www.deq.virginia.gov/Programs/Air/BuckinghamCompressorStationAirPermit.aspx. The documents are also available at the Buckingham Public Library (1140 Main Street, Dillwyn, Virginia 23936), but the library, like the state offices, is closed December 24-25 and December 31-January 1.

The following information is from the DEQ Air Permit page link above:

The documents to be considered per the Board’s instructions relate to questions and concerns on demographics and site suitability for the proposed air compressor station. The Board also clarified that the permit conditions, including the amendments that were discussed and approved at the December 19, 2018, meeting, are not subject to public comment. Further, the Board indicated that public comment is not being sought on the conduct of a health assessment by the Virginia Department of Health.

Public comment period: The public comment period on the documents will begin on December 21, 2018 and close on January 4, 2019.

To submit written comments: Comments are to be submitted to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ):

  • by Postal Mail or Hand Delivery to Piedmont Regional Office, Re: Buckingham Compressor Station, 4949-A Cox Road, Glen Allen, VA 23060;
  • by E-mail at airdivision1@deq.virginia.gov; or
  • by Fax at (804) 527-5106

All comments must be in writing and be received by DEQ before 11:59 p.m. on January 4, 2019. Receipt confirmation will not be provided for comments received during the comment period. Submittals must include the names, mailing addresses and telephone numbers of the commenter, and of all persons represented by the commenter.

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.

Emergency Letter to Paylor on Air Board

Chesapeake Climate Action Network announced this extraordinary emergency note from justice and environmental groups that was delivered to David Paylor and Governor Northam’s staff on December 18, 2018, asking DEQ director David Paylor to recommend that the State Air Board reject the draft permit for the Buckingham compressor station.

December 18, 2018

David K. Paylor
Director, Department of Environmental Quality
P.O. Box 1105
Richmond, VA 23218
David.Paylor@deq.virginia.gov

Dear Mr. Paylor:

Given that state regulators have just rejected Dominion Energy’s forecast for future energy use in Virginia, Dominion’s justification for the need for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (“ACP”) and the related Buckingham County compressor station has fallen apart. As a result, we the undersigned groups call on the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (“DEQ”) to inform the Air Pollution Control Board of recent regulatory developments and advise the Board to reject approval of the Draft Permit for the compressor station.

For the first time in Virginia’s history, state utility regulators have rejected Dominion Energy’s long-term energy plan. In an Order issued December 7, 2018, the State Corporation Commission (“SCC”) expressed “considerable doubt regarding the accuracy and reasonableness of the Company’s load forecast for use to predict future energy and peak load requirements.” This load forecast has provided the justification for Dominion Energy’s plans to build the highly controversial, $7-billion ACP. Dominion has argued to regulators that the natural gas pipeline is necessary to meet the commonwealth’s growing demand for power. With the SCC’s rejection of Dominion’s “overstated” load forecasts, this justification completely falls apart.

The Virginia Air Pollution Control Board is preparing to take action on a Draft Permit for the Buckingham Compressor Station, Registration Number 21599, on December 19, 2018. The proposed Buckingham Compressor Station is one of three that would provide compression of natural gas along the proposed 600-mile ACP and the only compressor station in Virginia. As part of its review of the Draft Permit, the Air Pollution Control Board shall consider “facts and circumstances relevant to the reasonableness of the activity involved . . . including . . . [t]he social and economic value of the activity involved.” This statutory mandate requires the Air Board to consider the need for the ACP as a whole. If the ACP is unnecessary based on lack of future energy demand, as indicated by the recent SCC Order, then so too is the Buckingham Compressor Station.

Based on the SCC’s Order rejecting Dominion Energy’s overstated load forecasts (which was issued after the close of the public comment period), coupled with our well-documented concerns about the environmental justice, climate, ecological, and public health impacts of the compressor station, the undersigned groups call on the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality to immediately take the corrective steps outlined above.

Sincerely,

Harrison Wallace, Virginia Director, Chesapeake Climate Action Network
Kate Addleson, Director, State Chapter Virginia Sierra Club
Peter Anderson, Virginia Program Manager, Appalachian Voices
David Sligh, Conservation Director, Wild Virginia
Joni Grady, Chair of CAAV, Climate Action Alliance of the Valley
Mindy Zlotnick, Buckingham: We the People
Rev. Siva Moore, Executive Director, Satchidananda-Ashram Yogaville
Lorne Stockman, Senior Research Analyst, Oil Change International
Del McWhorter, State Governing Board Chairperson, Virginia Organizing
Eleanor Amidon, Pipeline Education Group
Betsy Nicholas, Executive Director, Waterkeepers Chesapeake
April Pierson-Keating, Mountain Lakes Preservation Alliance
Helen Kimble, President, Friends of Nelson
Chad Oba, Chair, Friends of Buckingham

cc: Governor Ralph Northam
Michael Dowd, Director of Air Division, Virginia Department of Environmental 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