Category Archives: Air Quality

We Won’t Back Down


Building community to protect the environment and the people who are most impacted when it is degraded has never been more important. With growing threats to humanity and to the integrity of creation, new partnerships dedicated to environmental justice are essential. The new video, “We Won’t Back Down” is a portrait of the work of the Interfaith Alliance for Climate Justice (IACJ) to support those resisting the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley fracked gas pipelines.

Environmental Justice Issues in Virginia

Writing in the Washington Post on January 24, 2019, Sam Bleicher, a member and vice-chair of the Virginia Air Pollution Control Board until removed by Northam in November 2018, discusses the January 8 approval by a diminished Air Board of the air pollution permit for the Buckingham Compressor Station.

He says, “the decision sets important, undesirable precedents for environmental justice decisions and for the global ‘business in liquidation’ approach of continuing to invest in fossil fuel infrastructure. To undermine the environmental justice opposition, Dominion committed $5 million for improved health and safety facilities in Union Hill that the community certainly needs — but only if the permit is approved. This deal divided the public opposition. The Dominion commitment presented the Air Board with a Hobson’s choice: The board could protect this disadvantaged minority community from the risks emanating from the compressor station, but only by depriving it of funds that will improve the lives of the residents. The existing statutes and regulations on environmental justice in siting energy facilities do not address the existence or relevance of such compensatory ‘incentives’ (some would say ‘bribes’).”

Bleicher believes that, “the outcome tells major corporations that they can buy their way out of environmental justice embarrassments by spending a tiny fraction of the total project cost to benefit the poor minority residents who are inconveniently located in their way.”

He describes the outdated policy of “bridge technology” (natural gas as the “bridge” from coal to sustainable, emission-free technologies), still egregiously embodied in government policy, including in Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) rules that guarantee a 14 percent return on capital invested in fossil fuel pipelines, no matter if they are never used. That outdated policy explains why Dominion wants to build a pipeline that makes no sense except to guarantee return to shareholders and management.

Bleicher concludes, “Unless we change the obsolete policies that incentivize construction of unnecessary fossil fuel infrastructure, communities like Union Hill remain at risk and electricity monopolies will continue to profit, despite the suffering of affected communities, and the costs of climate change inaction multiply.”

Read the full article here.

Urge State Delegates to Oppose Paylor Confirmation


There are serious ethical and conduct issues surrounding Mr. Paylor’s work, especially in the permitting processes connected with the Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast Pipelines. Act now to oppose David Paylor’s confirmation as Director of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality! The vote on his confirmation reached the Senate floor and the press on January 21, 2019 (Six senators vote against Northam’s pick to lead environmental agency).

While the House of Delegates may not act on this until after cross over/Feb. 5, they could act at any time. They could act today. Call and email your own Delegate to the Virginia Assembly (Who’s my Legislator? ) and as well as members of the Privileges and Elections Committee. Ask them to oppose the confirmation vote on the appointment of David Paylor as Director of Virginia Department of Environmental Quality as designated in Senate Joint Resolution No. 292 (offered Jan 9, 2019) confirming appointments by the Governor of certain persons communicated May 17, 2018.

Talking points/Sample letter/email here.

Air Pollution Control Board Votes 4-0 to Approve Permit


In a 4-0 vote, the Virginia Air Pollution Control Board voted on January 8, 2019, to approve the air permit for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s air compressor station in Union Hill. After being postponed from the November and then the December Board meetings, the vote was finally taken by a diminished Board. Northam had removed two Board members after the November meeting, refusing to seat their replacements until after the vote, and the seventh member of the Board had previously recused himself. According to the Washington Post, the vote was taken “under heavy pressure from Dominion Energy, whose executives occupied two reserved rows at the front of the meeting room.”

The Board apparently relied solely on Dominion’s promises of good air quality, DEQ’s promises to monitor emissions closely, and on Dominion’s census figures on minority residents of the area (census figures that even DEQ staff have said are inaccurate).

Board members Richard Langford and Ignacia Moreno agreed that siting the compressor station in Union Hill raised environmental justice issues. But Langford voted in favor of the permit because he said he believed emissions would be within the accepted limits so there would be no disproportionate effects. After speaking about environmental justice issues, Moreno voted in favor because she believes the state will closely monitor health impacts. Although Board member Nicole Rovner had asked difficult questions in previous meetings, she voted in favor of the permit without any further explanation or comment. Lastly, William Ferguson of Newport News did not address environmental justice or air quality issues, but argued in favor of the entire ACP because he believes the proposed spur to Hampton Roads will provide natural gas for economic development there.

Read press coverage of the meeting and the vote in the Washington Post, the Richmond Times-Dispatch, and in the Virginia Mercury.

Two Former Air Board Members Challenge State Data

On the eve of the Virginia Air Pollution Control Board vote, the Washington Post reported on January 7, 2019, that both Rebecca Rubin and Samuel Bleicher “warn that regulators are preparing to vote on Dominion Energy’s plan to put a natural gas facility in a rural African American community based on inaccurate information from staff and from the utility.”

Rubin and Bleicher are the two Air Board members that Northam removed after the November 2018 meeting when the Board postponed its vote. Although neither has said how they would vote (if they could), both raised questions in that November meeting.

“‘The site is not a very desirable site from the point of view of either environmental justice or impact on the community,’ Bleicher said in an interview. ‘The record Dominion prepared was based on a not-very-serious look at the neighbors. … It’s a historic free-black community. There are churches and cemeteries and people who live there — none of which shows up in the analysis they presented.'”

The state Department of Environmental Quality and Dominion (which insists its data is unbiased) have said that the area around the proposed facility is predominantly white, but they used broad census data instead of an actual head count, and showed a sparsely populated area with a 37% minority concentration.

The Post reports, “Better data has come from an anthropologist affiliated with the University of Virginia who conducted door-to-door research in the area, Rubin said in a separate interview. Using the research by anthropologist Lakshmi Fjord, ‘you don’t have to extrapolate anything,’ Rubin said. ‘It’s very clear and excellent data … to quantitatively show that it is in fact a historically black community.’ The board should let that guide its vote, she said. ‘In order for environmental justice to mean something, it has to mean something when crucial decisions are being made,'”

In reviewing Ford’s data, gathered over a two-year period, Stephen Metts, a researcher on the adjunct faculty at the New School in New York who has gathered demographic data for several other pipelines, said “Union Hill is ‘by far the strongest’ case he has seen.” Studying aerial images and Ford’s data, “Metts found that Union Hill is ‘actually 51 percent more dense than any other location in the county. And those people just happen to be 83 percent minority.'”

Read the full Washington Post article here.

Read Rebecca Rubin’s opinion column, also in the January 7 Washington Post, Is Virginia interested in environmental justice? We’re about to find out.

Related article on methodology by demographic researcher Stephen Metts:   1-7-19 Medium. Dominion Energy & Environmental Racism: a case study in how to lie with maps. “Yes, the title is provocative, but its not entirely mine. I simply and liberally borrow from the classic Mark Monmonier primer entitled How to Lie with Maps. But the reality of this ‘case study’ is indeed provocative, and it amounts to nothing less than outright environmental racism under the direction of ‘one of the nation’s largest producers and transporters of energy’, Dominion Energy. In the following maps, charts and discussion, I detail the mechanisms behind Dominion Energy’s use of a ‘product’ from ESRI based in California; the ‘skills’ of one international environmental firm; ‘validated’ by an academic institution in Virginia and delivered to decision makers that may unwittingly (or not) participate in the statistical erasure of a local, historic, minority-majority community in Buckingham County, Virginia.”