Category Archives: DEQ

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.”

Air Board Meeting Set for January 8

The Air Pollution Control Board meeting to vote on the air pollution permit for the proposed Union Hill compressor station will be held on Tuesday January 8, 2019, beginning at 10 am, with registration and doors opening to the public at 9 am. The meeting will be held at the DoubleTree by Hilton Richmond-Midlothian, James River Parlor G/H, 1021 Koger Center Boulevard, Richmond, Virginia 23235.

In addition to the usual regulations forbidding signs on sticks, helium balloons, smoking, firearms, and disruptive behavior, the tentative meeting agenda includes this statement: “There will be no public comment opportunity at the meeting. Consideration of the draft permit is a case decision under the Board’s Policy for Public Comments at State Air Pollution Control Board meetings. Both the law and the Board’s policy provide for commenters to have an opportunity to respond to the summary of the prior public comment period presented to the Board. The opportunity to respond to the summary of the August 8, 2018, through September 21, 2018, public comment period was provided on November 8, 2018. For the December 21, 2018, through January 4, 2019, public comment period, the Department of Environmental Quality staff are not presenting a summary of the comments to the Board members. The public comments received during this comment period are being provided directly to the Board members for their consideration. Therefore, there is no opportunity for public comment at the meeting.

DEQ instructions for sending comments on the air permit for the compressor station:

  • 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

These instructions have been copied directly from the DEQ Web page. But BE AWARE: People report that email sent to the email address published by DEQ bounces, so either the address is bad or their server is down.  Yet another limitation on the abbreviated comment period.

Sign the Petition


Sign this petition: https://www.change.org/p/va-air-pollution-control-board-stop-environmental-racism-in-virginia-stop-the-fracked-gas-compressor-station

The Stand with Union Hill Concert of Prayer on December 18, 2018, was an interfaith prayer vigil to bring protection against the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline compressor station in Union Hill on the eve an important meeting by the Air Pollution Control Board.

But on December 19, 2018, the Air Pollution Control Board and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality dodged valid legal challenges to their procedure, outrage over Governor Northam’s recent stacking of board members in Dominion’s favor, and the presence of over 150 concerned citizens, by not voting and by declaring a new public comment period, limited in time and scope, for the proposed ACP compressor station at Union Hill.

Help turn this setback into a victory by signing the petition.

At 54,000 horsepower, the proposed compressor station, a giant, even by industry standards, has been sited in the center of an historic African American freedman community on a former slave plantation and represents a stark example of environmental injustice.

Talking Points for Your Comments to the Air Board

As you write your comments to the Air Pollution Control Board during this abbreviated comment period (now through January 4, 2019), you may find some good talking points in the summary of comments made during the August-September comment period. The summary, originally published on November 2, 2018, was compiled with the excellent work of folks from Appalachian Voices, Friends of Buckingham and the Sierra Club Virginia Chapter.

Keep in mind that per the Air Board’s instructions, comments are limited to questions and concerns on demographics and site suitability for the proposed air compressor station. The Board also said that the permit conditions, including the amendments that were discussed and approved at the December 19, 2018, meeting, are not subject to public comment. And further, the Board indicated that public comment is not being sought on the conduct of a health assessment by the Virginia Department of Health. Documents to be commented on are listed here. Despite the Air Board’s restrictions, the summary of earlier comments may provide you with useful points to consider.

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.