Category Archives: DEQ

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

 

Water Control Board Votes to Reconsider MVP Certification

At their regular meeting on December 12, 2018, The State Water Control Board voted 4-3 to initiate the formal hearing process to consider revoking the 401 Certification for the Mountain Valley Pipeline.  See Roanoke Times coverage here.

Please recall that when Northam removed the two members of the Air Control Board who had questioned the air permit for the Union Hill compressor station, he also removed two Water Control Board members who had questioned water permit certification for the pipelines. One of Northam’s new appointments to the Water Board, James Lofton, made the motion to reconsider the MVP certification in response to extensive public comment regarding ongoing MVP damage, and members Nissa Dean, Paula Jasinki (also new), and Robert Wayland joined him in voting to reconsider. Voting against reconsideration were Heather Wood, Lou Ann Wallace and Tim Hayes.

Although the MVP’s nationwide permit was revoked months ago, the Department of Environmental Quality took no action to shut down pipeline construction. Just a week ago, Attorney General Mark Herring filed suit against MVP for their repeated environmental violations – hundreds of violations.

Writing in an op-ed in a Virginia Mercury article published earlier in the day, Roberta Kellum, one of the Water Board members Northam removed, wrote of Herring’s suit that “After reading the complaint, there should be no doubt about the validity of the concerns raised by the public about water quality impacts from fracked gas pipeline construction projects and the associated water quality certifications issued by the State Water Control Board. What the complaint doesn’t tell us, however, is how the DEQ allowed so many violations to occur unabated, for months and months, or how major erosion and sediment control structures failed in spite of pre-approved plans.” She adds, “And why, in the face of so many systemic failures in complying with the water quality certification, didn’t DEQ issue a stop work order to ensure that violations were addressed to prevent any degradation of water quality? Having faced a justifiably irate and frustrated public repeatedly as a State Water Control Board member over the past two years, I hope Gov. Northam will finally appreciate the validity of public concerns for the waters of the commonwealth.”

Yes, indeed, it is certainly time for the State Water Control Board to reconsider their certification of the disastrous Mountain Valley Pipeline. Our thanks to the Board members who voted to do so.

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.

Respectfully,

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

CC:
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.

Holding Northam’s Feet to the Fire

What do a former Air Pollution Control Board member, journalist Jonathan Sokolow, the editorial board of the Daily Progress, and the Marcellus Drilling News have in common? They all recognize that Governor Northam interfered with the regulatory process when he conducted his Thursday Night Massacre.

Vivian Thomson is a retired University of Virginia professor of environmental science and politics and a former member of the State Air Pollution Control Board. She is the author of Climate of Capitulation: An Insider’s Account of State Power in a Coal Nation.  Writing in the Virginia Mercury on November 19, 2018 (A governor meddles with the air board as it weighs a Dominion Energy permit and a former member gets déjà vu), she says, “Sadly, Gov. Ralph Northam’s decision last week to replace two members of the State Air Pollution Control Board, even as the board considers a crucial permit that would allow a compressor station for Dominion Energy’s Atlantic Coast Pipeline, is far from an anomaly.” She goes on to describe the multiple times between 2006-2010, during her second term on the Board, when then-Governor Kaine and the General Assembly undermined both the Air and the Water Control Boards. Each time, the courts upheld Board decisions. Speaking of the newly appointed replacement Air Board members, she says they, “will find it difficult to get up to speed quickly with the complicated technical, legal, ethical and policy issues involved. Based on my experience, they will be fed information supportive of DEQ’s and Gov. Northam’s position and pressured to approve DEQ’s proposal. The board members face the possibility that the governor and the General Assembly will override whatever they decide. But, ultimately, the board members must exercise their broad discretion in a reasoned, lawful manner that protects the board’s short- and long-term integrity and credibility. They should remember that the air board is supposed to exercise its independent judgment, and that, when we did so between 2006 and 2010, courts supported our decisions.”

Writing in Medium on November 20, 2018 (I Can’t Breathe: Ralph Northam Takes Off the Mask and Reveals He Works for Dominion Energy), Jonathan Sokolow discusses Northam’s “brazen power play” on November 15 when he fired two members of the Air Pollution Control Board “precisely because it appeared likely that Dominion, which has given lavishly to Northam and to most politicians in Virginia in both parties, was about to be denied the permit it so desperately seeks for the only compressor station in Virginia to service the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.” Sokolow describes how, at the November 9 Air Board hearing, “at least three of the six board members — and perhaps a fourth — saw through the web of lies they were being told by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, led by its longtime Director, David Paylor. Multiple board members made it clear that they knew they were being misled by DEQ and that they intended to assert the authority granted to them by the legislature to right this wrong.” And he says that before the Board broke for lunch, “David Paylor had been visibly upset as he witnessed first one, then another, then a third board member politely but firmly challenge DEQ.” It is unknown what Paylor did during the lunch break, but when the Board returned from lunch, “one of the board members read from her tablet a motion to defer the permit decision until December 10. The board then adjourned and abruptly left the room. It was like the oxygen had been sucked right out of that room. Union Hill had been about to win. Now the board was gone. It was hard to understand what had just happened. It was hard to breathe. Six days later, the mask came off. Northam fired Bleicher and Rubin. …. The next day, Northam named two new members to replace Bleicher and Rubin. And if they vote on December 10 as Dominion hopes they will vote, the compressor station will be approved and the fate of Union Hill will be sealed. All because Ralph Northam rigged the vote.”

The Daily Progress editorial on November 20, 2018 (Air board appointments shock, surprise) says “Mr. Northam has just gotten rid of two State Air Pollution Control Board members less than a week after they voiced concerns over the Atlantic Coast Pipeline compressor station planned for Buckingham County. You’d have to twist yourself into a pretzel trying to come up with a position on this decision other than the obvious one: Gov. Northam deliberately removed the two people most likely to object to approval of the compressor station. The decision and its timing are just too conspicuous to be coincidental — although the governor says there is no connection. If you believe that the governor never intended to eliminate dissent, then you’d also have to conclude that he was clueless…. Right before a major decision is typically not a good moment to upend a group’s membership, all other things being equal. To opponents of the replacement maneuver, however, that aspect of timing is only part of the issue. More critical is the implication that the governor deliberately dumped compressor critics — and perhaps even replaced them with people more likely to smooth the facility’s path. We seriously doubt that Gov. Northam was clueless about how this maneuver would be perceived.”

Finally, even the pro-fracking and pro-pipeline Marcellus Drilling News, recognized Northam’s strong-arm tactics, writing on November 19 that he “canned two board members who voted to delay a vote on an ACP compressor station,” and concluding, “The timing of their replacement sends an unmistakable signal to the board: You WILL approve this compressor station, or else.”

Hold Northam’s feet to the fire – flood Northam’s phone lines and inbox with your objections to his obvious efforts to reward Dominion at the expense of Union Hill and the rest of Virginia:
Phone – Governor’s office: 804-786-2211
Email – https://www.governor.virginia.gov/constituent-services/communicating-with-the-governors-office/

Two Members of Air Pollution Control Board Dismissed

Governor Northam announced today that he is replacing two members of the Air Pollution Control Board, notably the two members who stood up for Environmental Justice and against the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline compressor station in Union Hill at last week’s public hearing.  Although their terms expired in June, it is highly unusual to remove members mid-decision and before their replacements have been announced, especially when Northam has repeatedly pledged to let the regulatory process play out.  It is common practice for board members to serve beyond the end of their term.  The Virginia Mercury reported, “Notably, the decision to replace the two members of the air board — Rebecca Rubin and Samuel Bleicher, whose terms ended in June — comes a week after the board delayed a vote on a permit for a contentious pipeline compressor station for Dominion Energy’s Atlantic Coast Pipeline.”

Harrison Wallace, Virginia Policy Director at the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, made this statement:

“We are shocked and incredibly disappointed that the Northam Administration is terminating the terms of Air Board members Rebecca Rubin and Sam Bleicher. This deeply controversial move comes just weeks before a crucial vote on the Buckingham Compressor Station for fracked gas. The people of Union Hill and Buckingham County deserve a fair hearing from the full board. This decision will rob them of that opportunity. Governor Northam has now officially taken ownership of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and ownership of this compressor station, a facility which involves strong elements of environmental racism. The governor must understand that with today’s action, the public will now hold him responsible for all the future harm to water, the climate, farmland, and human life that now could come to Virginia.”

A coalition of environmental groups issued the following statement:

Statewide Conservation Groups Call on Northam to Reverse Decision to Replace Air Board Members During Pending Permit Decision

RICHMOND – Today, Governor Northam’s Secretary of the Commonwealth informed two Air Pollution Control Board members, Rebecca R. Rubin and Samuel A. Bleicher, that they would be removed from the Board. This comes just weeks before the body is expected to vote on a crucial air permit for Dominion Energy’s Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

The removal of the members in the midst of debate is unusual, and concerning. The action comes less than a week after both Board members raised environmental justice concerns that pollution from Dominion’s proposed project will cause disproportionate air pollution impacts to the people of Union Hill. Dominion Energy is proposing to build the 55,000 horsepower industrial compressor station in the historic, predominantly African American neighborhood.

The Air Pollution Control Board is comprised of citizen experts tasked with upholding specific environmental statutes related to clean air, including authorizing permits that regulate or protect against air pollution.

The air board is scheduled to continue deliberations and vote on the compressor station permit on Dec. 10. Both Bleicher and Rubin were informed today they would be removed from the Board before that vote.

Governor Northam has repeatedly stressed the need for transparency and independence in the pipeline permitting process. In April 2018, Governor Northam said, “You know I have a lot of faith and confidence in our DEQ, and I need to let them do their work. We need to do this with science we want to do it with the law and we want to do it with transparency.” The removal of these members is in direct contradiction to these essential guiding principles.

In response, leading statewide conservation organizations issued the following joint statement:

“We are shocked and extremely disappointed in Governor Northam’s decision to interrupt the Virginia Air Pollution Control Board’s deliberation on the proposed Buckingham County compressor station. Removing citizen board members in the midst of contentious debate sends the wrong message. Citizen boards must remain independent from political interference during the decision-making process. We call on the Governor to reverse this decision until the current board has finalized its deliberations on the proposed permit.”

Virginia Conservation Network
Southern Environmental Law Center
Sierra Club Virginia Chapter
Virginia League of Conservation Voters
Natural Resources Defense Council
Clean Virginia
Chesapeake Climate Action Network

In a separate statement, Sierra Club Virginia Chapter Director Kate Addleson said:

“The fact that our governor would replace two citizen members of an independent board before they are scheduled to decide on a crucial permit shows just how tight a grip Dominion has on our political system. If Gov. Northam wants to truly protect the people who elected him, he will reverse this decision immediately.”

See the Virginia Mercury coverage of Northam’s action’s.