Category Archives: Environmental Justice

BREDL Releases Report on Union Hill


Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League – Press release

Contact: Sharon Ponton, 434 420-1874, ponton913@msn.com
John Laury, 434 390-4725, johnwlaury@gmail.com
Kathie Mosley, 434 953-7031, kathiemosley506@gmail.com

After 400 years, African Americans Still Face
Subversive Policies Limiting Their Ability to Build Wealth

Buckingham, VA – Today Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League and its Buckingham Chapter, Concern for the New Generation, released a new report: “Union Hill: Real Property, Racism and Environmental Justice,” which reveals a history of subversive policies, in Virginia and nationwide, which severely limit the ability for African Americans to build wealth.

Kathie Mosley, Co-Chair of Concern for the New Generation, stated, “Helping with the courthouse research on the properties forced to host the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the siting of the compressor station in Union Hill was an eye-opening experience for me.” She continued, “Eleven of the 15 properties in Union Hill are owned by minorities. Seven of the 15 are heir properties.”

Sharon Ponton, BREDL’s Stop the Pipelines Campaign Coordinator said that “heir properties” occur when someone dies without a will, leaving all the heirs as owners in common. With no one having a controlling interest in the property, those families are at a distinct disadvantage when dealing with eminent domain proceedings.

John Laury, a member of Concern for the New Generation, said that Buckingham County’s courthouse records incorrectly identified the shapes of these properties. Laury said, “We needed to prove which properties the Atlantic Coast Pipeline would cross, if built, so we could complete the research for our study. We were surprised to find 73% of the properties are owned by minorities, and that Dominion chose the Union Hill site instead of the 148 acres it first purchased for the compressor station in a mostly white community just a couple of miles away.” Laury’s work helped identify property boundaries on three of the 15 properties studied.

Ponton pointed out that in the early 1900’s there were over 925,000 farms owned by black farmers. “There has been a 97% decline in land owned by African Americans since the 1920’s. Here in Buckingham, these families have held onto these heir properties for over a century, and here comes Dominion threatening the legacy left to them by their ancestors. It is unacceptable to allow this to happen to this community.”

The group plans to deliver a copy of the report to Governor Northam, Attorney General Herring, and David Paylor, Director of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality later this week.

The context for the study is Virginia 400, marking the history of the slave trade in the United States. From 250 years of slavery, 100 years of Jim Crow laws to the continued subversive policy of siting toxic polluting facilities in environmental justice and other marginalized communities, African Americans and those who live in poverty have been relegated to less than second class citizenship.

Download the BREDL report here.

Oral Arguments in 4th Circuit Court on Buckingham Compressor Station

Oral arguments before the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals on the challenge to the air permit issued in January 2019 for the Buckingham compressor station took place in Richmond on October 29, 2019. Chief Judge Roger Gregory, who headed the three-judge panel, repeatedly pushed attorneys representing the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, the State Air Pollution Control Board, and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline about why they compared Union Hill air quality to air quality around the state rather than to the surrounding Buckingham area.

Under questioning from Gregory, Deputy Solicitor General Martine Cicconi conceded that Union Hill is populated overwhelmingly by African Americans. Dominion had long disputed findings of an extensive door-to-door survey to document who lives around the proposed compressor station site, begun four years ago by anthropologist Lakshmi Fjord.

The Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation led the appeal.  In a press release from SELC, Senior Attorney Greg Buppert said, “Union Hill is a historic African-American community that traces its roots to the end of the Civil War. The siting of the compressor station and its harmful air pollution in this community is not consistent with the Commonwealth’s commitment to protect the health of all Virginians.  After five years, it remains a mystery why the pipeline’s lead partner, Dominion Energy, has never once proposed moving this facility.”

An announcement of the court’s decision is expected in early 2020.

Read the Richmond Times-Dispatch coverage here.

Read the Daily Progress coverage here.

Read the Virginia Mercury coverage here.

Read the SELC press release here.

Read the SELC opening brief here.

And finally, audio recording of the oral arguments made before the Court (57-minutes) is available by clicking here.

Virginia’s History of Displacemment


An article in the Washington Post on October 11, 2019, asks, Will Virginians be able to resist the Atlantic Coast Pipeline? It points out that backers of the ACP see the Supreme Court’s consideration of the ACP’s effort to cross the Appalachian Trail as one of getting government regulations out of the way of a private industry (supposedly) operating for the public good.

“But for people in central Virginia, the push for a pipeline is a story of government interference, part of a century of struggle between government authorities and vulnerable populations that have been displaced from the land. …. Urban and rural communities alike have their own collective memories of the encroachment of government-backed industry. Those memories are reflected in the diverse coalition that has come together to fight the pipeline.”

The article describes how “One of the largest land seizures in the history of the state took place in the same forest that Dominion now contests” when Virginia, in the late 1920s and early 1930s, used eminent domain to acquire 190,000 acres in the rural Blue Ridge Mountains, seizing or condemning the homes and farms of about 465 families, removing 2,000 people from land they had tended for generations. Virginia then donated the land to the federal government for Shenandoah National Park.

In 1964, under the guise of “slum-cleansing,” the city of Charlottesville razed Vinegar Hill, home to a thriving community of African American residents and black-owned businesses, Charlottesville’s center of black economic life and culture. The city destroyed 29 businesses and forced 500 residents into public housing – and then for 20 years the land sat unused.

And now in rural Buckingham County, the ACP’s compressor station threatens Union Hill, a historically black community. Residents there have spoken out against the pipeline – as have residents in Nelson County whose planned and established businesses would also be destroyed by the ACP.

The unusual coalition fighting the pipeline reveals “a surprising alignment of interests across traditional social, racial, economic and political boundaries. In Buckingham, Va., Baptists and yogis have joined to fight the pipeline. That unusual coalition is up against powerful forces: the Trump administration, a big energy company and a Supreme Court dominated by conservative justices. But for more than a century, the people of central Virginia have been battling the government over their right to control their land, farms, parks and city neighborhoods. Whatever happens in the Supreme Court this term, they’ll keep fighting.”

Union Hill Residents and Supporters Continue to Fight ACP

The Friends of Buckingham County held a town Hall meeting Saturday in Union Hill. More than 120 people turned out for the event, where residents and their supporters spoke out against Dominion Energy’s proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline and a compressor station. The proposed compressor station and the current path of the ACP threatens homeowner’s property, according to residents.

Breaking Through News Reporter Elaine Rackley spoke with members of the Union Hill Community and various Group leaders supporting Buckingham County, including Greg Buppert, a senior attorney with Southern Environmental Law Center,  and journalist Jonathan Sokolow (see below).

Our Air, Our Health, Our Common Future: The Fight to Save Union Hill


Our Air, Our Health, Our Common Future: The Fight to Save Union Hill

Saturday, September 7, 2019 at 1 PM – 4 PM, Union Hill, Virginia

Join friends, neighbors and Virginians leading the fight to protect our communities against corporate polluters for a Town Hall to address this important question: What kind of Commonwealth are we?

Refreshments will be served immediately following the event program. Please register on our Eventbrite web page (https://www.eventbrite.com/e/our-air-our-health-our-common-future-the-fight-to-save-union-hill-tickets-69378548105) so you have all the details and directions to the event (and to give us an accurate head count for food!).

The Town Hall will take place on the ancestral land of Taylor Harper, a former slave who bought a portion of the plantation land he once toiled in Union Hill. This community has been targeted for a massive, dangerous fracked-gas compressor station that would be part of the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline – a highly controversial, expensive and unneeded project.

You’ll hear from several Harper descendants as well as other Union Hill landowners who likewise trace their ancestry to the courageous women and men who founded this historic community, and other area residents. The Town Hall will also feature speakers from the Southern Environmental Law Center and Chesapeake Bay Foundation who are representing community members in efforts to stop the compressor station.

The fight for Union Hill is part of a broader struggle for environmental justice in Virginia. It also includes the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, the Mountain Valley Pipeline, the Chickahominy power plant, the mega dump (called “Green Ridge”) in Cumberland County and other projects that threaten vulnerable communities. Together, communities across the commonwealth are calling on our elected leaders to take meaningful action to develop sound environmental policies that leave no community behind.

Hosted by Appalachian Voices, Sierra Club Virginia Chapter, Virginia Interfaith Power and Light, POWHR, Water Is Life. Protect It.

See also the Event page on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/events/506866846742060/

Challenge to FERC Certificate Scheduled for October 16 Oral Argument

From ABRA Update 241, August 16, 2019

The challenge to the Federal Energy Commission’s (FERC) approval of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline been scheduled for oral argument on October 16 before the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. The plaintiffs are 14 conservation groups, including several ABRA members, that are represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) and Appalachian Mountain Advocates. The petitioners argue that FERC’s Environmental Justice Impact Statement is fatally flawed. Members of the 3-judge panel hearing the case will be announced in mid-September.

Read more about the case in our earlier post, FERC and ACP File Response Briefs in Challenge to ACP Certificate.