Category Archives: Virginia government

Statement from Union Hill Community

A powerful statement from the Union Hill community of Buckingham County, VA after their press conference on Saturday February 2, 2019, following Virginia Governor Ralph Northam’s decision to stay in office.

“For us who live or work in Union Hill, Buckingham, Virginia, the revelations that Gov. Ralph Northam engaged in racist behavior in medical school over thirty years ago are less troubling than his most recent actions, inactions, and silence about environmental racism related to the massive fracked gas compressor station to be built in Union Hill.

“When Gov. Northam removed two of the 5 Air Pollution Control Boards in the middle of a decision about that compressor station air permit after they raised questions of environmental [in]justice for that siting — his actions spoke loudly about his unwillingness to make donor sacrifices for his PAC required to make racial justice a reality in Virginia.

“His support of the actions of Virginia Department of Environmental Quality to push through the controversial air permit for Union Hill speaks loudly that he is not committed to racial justice in our state. For, the VDEQ spokesman publicly erased the existence of Union Hill’s African American majority and labeled its history of “no significance.” That history is of former slaves building a freedmen community on plantations lands where they were once enslaved. And, whose present day residents are their descendants threatened by the carcinogenic cocktail of most harmful air emissions of Virginia’s ACP compressor station.

“Tellingly, Gov. Northam not only ignored the unanimous decision by his Advisory Council on Environmental Justice for him to issue a moratorium on the ACP and MVP pipelines until environmental justice reviews were taken, but disbanded that body of citizen experts to create a “new” EJ council with seats for the very corporate polluters whose toxic emissions were the reason for the EJ council formation.

“We ask you to consider the direct lines we see between the actions of a young man and his actions and silence when elected to the most powerful office in Virginia. It is not a matter of Democrat or Republican in state that was the capital of the Confederacy. It is a question of making the hard, ethical choices to do the daily work of restorative justice toward racial justice in Virginia.

“The following spokespersons for Union Hill are willing to speak with reporters today:

“Rev. Pastor Paul Wilson, pastor of Union Grove MIssionary Baptist Church and leader of the movement to stop the environmental injustice of the compressor station
Cell: (804) 356-4288

“Mr. John W. Laury, Union Hill farmer, veteran, Union Grove deacon, and freedman family descendant in Union Hill
Cell: (434) 390-7650

“Mrs. Ruby Laury, Union Hill, Friends of Buckingham steering committee member and Concern for the New Generation member
Cell: (434) 390-4824

“Dr. Lakshmi Fjord, anthropologist, Friends of Buckingham Steering Committee, principal researcher, Union Hill Community Study and History
Cell: (510) 684-1403”

See press coverage in the Daily Progress on February 2, 2019.

Northam’s Silence


Jonathan Sokolow’s column of September 4, 2018, Pipeline Politics: The Appalling Silence of Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, is worth rereading at this time.

Sokolow’s column concludes, “Ralph Northam seems to have found the time and motivation to speak out on everything from the view from Mount Vernon to his views on oysters. Meanwhile, two of those closest to Northam, his Chief of Staff Clark Mercer and his Secretary of Natural Resources Matt Strickler, have demonstrated not only tone deafness but little inclination to do anything for the people of Union Hill and many other front-line communities. Thousands of people stand to have their lives, water, land and future devasted for generations to come by these proposed pipelines. All for two massive and unnecessary fracked gas pipelines that together represent more than $10 billion in new investment in fossil fuel in Virginia. These pipelines come at exactly the wrong time. when climate change continues apace and is becoming an existential threat to our entire planet. Also to be harmed by these pipelines: Northam’s beloved Chesapeake Bay, including, by the way, the oysters. Northam’s silence is more than just embarrassing. His failure to listen to his own appointees is more than just insulting. One might say his silence is appalling. It needs to stop now.”

Governor Reconstitutes Environmental Justice Council

On January 23, 2019, the Virginia Mercury reported that Governor Northam is reconstituting an advisory council that he simply ignored in 2018. After multiple meetings to hear testimony and study the issues, the Advisory Council on Environmental Justice, originally appointed by former Governor McAuliffe, submitted their report to Northam in May 2018. The Council called for a stay on all further permits for the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley Pipelines, and found evidence of of “disproportionate impacts for people of color and for low-income populations due to gas infrastructure expansion.”

Northam maintained the report was merely a draft. The Council, in late August, reiterated that their report and recommendations were final, and formally urged Northam to direct state agencies to suspend water and air quality permits for the ACP and MVP. He continued to ignore them.

Now, according to the Mercury article, “The former members of the Governor’s Advisory Council on Environmental Justice were invited to apply to serve on the new body, called the Virginia Council on Environmental Justice, in an email from Secretary of Natural Resources Matt Strickler. ‘I’d like to express my sincere gratitude to you and all members of the Governor’s Advisory Council on Environmental Justice for your service over the past year. I am pleased to report that the governor has acted on a key recommendation from your report to continue his commitment to environmental justice through the issuance of Executive Order 29 – establishing a new Virginia Council on Environmental Justice,’ Strickler wrote. The new council will ‘build on your work by recommending a long-term framework to guide environmental justice decision-making and ensure environmental justice concerns are integrated across state programs, policies, permits and procedures,’ Strickler said.

All well and good. But will the Governor pay any more attention to the Council this time around, especially if they recommend things he does not want to hear?

Read the full Virginia Mercury 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.

Wagner Introduces Utiity Right of Way Bill

On January 14, 2019, State Senator Frank Wagner introduced legislation authorizing utilities to acquire rights of way.  [We wonder what help he had from Dominion in crafting the bill.]

Summary as introduced:
Public utilities; acquisition of rights-of-way for economic development sites. Authorizes a public utility providing water, sewer, electric, or natural gas service to conduct an Economic Development Program (Program). Under such a Program, the utility is authorized to acquire utility right-of-way for one or more qualified economic development sites. The measure establishes criteria for the Virginia Economic Development Partnership Authority to certify that a site is a qualified economic development site. The State Corporation Commission (SCC) is authorized to approve a proposal for a Program that satisfies certain conditions, including a finding that implementation of the Program will provide significant economic development benefits that might not otherwise be attained absent its approval. A utility’s capital investment is capped at one percent of gross plant investment in the aggregate of all of the utility’s Programs and at $5 million for any specific qualified economic development site.

The full text (pdf): 01/14/19 Senate: Presented and ordered printed 19104356D

History: 01/14/19 Senate: Presented and ordered printed 19104356D,
01/14/19 Senate: Referred to Committee on Commerce and Labor

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.