Press conference by faith leaders after a meeting with Lieutenant Gov. Justin Fairfax in Richmond, Virginia, Tuesday September 18, 2018.
A video about the neighborhood around the proposed compressor station.
Weigh in as Virginia officials consider the Atlantic Coast Pipeline compressor station.
Let the Virginia Air Board know that compressor stations like the one Dominion is planning for Union Hill pose health risks for neighbors and pollute the surrounding community’s air.
How to comment? Go here.
Jonathan Sokolow’s September 4, 2018, article in Medium, Pipeline Politics: The Appalling Silence of Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, discusses the apparent acceptance of the “old plantation tradition” by Governor Northam, his Chief of Staff Clark Mercer, and his Secretary of Natural Resources Matt Strickler.
“But elsewhere in Virginia, plantation politics is alive and well, shining a bright and distasteful light on the pipeline battle over which Matt Strickler and Governor Northam are presiding. And the epicenter is Buckingham County, the geographic heart of the Commonwealth.”
Northam has been completely silent on Union Hill for four years, although he directly addressed Dominion’s plans to build a compressor station for a different project in view of Mt. Vernon, and a week later Dominion moved the compressor station. Mt. Vernon is now safe, Union Hill is not.
Northam has remained silent despite pleas from the Virginia State Chapter of the NAACP, despite the investigation of Union Hill by the U.S. Justice Department, and despite the strong statement of the Governor’s own Advisory Council on Environmental Justice. Sokolow notes that, “You would expect a Democratic governor, elected in 2017 with overwhelming African American support, to respond positively to such recommendations from his own Environmental Justice appointees. You would be wrong.”
Sokolow reminds us, “In April 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote a letter from his jail cell in Birmingham, Alabama that would become a bedrock document of the Civil Rights Movement. Speaking to leaders who, despite good intentions, failed to speak up against injustice, King famously wrote: ‘We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.'”
Sokolow concludes, “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.”
In a letter on August 16, 2018, Governor Ralph Northam’s Advisory Council on Environmental Justice called for a stay on all further permits for the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley Pipelines. Blue Virginia reported that the Council recommended an Emergency Task Force on Environmental Justice in Gas Infrastructure to review and address the evidence it has found of “disproportionate impacts for people of color and for low-income populations due to gas infrastructure expansion.”
The Global Justice Ecology Project (GJEP), noted in an August 17 press release, “it is the Governor’s position that the letter is only a draft, and not final until voted upon by the committee ‘in the coming weeks'” and said that “The committee is clear that the letter is a finished piece of work deserving of action by the governor.”
A member of the Governor’s Advisory Council, Dr Mary Finley-Brook, told GJEP in an email, “I am surprised by the Governor’s press staff questioning the finality of the letter after we worked for 3 months to achieve consensus. The Council has voted on this letter more than once already and members have repeatedly communicated an urgent need to address environmental justice concerns surrounding the ACP and MVP in a timely fashion given the pre-construction and permitting processes currently occurring. I was not aware of any plans to call for a vote or any further discussion of this pipeline letter.”
The Washington Post reported on August 28, 2018, that – just to make sure Governor Northam understood their recommendations were final – “The 15-member Advisory Council on Environmental Justice on Tuesday formally urged Northam to direct state agencies to suspend water and air quality permits for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the Mountain Valley Pipeline, separate projects being built through mountainous and rural parts of the state. Raising questions about the impact on health and the environment from the pipelines, the council said the governor should appoint an emergency task force ‘to ensure that predominately poor, indigenous, brown and/or black communities do not bear an unequal burden of environmental pollutants and life-altering disruptions.’ The board, created in October  by Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), has no authority over the process but is charged with providing ‘independent advice and recommendations to the Executive Branch’ on matters of environmental justice, according to Executive Order 73, which established it.” The Blue Virginia coverage of this story includes a video of the unanimous vote.
The clear (and clearly final!) recommendation of the board puts it at odds with Northam, who maintains that the regulatory process is working as it should.
Friends of Buckingham has provided the following information on critical unanswered questions about ACP’s Union Hill Compressor Station to supplement your comments to DEQ about the air permit – along with extensive talking points for your letters. For further information, contact Chad Oba, email@example.com, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The public comment period currently ends [please ask for an extension – see below] Tuesday, September 11 with a public hearing starting at 5 pm at the Buckingham Middle School.
This process is fragmented. All questions about the proposed compressor station should be considered together, but that is not allowed. In your comments, please:
1] first and foremost, ask for an extension of the comment period. The following is a letter of immediate requests sent on August 24 to David Paylor, head of DEQ.
2] Second important request: The Department of Environmental Quality should immediately complete a Quantified Risk Assessment (QRA) for the Buckingham Compressor Station prior to permitting and to work with other state agencies to conduct a Health Risk Assessment (HRA) and a Health Impact Assessment (HRI).
3] Choose a specific topic to focus on. See below for details.
Letter to David Paylor, sent on August 24, 2018:
A 30-day comment period for the air permit for Union Hill Compressor Station in Buckingham is inadequate:
- . We feel that our public process has been severely limited and we should be given every opportunity to comment in an informed and meaningful way that this current comment period does not provide.
- . Community members received access to large documents only weeks before the comment period and did not receive any technical support from state agencies. The applicant Dominion Energy Atlantic Coast Pipeline has had many months or even years, due to the failed first application on 2017, to work with their technical experts and to consult with the DEQ Air Division expertise. We deserve equal time.
- . The recent informational meeting (August 16) with DEQ Air Division was not sufficient for citizens to grasp the many technical aspects of the application and limited the questions that they were consequently ill prepared to ask.
- Access to online documents is difficult if not prohibitive. A large population of impacted, elderly residents in the Union Hill/Woods Corner neighborhood do not own or are familiar with internet use. This is compounded by unreliable connectivity problems with the internet. This area of Buckingham lacks rural wifi or broadband infrastructure.
- The impenetrable language of the hundreds of pages of air permitting documents and air modeling reports that accompany them make them incomprehensible without technical support. We have just recently been able to identify experts who will work with residents and community groups.
- . We deserve the right to an extension of the comment period to assure that our concerns for our health and welfare is assessed from all sides. Many residents are not convinced that our health and welfare will be adequately protected by the current modeling, monitoring and compliance, especially so as Dominion’s compliance record has proven to be faulty with other projects. This proposed Compressor Station has as yet been unproven in actual operation.
Therefore we request an additional 30 days for a total comment period of 60 days.
Thanking you in advance for your consideration,
Chad Oba, Friends of Buckingham
Jeeva Abbate, Yogaville Environmental Solutions
Pastor Paul Wilson, Union Hill and Union Grove Baptist Church
Swami Dayananda, Lotus Center for all Faiths
Dr Lakshmi Fjord, People’s Tribunal on Human Rights and Environmental Justice
Heidi Dhivya Berthoud, Buckingham: We the People
Commenters: please consider starting simply by identifying one question you want answered…as much as possible with technical relevance. You can draw from this modified question list but it is important that you have original/unique wording and not cut and paste.
Send it to: [and cc all]
Make sure to let DEQ know the urgency of the need for information, with a deadline looming. This backs up the requests for more time and gets DEQ to answer some questions. Plus we get our questions on the record by submitting to DEQ. The emails you send can be picked up by a FOIA request at some time in the future.
Furthermore…. August 16, 2018, the DEQ provided an informational meeting at the Buckingham Administration Building where we were allowed to ask questions. We generated a list of 107 really good questions, which we sent to the DEQ. A modified list can be viewed here.
Below is the list of public comment areas DEQ air permit staff said they would (maybe) listen to, related to the air permit:
- Extending 30 days of comment period
- Inadequate compliance and monitoring plans
- Lack of access to technical documents (online, hard to read due to technical language and lack of technical support); they said in front of us that they would leave a copy in the local library (did they?)
- Technical aspects of air permit that they might not have considered
- Comprehensive impacts
- Higher radioactivity of Marcellus shale (with convincing evidence)
- Factors that challenge their assumptions of emissions not being harmful to human health (vulnerably of low income and elderly; pre-existing medical conditions)
- ADD: Writing daily walk throughs into the permit
Since permitting authority is too narrow and highly fragmented, community concerns fall through the cracks.
So, we demand:
- An immediate Quantitative Risk Assessment (QRA) and Comprehensive Health Impact Assessment (CHIA) to address the complex and multifaceted concerns presented by residents of Buckingham
- Institutionalization of Environmental Justice, public safety, and health review before permitting or construction of large-scale infrastructure in minority and low-income communities;
- Meaningful participation by impacted populations in permitting and monitoring;
- Evaluation of climate and environmental justice impacts in all state policies, programs, and permits;
- Reduction of state disparity in exposure by which black and brown communities disproportionately experience harm from toxic air, unsafe water, and public safety risks;
- Development of clean and renewable energy alternatives
At its meeting on Tuesday August 21, 2018, the Virginia State Water Control Board received a report from the Department of Environmental Quality regarding the recent Public Comment Period on the Adequacy of the US Army Corps of Engineers NWP 12 Review of Stream Crossings for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the Mountain Valley Pipeline.
Although earlier reports indicated attendees would not be allowed to speak, the Board did allow 30 minutes of public comment from selected individuals – following the 2 hour presentation from DEQ in which, as noted by Chesapeake Climate Action Network, “The Department of Environmental Quality, headed by the controversial David Paylor, continued to strongly recommend that the board allow pipeline construction to proceed, despite mounting evidence that MVP and ACP have already harmed water quality.” Many commenters urged the Board to take strong action in light of the problems unveiled by the public comments that were filed. David Sligh, Conservation Director for Wild Virginia, told Board members, “The fact is that the Corps of Engineers’ permitting decision is not based on water quality standards. They explicitly say over and over that that is not their job, that’s the job of the states. . . For DEQ to tell you that they don’t intend to enforce certain parts of your water quality standards is atrocious and you should not accept that.”
Rather than taking any strong action on its own, the Board chose instead to adopt a motion calling for the DEQ “to aggressively enforce” the Erosion & Sediment and the Stormwater requirements for the ACP and the MVP.
It is not clear yet what effect the Board’s resolution will have.
The full text of the motion adopted by the Water Board follows:
The Board has reviewed the public comment received during the comment period, has heard the staff’s evaluation of the public comments and the sufficiency of the Nationwide Permit 12 to protect stream crossings impacted by the Mountain Valley Pipeline and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.
The Board has also heard the staff’s report on the status of both projects regarding public complaints, compliance and enforcement and have considered advice of counsel as to the Board’s jurisdiction and authority.
Based on the foregoing considerations, the Board directs DEQ staff:
- to share relevant information from the public comment period with the Corps of Engineers for their consideration in administering and enforcing Nationwide Permit 12 to ensure protection of state waters;
- to continue aggressive compliance, inspection and enforcement activities to the maximum extent of its authority, and to include incorporation of erosion and sediment measures required by the Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy where they are relevant and to the extent that they are more stringent; and
- to respond promptly and effectively to verified public complaints of violations.
Staff reports presented to the SWCB are here.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch report of the meeting says, “The water board narrowly defeated, 4-3, a motion to modify or revoke the state’s certification of a nationwide permit to oversee more than 1,000 water crossings by the Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast pipelines, but agreed unanimously to require more rigorous enforcement of state standards to protect water quality. …. The water board’s action still dismayed a capacity crowd of pipeline opponents who expressed their distrust of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality throughout a tense, nearly four-hour meeting that they interrupted repeatedly to challenge statements by regulatory staff. …. But some water board members appeared skeptical of the state’s ability to protect water quality from sedimentation, after Melanie Davenport, DEQ’s director of water quality permitting, said the state does not have a way to measure or enforce sediment limits in waterways. ‘That’s really not reasonable assurance we are protecting the water quality,’ said Roberta A. Kellam, a board member from the Eastern Shore. Kellam joined two other members of the seven-member board in supporting an unsuccessful motion to hold a formal hearing on whether to revoke or amend certification of the national permit, which gives regulatory oversight of stream crossings to the Army Corps of Engineers instead of the state.”
Read the statement from Chesapeake Climate Action Network, in which CCAN General Counsel Anne Havemann says, “Instead of requiring an individual review, the Board instead called on DEQ to conduct aggressive compliance efforts. While we are still reviewing the Board’s decision it appears to have no teeth, and could allow sediment to continue to be dumped into the water with impunity. In the midst of public outcry and ongoing harm to water quality, we cannot applaud a decision that merely requires the DEQ do the job it should have been doing all along. Today is a shameful day for David Paylor’s Department of Environmental Quality, and a sad day for Virginians. But, the fight is not over. We will continue taking these pipelines to court. We are confident that the federal courts will continue to overturn the insufficient permits for these pipelines, and evidence will prove once and for all that these pipelines should never be built.”
Statement from POWHR Coalition. Points out that “Several members of the Board — Roberta Kellam, Nissa Dean, and Robert Wayland — supported a motion to initiate the formal hearing process to consider amending or revoking the permits for the two pipelines. The motion lost on a 3-4 vote, with Southwest Virginia’s own representative, Lou-Ann Jessee Wallace, voting against the motion.”
Southern Environmental Law Center senior attorney Greg Buppert said, “We have seen firsthand that pipeline construction in Virginia cannot be done without causing serious and permanent sedimentation problems to rivers and streams. The people of the commonwealth deserve better than blanket assurances that everything will be OK when the facts on the ground show that they are not.”
Following are videos from the meeting.
From Appalachians Against Pipelines (1 hour 12 minutes):
From Appalachian Voices (3 hours 46 minutes):
Closing comments, from Marie Eve Robbins (58 minutes):
Richard Averitt’s reaction (1 minute 30 seconds)