Environmental Justice Issues in Virginia

Writing in the Washington Post on January 24, 2019, Sam Bleicher, a member and vice-chair of the Virginia Air Pollution Control Board until removed by Northam in November 2018, discusses the January 8 approval by a diminished Air Board of the air pollution permit for the Buckingham Compressor Station.

He says, “the decision sets important, undesirable precedents for environmental justice decisions and for the global ‘business in liquidation’ approach of continuing to invest in fossil fuel infrastructure. To undermine the environmental justice opposition, Dominion committed $5 million for improved health and safety facilities in Union Hill that the community certainly needs — but only if the permit is approved. This deal divided the public opposition. The Dominion commitment presented the Air Board with a Hobson’s choice: The board could protect this disadvantaged minority community from the risks emanating from the compressor station, but only by depriving it of funds that will improve the lives of the residents. The existing statutes and regulations on environmental justice in siting energy facilities do not address the existence or relevance of such compensatory ‘incentives’ (some would say ‘bribes’).”

Bleicher believes that, “the outcome tells major corporations that they can buy their way out of environmental justice embarrassments by spending a tiny fraction of the total project cost to benefit the poor minority residents who are inconveniently located in their way.”

He describes the outdated policy of “bridge technology” (natural gas as the “bridge” from coal to sustainable, emission-free technologies), still egregiously embodied in government policy, including in Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) rules that guarantee a 14 percent return on capital invested in fossil fuel pipelines, no matter if they are never used. That outdated policy explains why Dominion wants to build a pipeline that makes no sense except to guarantee return to shareholders and management.

Bleicher concludes, “Unless we change the obsolete policies that incentivize construction of unnecessary fossil fuel infrastructure, communities like Union Hill remain at risk and electricity monopolies will continue to profit, despite the suffering of affected communities, and the costs of climate change inaction multiply.”

Read the full article here.