Governor at Odds with Appointed Advisory Council

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 [2017] 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.