Holding Northam’s Feet to the Fire

What do a former Air Pollution Control Board member, journalist Jonathan Sokolow, the editorial board of the Daily Progress, and the Marcellus Drilling News have in common? They all recognize that Governor Northam interfered with the regulatory process when he conducted his Thursday Night Massacre.

Vivian Thomson is a retired University of Virginia professor of environmental science and politics and a former member of the State Air Pollution Control Board. She is the author of Climate of Capitulation: An Insider’s Account of State Power in a Coal Nation.  Writing in the Virginia Mercury on November 19, 2018 (A governor meddles with the air board as it weighs a Dominion Energy permit and a former member gets déjà vu), she says, “Sadly, Gov. Ralph Northam’s decision last week to replace two members of the State Air Pollution Control Board, even as the board considers a crucial permit that would allow a compressor station for Dominion Energy’s Atlantic Coast Pipeline, is far from an anomaly.” She goes on to describe the multiple times between 2006-2010, during her second term on the Board, when then-Governor Kaine and the General Assembly undermined both the Air and the Water Control Boards. Each time, the courts upheld Board decisions. Speaking of the newly appointed replacement Air Board members, she says they, “will find it difficult to get up to speed quickly with the complicated technical, legal, ethical and policy issues involved. Based on my experience, they will be fed information supportive of DEQ’s and Gov. Northam’s position and pressured to approve DEQ’s proposal. The board members face the possibility that the governor and the General Assembly will override whatever they decide. But, ultimately, the board members must exercise their broad discretion in a reasoned, lawful manner that protects the board’s short- and long-term integrity and credibility. They should remember that the air board is supposed to exercise its independent judgment, and that, when we did so between 2006 and 2010, courts supported our decisions.”

Writing in Medium on November 20, 2018 (I Can’t Breathe: Ralph Northam Takes Off the Mask and Reveals He Works for Dominion Energy), Jonathan Sokolow discusses Northam’s “brazen power play” on November 15 when he fired two members of the Air Pollution Control Board “precisely because it appeared likely that Dominion, which has given lavishly to Northam and to most politicians in Virginia in both parties, was about to be denied the permit it so desperately seeks for the only compressor station in Virginia to service the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.” Sokolow describes how, at the November 9 Air Board hearing, “at least three of the six board members — and perhaps a fourth — saw through the web of lies they were being told by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, led by its longtime Director, David Paylor. Multiple board members made it clear that they knew they were being misled by DEQ and that they intended to assert the authority granted to them by the legislature to right this wrong.” And he says that before the Board broke for lunch, “David Paylor had been visibly upset as he witnessed first one, then another, then a third board member politely but firmly challenge DEQ.” It is unknown what Paylor did during the lunch break, but when the Board returned from lunch, “one of the board members read from her tablet a motion to defer the permit decision until December 10. The board then adjourned and abruptly left the room. It was like the oxygen had been sucked right out of that room. Union Hill had been about to win. Now the board was gone. It was hard to understand what had just happened. It was hard to breathe. Six days later, the mask came off. Northam fired Bleicher and Rubin. …. The next day, Northam named two new members to replace Bleicher and Rubin. And if they vote on December 10 as Dominion hopes they will vote, the compressor station will be approved and the fate of Union Hill will be sealed. All because Ralph Northam rigged the vote.”

The Daily Progress editorial on November 20, 2018 (Air board appointments shock, surprise) says “Mr. Northam has just gotten rid of two State Air Pollution Control Board members less than a week after they voiced concerns over the Atlantic Coast Pipeline compressor station planned for Buckingham County. You’d have to twist yourself into a pretzel trying to come up with a position on this decision other than the obvious one: Gov. Northam deliberately removed the two people most likely to object to approval of the compressor station. The decision and its timing are just too conspicuous to be coincidental — although the governor says there is no connection. If you believe that the governor never intended to eliminate dissent, then you’d also have to conclude that he was clueless…. Right before a major decision is typically not a good moment to upend a group’s membership, all other things being equal. To opponents of the replacement maneuver, however, that aspect of timing is only part of the issue. More critical is the implication that the governor deliberately dumped compressor critics — and perhaps even replaced them with people more likely to smooth the facility’s path. We seriously doubt that Gov. Northam was clueless about how this maneuver would be perceived.”

Finally, even the pro-fracking and pro-pipeline Marcellus Drilling News, recognized Northam’s strong-arm tactics, writing on November 19 that he “canned two board members who voted to delay a vote on an ACP compressor station,” and concluding, “The timing of their replacement sends an unmistakable signal to the board: You WILL approve this compressor station, or else.”

Hold Northam’s feet to the fire – flood Northam’s phone lines and inbox with your objections to his obvious efforts to reward Dominion at the expense of Union Hill and the rest of Virginia:
Phone – Governor’s office: 804-786-2211
Email – https://www.governor.virginia.gov/constituent-services/communicating-with-the-governors-office/