Governor Northam announced today that he is replacing two members of the Air Pollution Control Board, notably the two members who stood up for Environmental Justice and against the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline compressor station in Union Hill at last week’s public hearing. Although their terms expired in June, it is highly unusual to remove members mid-decision and before their replacements have been announced, especially when Northam has repeatedly pledged to let the regulatory process play out. It is common practice for board members to serve beyond the end of their term. The Virginia Mercury reported, “Notably, the decision to replace the two members of the air board — Rebecca Rubin and Samuel Bleicher, whose terms ended in June — comes a week after the board delayed a vote on a permit for a contentious pipeline compressor station for Dominion Energy’s Atlantic Coast Pipeline.”
Harrison Wallace, Virginia Policy Director at the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, made this statement:
“We are shocked and incredibly disappointed that the Northam Administration is terminating the terms of Air Board members Rebecca Rubin and Sam Bleicher. This deeply controversial move comes just weeks before a crucial vote on the Buckingham Compressor Station for fracked gas. The people of Union Hill and Buckingham County deserve a fair hearing from the full board. This decision will rob them of that opportunity. Governor Northam has now officially taken ownership of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and ownership of this compressor station, a facility which involves strong elements of environmental racism. The governor must understand that with today’s action, the public will now hold him responsible for all the future harm to water, the climate, farmland, and human life that now could come to Virginia.”
A coalition of environmental groups issued the following statement:
Statewide Conservation Groups Call on Northam to Reverse Decision to Replace Air Board Members During Pending Permit Decision
RICHMOND – Today, Governor Northam’s Secretary of the Commonwealth informed two Air Pollution Control Board members, Rebecca R. Rubin and Samuel A. Bleicher, that they would be removed from the Board. This comes just weeks before the body is expected to vote on a crucial air permit for Dominion Energy’s Atlantic Coast Pipeline.
The removal of the members in the midst of debate is unusual, and concerning. The action comes less than a week after both Board members raised environmental justice concerns that pollution from Dominion’s proposed project will cause disproportionate air pollution impacts to the people of Union Hill. Dominion Energy is proposing to build the 55,000 horsepower industrial compressor station in the historic, predominantly African American neighborhood.
The Air Pollution Control Board is comprised of citizen experts tasked with upholding specific environmental statutes related to clean air, including authorizing permits that regulate or protect against air pollution.
The air board is scheduled to continue deliberations and vote on the compressor station permit on Dec. 10. Both Bleicher and Rubin were informed today they would be removed from the Board before that vote.
Governor Northam has repeatedly stressed the need for transparency and independence in the pipeline permitting process. In April 2018, Governor Northam said, “You know I have a lot of faith and confidence in our DEQ, and I need to let them do their work. We need to do this with science we want to do it with the law and we want to do it with transparency.” The removal of these members is in direct contradiction to these essential guiding principles.
In response, leading statewide conservation organizations issued the following joint statement:
“We are shocked and extremely disappointed in Governor Northam’s decision to interrupt the Virginia Air Pollution Control Board’s deliberation on the proposed Buckingham County compressor station. Removing citizen board members in the midst of contentious debate sends the wrong message. Citizen boards must remain independent from political interference during the decision-making process. We call on the Governor to reverse this decision until the current board has finalized its deliberations on the proposed permit.”
Virginia Conservation Network
Southern Environmental Law Center
Sierra Club Virginia Chapter
Virginia League of Conservation Voters
Natural Resources Defense Council
Chesapeake Climate Action Network
In a separate statement, Sierra Club Virginia Chapter Director Kate Addleson said:
“The fact that our governor would replace two citizen members of an independent board before they are scheduled to decide on a crucial permit shows just how tight a grip Dominion has on our political system. If Gov. Northam wants to truly protect the people who elected him, he will reverse this decision immediately.”
See the Virginia Mercury coverage of Northam’s action’s.