Is this really environmental justice?

Queen Zakia Shabazz | 11/29/2018, 6 a.m.
The Virginia Environmental Justice Collaborative condemns Gov. Ralph S. Northam’s decision to suddenly replace two members of the state Air ...

The Virginia Environmental Justice Collaborative condemns Gov. Ralph S. Northam’s decision to suddenly replace two members of the state Air Pollution Control Board in the midst of the crucial permitting process for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline proposed compressor station in Buckingham County.

We stand in solidarity with Union Hill residents and the citizens and environmental groups concerned about environmental justice, environmental racism and access to a fair and equitable governmental process.

This is the latest in a series of very concerning actions taken by the Northam administration.

At the Air Pollution Control Board’s meeting on Nov. 8 and 9 about the compressor station, board members Rebecca R. Rubin and Samuel A. Bleicher openly expressed concern about environmental justice issues in the selection of Buckingham County’s predominantly African-American community of Union Hill for the project.

Since then, it appears that Gov. Northam is intervening to weight the board’s decision in favor of Dominion Energy’s permit application at the expense of the lives and safety of Union Hill residents. Within a week, he had replaced Ms. Rubin and Mr. Bleicher with two new board members who now have less than a month to get up to speed on an extremely complex permit application before the board meets on Dec. 10 to vote on the compressor station.

Just as the governor’s decision haphazardly replaces board members in midstream, if the board votes to approve the permitting of the compressor station, the very heart of our state will be wrenched out and replaced with the unending threat of explosion, noise and air and water pollutants that come along with the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s proposed 53,000-horsepower compressor station slated for Union Hill.

During the November air board meeting, a Dominion Energy official outlined a $5.1 million package the company has pledged for improvements in the Union Hill community based on “successful completion” of the pipeline. The fact that Dominion Energy has to ravage Union Hill in order to “improve” it is very disturbing.

If the compressor station permit is denied, perhaps the Union Hill community will not need Dominion Energy’s proposed package, which would include a community center, a full-time rescue squad and expansion of emergency 911 services.

Furthermore, aren’t these basic amenities that should be available in all Virginia communities? Certainly the potential loss of life far outweighs the benefits of Dominion’s proposed package.

The VEJC questions the rushed appointment of new board members at this crucial juncture without them having the benefit of hearing public comments first-hand. We doubt the ability of the board to function optimally and with full understanding going forward. We encourage all citizens to contact the Governor’s Office and share their disappointment and concern.

Gov. Northam’s actions continue to damage his self-proclaimed image as a champion for the environment and open government. His actions send a strong message that the ability for citizen boards to seek information from the public and perform their vital regulatory duties with independence and authority can be subjected to undue pressure by the state Department of Environmental Quality, the Virginia attorney general and the governor.

Gov. Northam has an obligation to act in the best interests of all Virginians and he is expected to uphold his promise to use the strictest of standards in protecting Virginia’s most valuable and natural resources — its people.

Instead, the Northam administration seeks to increase the vulnerability of communities of color and low-income families in exchange for the enrichment of business elite and shareholders.

We recommend that environmental and energy solutions benefit communities rather than merely funnel profit to those who exploit and harm vulnerable communities.

The writer is coordinator of the Virginia Environmental Justice Collaborative.