Virginia Regulators Ignore Environmental Justice Concerns, Grant Pipeline Permit

The Union Hill community fighting the Atlantic Coast Pipeline  Photo: Friends of Buckingham

Ignoring the pleas of residents of the historic African American community of Union Hill in Richmond, the Virginia state air pollution control board voted unanimously to approve a natural gas compressor station there.  The station will keep natural gas flowing through the controversial 600-mile long Atlantic Coast pipeline, which is being built by the state’s largest power company (Dominion Energy) to cut across the state, at one point also crossing under the Old Appalachian Trail.  In recent weeks, celebrities like actor Don Cheadle and former Vice President Al Gore signed letters urging the board to deny the permit for siting the compressor station in Union Hill.

Hundreds of protesters packed the meeting and when the Board voted to approve the permit, according to The Washington Post, they grew angry and shouted “Shame! Shame! Shame!” and others sang the civil rights anthem “We Shall Not Be Moved.” The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported that Dominion could have cited the compressor station in a predominantly white community two miles from Union Hill but rejected that site because it would have been a longer route and impacted more landowners.  The pipeline’s construction is already stalled because a panel of federal judges ruled last month that the U.S. Forest Service did not have authority to permit the pipeline to cross beneath the Appalachian Trail through the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Why This Matters:  The large and powerful fossil fuel industry always seems to have the upper hand — in DC and in state capitals around the country.  The ruling probably does not have much impact for now because the pipeline is mired in more serious federal court litigation.  But environmental groups were disappointed that Democratic Governor of Virginia Ralph Northam replaced two skeptical air pollution control board commissioners whose terms had run out with two pro-pipeline commissioners.  Governor Northam, according to The Post, attended a political fundraiser with Dominion executives in recent days.  Yup.  It’s all about the money.  

Protestors at the Virginia Air Pollution Board Meeting on Monday Photo: Steve Helber, AP

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