Reg­u­la­tors de­lay vot­ing on Union Hill pipe­line

Sta­tion is cru­cial com­po­nent of $6 bil­lion project

Daily Press - - Local News - By Gre­gory S. Schnei­der The Wash­ing­ton Post

RICH­MOND — Vir­ginia air pol­lu­tion reg­u­la­tors on Fri­day un­ex­pect­edly de­layed vot­ing on a per­mit for a nat­u­ral gas pump­ing fa­cil­ity in the historic African-Amer­i­can com­mu­nity of Union Hill, af­ter rais­ing ques­tions about how en­vi­ron­men­tal jus­tice is­sues were con­sid­ered in the state’s re­view of the project.

The pump­ing sta­tion is a cru­cial com­po­nent of the At­lantic Coast Pipe­line, a $6 bil­lion project be­ing built by a coali­tion of com­pa­nies led by Do­min­ion En­ergy. The 600-mile pipe­line starts in West Vir­ginia and trav­els through the heart of Vir­ginia into North Carolina.

Mem­bers of the Union Hill com­mu­nity, many of whom are de­scen­dants of en­slaved work­ers or free black fam­i­lies who set­tled there be­fore the Civil War, have ac­cused the builders of im­pos­ing the project on an area where many res­i­dents are older, low-in­come and mi­nori­ties.

Shortly be­fore this week’s two-day meet­ing of the Air Pol­lu­tion Con­trol Board to con­sider the per­mit, Do­min­ion un­veiled a “com­mu­nity in­vest­ment pack­age” worth more than $5 mil­lion to pro­vide a re­cre­ation cen­ter and other ameni­ties for Union Hill. More than a dozen res­i­dents signed onto the deal, Do­min­ion said.

But scores of res­i­dents showed up in Rich­mond to speak against the fa­cil­ity, joined by en­vi­ron­men­tal ad­vo­cates, pack­ing a pub­lic hear­ing on Thurs­day and the ses­sion on Fri­day at which the board was sched­uled to vote.

Sev­eral mem­bers of the board ques­tioned staffers from the state Depart­ment of En­vi­ron­men­tal Quality, which had rec­om­mended ap­prov­ing the per­mit, about whether race and in­come in Union Hill had been taken into ac­count. State law re­quires that such fa­cil­i­ties not have a dis­pro­por­tion­ate im­pact on vul­ner­a­ble com­mu­ni­ties.

Ear­lier this year, a gov­er­norap­pointed ad­vi­sory board on en­vi­ron­men­tal jus­tice urged Gov. Ralph Northam to put a stop to this and an­other pipe­line project un­til the con­cerns of res­i­dents could be ad­dressed. Northam has said it’s up to reg­u­la­tors to make sure the pro­jects fol­low the law.

DEQ of­fi­cials said that be­cause they be­lieved strin­gent air pol­lu­tion con­trols would keep the sta­tion from emit­ting harm­ful lev­els of gases, they didn’t con­sider the sur­round­ing com­mu­nity to be at risk — re­gard­less of racial makeup or any other de­mo­graph­ics.

“DEQ would’ve pro­posed the iden­ti­cal per­mit no mat­ter where it was lo­cated,” Michael Dowd, the direc­tor of the agency’s Air Di­vi­sion, told the six Air Pol­lu­tion Con­trol Board mem­bers.

But sev­eral mem­bers ques­tioned whether the state did enough to un­der­stand the makeup of the lo­cal com­mu­nity and the im­pact of the com­pres­sor sta­tion. Af­ter a lunch break, board mem­ber Ig­na­cia Moreno moved that the vote be de­layed a month to “give the board more time to con­sider in­for­ma­tion the board re­ceived from the pub­lic, the Depart­ment of En­vi­ron­men­tal Quality and Do­min­ion En­ergy.”

The mo­tion passed unan­i­mously.

“While we’re dis­ap­pointed with the de­lay, we’re con­fi­dent that af­ter con­sid­er­ing the full pub­lic record in sup­port of this per­mit, the Board will ap­prove it,” Do­min­ion spokesman Aaron Ruby said in an emailed state­ment.

Re­fer­ring to the $5 mil­lion ben­e­fits pack­age, Ruby added that “we have a pro­found re­spect for this com­mu­nity and its his­tory, and we’re in­vest­ing in their fu­ture.”

The com­pres­sor sta­tion is crit­i­cal to the op­er­a­tion of the pipe­line be­cause it keeps the gas flowing. Two other such sta­tions are al­ready un­der con­struc­tion — one near the source of the pipe­line in West Vir­ginia and an­other near the ter­mi­nus in North Carolina.

The sta­tion planned for Union Hill is the only one in Vir­ginia, and its lo­ca­tion in Buck­ing­ham County is near the geo­graphic cen­ter of the state.

Some res­i­dents said they were en­cour­aged that the board had de­layed the vote.

“I would hope that at long last this board is ac­tu­ally con­sid­er­ing the things that we have to say, that they’re lis­ten­ing. I was very en­cour­aged by some of the ques­tions,” said Chad Oba, a lo­cal res­i­dent and or­ga­nizer of the Friends of Buck­ing­ham ac­tivist group.

The board said it will take up the vote at its next meet­ing, sched­uled for Dec. 10. A sec­ond ma­jor nat­u­ral gas project, the Moun­tain Val­ley Pipe­line, is al­ready be­ing built by a sep­a­rate col­lec­tion of com­pa­nies in the far south­west por­tion of the state.

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