Con­cerns about ef­fect on ma­jor­ity-black area de­lay pipe­line de­ci­sion

Richmond Times-Dispatch Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - BY MICHAEL MARTZ

Vir­ginia’s Air Pol­lu­tion Con­trol Board is wait­ing a month to act on a pro­posed per­mit for a nat­u­ral gas com­pres­sor sta­tion to serve the At­lantic Coast Pipe­line in Buck­ing­ham County be­cause of un­re­solved con­cerns about whether it would have a “dis­pro­por­tion­ate im­pact” on the ma­jor­ity-black com­mu­nity of Union Hill.

Af­ter a day and a half of pub­lic meet­ings on the pro­posed air pol­lu­tion per­mit, the reg­u­la­tory board voted unan­i­mously Fri­day to de­lay its de­ci­sion un­til Dec. 10.

Sev­eral board mem­bers made clear

their dis­com­fort with the state’s ap­proach to con­cerns about en­vi­ron­men­tal jus­tice be­cause of the 55,000-horse­power com­pres­sor sta­tion’s prox­im­ity to Union Hill and the ad­ja­cent neigh­bor­hoods of Union Grove and Shel­ton Store, whose res­i­dents are pre­dom­i­nantly African-Amer­i­can.

“I do think we have a duty to con­sider dis­pro­por­tion­ate im­pact,” said Nicole Rovner, a board mem­ber from Rich­mond, be­fore the vote to de­lay ac­tion on the per­mit.

Other board mem­bers also wanted more in­for­ma­tion about the suit­abil­ity of the lo­ca­tion of the com­pres­sor sta­tion, pro­posed on the site of a for­mer plan­ta­tion whose freed slaves founded the ad­ja­cent com­mu­nity af­ter the Civil War.

“The ques­tion is whether there’s a dis­pro­por­tion­ate im­pact and whether there’s a bet­ter lo­ca­tion for the fa­cil­ity,” said Sa­muel Ble­icher, a Ge­orge­town Uni­ver­sity law pro­fes­sor who lives in Ar­ling­ton County.

The board’s de­ci­sion dis­mayed but did not dis­hearten of­fi­cials with Do­min­ion En­ergy, the lead de­vel­oper of the $7 bil­lion nat­u­ral gas pipe­line it has fed­eral per­mis­sion to build 600 miles from West Vir­ginia, through Vir­ginia, to south­east­ern North Carolina.

“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 a state­ment af­ter the vote.

The de­lay buoyed op­po­nents of the project, who chal­lenged the ad­e­quacy of the draft per­mit.

“I would hope that at long last that the board is ac­tu­ally lis­ten­ing to the things we have to say,” said Chad Oba, leader of Friends of Buck­ing­ham and a res­i­dent of Woods Road on the other side of state Route 56 from Union Hill and the com­pres­sor sta­tion site.

Oba con­tends the state did not ad­e­quately in­volve the com­mu­nity in the per­mit­ting process un­til af­ter the Gov­er­nor’s Ad­vi­sory Coun­cil on En­vi­ron­men­tal Jus­tice sent a let­ter to Gov. Ralph Northam in midAu­gust that urged him to sus­pend the air per­mit­ting process “pend­ing fur­ther re­view of the sta­tion’s im­pacts on the health and qual­ity of life of those liv­ing in close prox­im­ity.”

The coun­cil also rec­om­mended that Northam de­lay all state per­mits for the At­lantic Coast Pipe­line and Moun­tain Val­ley Pipe­line, pro­posed through South­west Vir­ginia to Pitt­syl­va­nia County, un­til the state can “en­sure that pre­dom­i­nantly poor, in­dige­nous, brown and/or black com­mu­ni­ties do not bear an un­equal bur­den of en­vi­ron­men­tal pol­lu­tants and life-al­ter­ing dis­rup­tions.”

State en­vi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tors said they would pro­tect all res­i­dents equally be­cause of lim­its in ni­tro­gen ox­ide and other pol­lu­tants that they say are more strin­gent than any other com­pres­sor sta­tion air per­mit in the coun­try.

“If all the stan­dards are be­ing met, there is no dis­pro­por­tion­ate im­pact,” said Michael Dowd, direc­tor of the air and re­new­able en­ergy di­vi­sion of the Vir­ginia De­part­ment of En­vi­ron­men­tal Qual­ity.

But Re­becca Ru­bin, an en­vi­ron­men­tal con­sul­tant from Fred­er­icks­burg, noted that an even-handed ap­proach to pol­lu­tion lim­its “does not mean it’s equitable.”

Dowd strongly dis­puted sug­ges­tions that the state agency could re­ject the per­mit based on the suit­abil­ity of the 58-acre site next to Union Hill. He said site suit­abil­ity is the ju­ris­dic­tion of the Buck­ing­ham Board of Su­per­vi­sors, which ap­proved a spe­cial-use per­mit for the project in Jan­uary 2017.

“We have to base our au­thor­ity here as it ap­plies to air qual­ity,” Dowd said.

Car­los Brown, se­nior vice pres­i­dent and gen­eral coun­sel at Do­min­ion, as­sured the state board that “there was no dis­crim­i­na­tory in­tent with re­gard to place­ment of the fa­cil­ity,” a de­ci­sion the com­pany said it made be­cause of the prop­erty’s avail­abil­ity and lo­ca­tion next to the ex­ist­ing Wil­liams-Transco in­ter­state nat­u­ral gas pipe­line.

Brown, an African-Amer­i­can lawyer, out­lined the $5.1 mil­lion pack­age Do­min­ion has pledged for im­prove­ments in the com­mu­nity, based on “suc­cess­ful com­ple­tion” of the pipe­line.

He said he ne­go­ti­ated the pro­posed pack­age — in­clud­ing cre­ation of a full-time res­cue squad, ex­pan­sion of emer­gency 911 ser­vice and con­struc­tion of a com­mu­nity cen­ter — with res­i­dents of the com­mu­nity af­ter years of dis­cus­sion, but Oba said she was left out of all but one meet­ing.

“If this per­mit is adopted, you will set a stan­dard in Vir­ginia that all oth­ers will fol­low,” Brown said as dozens of pro­test­ers stood silently with their backs turned to him and other Do­min­ion speak­ers.

The per­mit sets lim­its on pol­lu­tion — ni­tro­gen ox­ide, car­bon monox­ide, volatile or­ganic com­pounds, par­tic­u­late mat­ter and toxic chem­i­cals.

But it would not limit or mon­i­tor emis­sions of meth­ane, a ma­jor source of pol­lu­tion at­trib­uted to cli­mate change, or air pol­lu­tion from the pipe­line it­self. Dowd said the agency is lead­ing a new study at the gov­er­nor’s di­rec­tion to de­ter­mine how the state can reg­u­late meth­ane emis­sions from com­pres­sor sta­tions, pipelines, land­fills and other sources.

The draft per­mit would re­quire use of “best avail­able con­trol tech­nol­ogy” that in­cludes a sys­tem to re­duce the vent­ing of nat­u­ral gas dur­ing shut­downs from 100 to 10 times a year and cap gas emis­sions dur­ing an­nual test­ing of the sta­tion’s emer­gency sys­tems.

At Fri­day’s meet­ing, Do­min­ion also promised to in­stall equip­ment for con­tin­u­ous mon­i­tor­ing of emis­sions from the sta­tion’s four gas-fired tur­bines and pay for an ad­di­tional state air qual­ity mon­i­tor­ing sta­tion off site.

“It is the gold stan­dard for how com­pres­sor sta­tions should be per­mit­ted and op­er­ated,” Ruby said.

But op­po­nents ques­tioned the in­de­pen­dence of state reg­u­la­tors in their anal­y­sis.

“It seems to me that DEQ is speak­ing for Do­min­ion,” Oba said.

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