By Maryum Elnasseh
Capital News Service
RICHMOND — The State Air Pollution Control Board voted 4-0 Tuesday to approve a permit for a natural gas compressor station in a historic African-American community in Buckingham County — a decision that left environmentalists and residents of the Union Hill community in tears, with at least one protester hauled off in handcuffs.
The proposed Buckingham Compressor Station is a component of the $7 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a 600-mile-long natural gas pipeline running through West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina.
Since finding out about the proposed ACP in 2014, Buckingham residents — along with environmentalists across the state — have fiercely opposed the project. They said the pipeline would pose a threat to air and water quality and to people’s health.
However, state officials have said the project would be built and operated safely.
“The final draft permit has more stringent requirements than any similar compressor station anywhere in the United States,” said Richard Langford, who chairs the Air Control Board.
Langford’s comments drew several outcries from attendees — many of whom turned around with their backs to the Air Control Board in silent protest.
With a heavy Virginia State Police presence in the building, Langford was quick to ask officers to escort out of the room audience members who spoke up during the meeting. Attendees who resisted orders were forcibly removed.
Following comments by Langford, Air Control Board member William Ferguson said there is a proven need for the pipeline, which would be built by a consortium led by Richmond-based Dominion Energy. Supporters say the project is needed to provide a low-cost supply of energy for Virginia and neighboring states.
Critics dispute that. In March, attorneys with Appalachian Mountain Advocates filed litigation on behalf of the Sierra Club, Appalachian Voices, the Chesapeake Climate Action Network and Wild Virginia, challenging the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s “failure to demonstrate that the pipeline is actually needed by the public.”
“The groups contend that the overwhelming evidence shows the true purpose of the ACP is to provide profits for the shareholders of the pipeline’s financial backers, Duke and Dominion, at the expense of those utilities’ ratepayers,” the Sierra Club stated in a press release.
In a 2016 report, the Southern Environmental Law Center and Appalachian Mountain Advocates found that the “region’s existing natural gas infrastructure is more than sufficient to meet expected future peak demand.”
“Making money for Dominion is not your job,” a member of the audience said in response to Ferguson’s comments.
Opponents of the pipeline have voiced concerns regarding Dominion’s influence over Virginia’s politicians.
In November, Gov. Ralph Northam removed two of the Air Control Board’s seven members — Samuel Bleicher and Rebecca Rubin — after they raised questions about the compressor station’s “disproportionate impact” on Union Hill.
Both members’ terms had expired in June, but they had been allowed to remain on the board until they resigned or the governor removed them. There are over 200 other people whose terms also expired in June still serving on Virginia boards and commissions.
Shortly after being removed, Bleicher questioned on his Facebook page if Dominion was involved in the decision. “You decide for yourself,” Bleicher wrote.
Dominion donated about $100,000 to Northam’s gubernatorial campaign in 2017. Last week, Dominion co-hosted a fundraiser for Northam’s political action committee, “The Way Ahead.”
David Paylor, director of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, accepted gifts from Dominion in 2013 — including a trip to the Masters golf tournament in Georgia. He was seated next to the four Air Control Board members while they voted Tuesday morning.
As the meeting adjourned, attendees burst into chants of “protect our children” and “shame, shame, shame.”