Northam’s Advisory Council on Environmental Justice Calls for Stay on All Further Permits for Pipelines

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Council letter highlights concerns of environmental racism and unfair impact on poor by project seen as a priority of the Trump administration

Virginia—Governor Ralph Northam’s (D-VA) Advisory Council on Environmental Justice (ACEJ) raised significant concerns and has called for a stay on all further permits for on the controversial Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) and Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP).

The VA Governor’s Advisory Council also recommends an Emergency Task Force on Environmental Justice in Gas Infrastructure to review and address the evidence it has found of “disproportionate impacts for people of color and for low-income populations due to gas infrastructure expansion.”

“The call for a review of the ACP’s disproportionate impact on people of color, and in particular the population of Union Hill, Virginia is a very significant finding by the Governor’s own Advisory Council,” said Anne Peterman, Executive Director of Global Justice Ecology Project who obtained a copy of the letter. “Not only is the project a threat to the natural ecology of Virginia it threatens the historic ‘freedman community’ of Union Hill.”

The ACP has a controversial history in part because it was approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), while only three of its five seats where filled by seated commissioners during the agencies approval of the pipeline, which was seen as a priority of President Trump’s new administration. The approval drew criticism at the time from both of Virginia’s Senator’s Tim Kaine (D) and Mark Warner (D).

The Governor’s own advisory council on environmental justice is calling for an immediate halt to ACP and MVP until evidence of significant environmental degradation and environmental justice concerns are addressed and resolved.

ACEJ council member, Tom Benevento, of the New Community Project said, “I am hopeful that the ACEJ recommendation for a holistic quantitative risk assessment will be taken for what it is, which is a call for a strong assessment of public health and safety risks, which have yet to be adequately addressed,” stated Benevento.

The Reverend Dr. Faith Harris of Virginia Interfaith Power and Light, also a member of the Council, notes that Virginian Energy Policy promises to develop “energy resources and facilities in a manner that does not impose a disproportionate adverse impact on economically disadvantaged or minority communities.” Dr. Harris points out that despite the state’s Energy Policy, the ACP and Buckingham Compressor, which disproportionately impacts minority and poor communities, are in final stages of permitting. This contradiction leads Reverend Dr. Harris to call for a “complete review of permitting policies and procedures to ensure that poor, indigenous, brown and/or black communities do not bear an unequal burden of environmental pollutants and life-altering disruptions.”

Dr. Mary Finley-Brook, a member of the council states that, “Given the evidence the Advisory Council cites in the letter, it is clear that if the Governor and state regulators are committed to environmental safety and justice they must put an immediate halt to Union Hill Compressor Station and ACP permitting until community risks and safety concerns can be addressed in a meaningful way.”

The ACP continues to draw public opposition with the start of a 30-day public comment period on the Union Hill Compressor Station. The comment period terminates at an air permit hearing in Buckingham County on September 11. Toxic compressor station emissions bring a wide range of public health impacts, including respiratory, gastrointestinal, and endocrine damage.

Read the letter from Governor’s Advisory Council on Environmental Justice here:

Activists from around the Richmond Region gathered behind the Office of the Governor to demand the revocation of the 401 certifications of the Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast Pipelines, and to highlight Governor Northam’s inaction regarding the disastrous pipelines.  The action marked six months of weekly protests and letter deliveries to the Governor with zero response, and worse, marked the continuation of Governor Northam turning a blind eye to the plight of those whose health and livelihoods are being sacrificed along the pipelines’ paths, as he and former Governor McAuliffe have done for years.

The group also worked on a collaborative art project, as part of the Virginia Water Flags Project, co-created by the Jenny Kendler, Natural Resources Defense Council artist-in-residence and the Water is Life. Protect it. Coalition. The attendees traced their handprints on the Virginia Water Flag and added a message of solidarity with impacted communities as well as calls for protection of water, the Earth, and the future.

A letter drafted to the Governor, one of 22 separate letters delivered over the course of the groups’ nearly six months of events without any response, was read aloud for the public to hear. The letter pointed out that, “These pipelines will not bring jobs and will lock Virginia out of the ever-growing renewable energy job market, of which wind turbine technician and solar installer are the fastest growing jobs in the country.  These pipelines will not boost, but will harm the economies of Virginia communities that rely on clean water and natural resources for their livelihoods. These pipelines will destroy the health of those in their path via water and air contamination – the health of Virginians now and generations of Virginians to come that you are sworn to protect.  And these pipelines will only add to the climate crisis that threatens the entire planet’s very future.”

Because Northam has not responded to six months of letters but has continued his support for the pipeline companies and their money, the group enclosed ‘Dominion dollars,’ dollars recreated with Tom Farell of Dominion’s face and the Dominion Energy logo, with the letter.  The explanation for enclosing the satirical money in the letter read: “If those justifiably opposing the pipelines had Dominion or EQT money, would you act in the best interest of Virginia then?  In an effort to elicit a response from you, please find the enclosed ‘Dominion dollars.’”

At the conclusion of the gathering behind the Office of the Governor, activists delivered the letter, signed by those in attendance.


Statement from Stacy Lovelace, co-founder of the event organizers, Virginia Pipeline Resisters: “Rather than joining Virginians’ calls for justice and the revocation of the pipelines’ 401 certification permits, Governor Northam continues to either ignore the pipeline issue altogether or issue misleading statements to the public to deflect from his support of corporate donors who put profit over people and practice environmental racism and injustice.  It begs the question – would Northam act in the best interest of these Virginians if they had the money of Dominion and EQT? ”

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