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Virginia State Conference NAACP Troubled by State Regulator’s Refusal to Protect Our Land, Water and Communities

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From the Virginia State Conference NAACP

Virginia State Conference NAACP Troubled by State Regulator’s Refusal to Protect Our Land, Water and Communities

The Virginia State Conference NAACP (VSC NAACP) opposes the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP), Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP), and the proposed ACP Compressor Station in Union Hill, Buckingham County, VA. We are also gravely concerned over the lack of fair and appropriate response to environmental injustices perpetuated by the approval and construction of these projects and ask that a more thorough and comprehensive analysis of potential negative and cumulative impacts to the natural and social environments be conducted. Careful consideration must be made to properly identify residents located within the study area to ensure Title VI compliance and that there are no disproportionate impacts on burdened communities.

According to “Fumes Across the Fence-Line, a report jointly written by NAACP and CleanAIR Task Force, “the racial disparities among communities impacted by environmental pollution in the United States is stark. African-Americans are exposed to 38% more polluted air than Caucasian Americans, and they are 75% more likely to live in fence-line communities than the average American.” The report defines fence line communities as “communities that are next to a company, industrial, or service facility and are directly affected in the facility’s operation (e.g. noise, odor, traffic, and chemical emissions”.

The VSC NAACP has submitted comments against the approval of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nationwide Permit 12 (May 2018) and the Buckingham Compressor Station- Air Permit (September 2018). We have not received a response. Furthermore, the Governor’s Advisory Council on Environmental Justice (ACEJ), which is tasked with providing advice and recommendations to the Executive Branch on Environmental Justice issues throughout the Commonwealth, submitted its first set of environmental concerns, “Environmental Justice Review of Virginia’s Gas Infrastructure”, on August 16, 2018. The ACEJ’s August 16 report included detailed, thorough and heavily footnoted review of the pipeline projects, associated infrastructure and Compressor Station, and identified cases of environmental justice issues. The report includes 7 areas of concern and recommendations to mitigate or eliminate the negative impacts. In particular, the ACEJ recommended “that the 401 Clean Water Act certifications for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) and the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) be rescinded immediately” and that “the Governor direct [the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality] to suspend the permitting decision for the air permit for the Buckingham compressor station pending further review of the station’s impact on the health and the lives of those living in close proximity.”

The ACEJ recommendations were in line with recommendations presented to the Department of Environmental Quality by the VSC NAACP, and other environmental and legal organizations requesting an immediate halt in all construction activities until a thorough review of the permitting policies and procedures and analysis of associated impacts are conducted and all pending legal cases are completed. It is well documented that the permitting processes are flawed, and yet the projects are being allowed to move forward with reckless abandon to our natural environment and communities.

On October 16, 2018, Secretary of Natural Resources Matthew Strickler, on behalf of himself and the Governor, provided what is, in our view, an inadequate one-page response to the ACEJ report and recommendations. Secretary Strickler refused to take any action to stop either the MVP or the ACP or to suspend the permitting process for the proposed compressor station in Buckingham County, claiming that decisions from federal agencies preclude Virginia from doing so. Secretary Strickler did not respond in any detail to the environmental justice concerns documented by the ACEJ.

VSC NAACP is troubled by Secretary Strickler’s summary dismissal of the serious, pressing and legitimate issues raised by the Governor’s own Advisory Council. Thousands of people who live along the route of the MVP and ACP are being negatively impacted daily by construction issues that already have done damage to Virginia’s precious water and natural resources. Federal court decisions have resulted in multiple permits having been vacated, exposing a rushed and slipshod regulatory process. More is required of our state leadership and we believe that state and federal law allow Virginia to both revoke the previous certifications granted for these pipelines under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act and to deny an air permit for the Buckingham compressor station.

On Thursday and Friday, November 8th and 9th, the Virginia Air Pollution Control Board will be conducting a Public Hearing on the Draft Air Permit for the Compressor Station at Union Hill, Buckingham County, VA. Union Hill is a predominately African-American community established by Freeman after the Civil War. The Compressor Station would be located within close proximity to existing homes. We ask that the Governor direct DEQ to not recommend approval of the permit and that the Air Pollution Control Board deny the permit and request the applicant to conduct a more comprehensive socio-economic analysis of the surrounding community, as well as completing a qualitative risk assessment and comprehensive Health Impact Assessment. Furthermore, we ask that a more meaningful public engagement plan be implemented with residents directly impacted by the projects. An effective public engagement program, particularly for a project of this magnitude, scale and potential impact, should consist of more than just a listening tour. The public engagement process should be based on mutual respect, understanding, collaboration, two-way conversations, and most importantly, opportunities to be an active participant of the decision-making process.

Air Pollution Control Board Public Hearing on the Draft Air Permit for the proposed ACP Compressor Station in Union Hill, Buckingham
November 8th and 9th (Thursday and Friday) beginning at 9:30 am at the Greater Richmond Convention Center, Exhibit Hall Building Level 2, Room E21-AB, 301 North 3rd Street, Richmond VA, 23219