by Stacy Lovelace
While the hotly contested Atlantic Coast (ACP) and Mountain Valley (MVP) pipelines have put a considerable amount of focus on Dominion Energy, primary stakeholder in the ACP, the Virginia State Water Control Board (SWCB) is getting its own share of attention as it gears up for making a decision on the two “natural” gas pipelines at December hearings in Richmond. One would think that because the SWCB’s function is to make independent decisions on Virginia water quality, the SWCB and Dominion wouldn’t have any connection outside of ‘independent’ decisions made by the SWCB involving Dominion projects. But upon taking a closer look at individual members of the SWCB, a stunning and disconcerting number of ties between board members and Dominion can be found.
- Robert Dunn, who serves as Chair of the SWCB, is an executive board member for the statewide organization called VIRGINIAforever. He serves alongside Pamela Faggert, also an executive board member at VIRGINIAforever, who is a Chief Environmental Officer for Dominion. Note that VIRGINIAforever claims to be the driving force for conservation policy action in Virginia, but the fact that the board is made up of people from so many corporations with a vested interest in getting what they want in terms of water and land, like the Home Builders Association of Virginia and Smithfield Foods (which produces a great deal of agricultural runoff), I am suspicious of the true nature of the organization. The board also includes representatives from two firms that have represented Dominion legally.
- Heather Wood, SWCB Vice-Chair, serves on the St. Margaret’s School Board alongside Jane Whitt Sellers, a lawyer who represented Dominion in a $4.4 billion acquisition to expand its natural gas assets. Additionally, while serving on the SWCB and after the announcement of the ACP proposal, Wood worked for the Port of Virginia, owned by the Virginia Port Authority, an open supporter of the ACP.
- Roberta Kellam served on the board for the Virginia Institute of Marine Science until June of this year. Dominion has given multiple grants to the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, including one for $40,000 this past April.
- Nissa Dean is the Virginia Director of the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay. Dominion has given a large sum of money in grants to the Alliance over the years, including a $20,000 grant given this year.
- Timothy Hayes is a retired partner of Hunton and Williams, LLP. This firm has acted as counsel for Dominion and employs a former Dominion officer, J. Kennerly Davis, Jr.
- Lou Ann Jessee-Wallace is an elected Republican of the Russell County Board of Supervisors. The political influence of Dominion is well known – the company donated thousands of dollars to the Republican Party of Virginia in the past year alone and is considered one of the largest influencers in Virginia politics.
The people listed above represent six members of the SWCB, which comprises only seven members. It’s worth noting that two recent former members of the SWCB, Thomas Branin and Joe Nash, also had potential ties to Dominion. Branin, as an elected Republican of the Henrico Board of Supervisors, received thousands of dollars from the Republican Party of Virginia, shown above to be under the influence of Dominion. Joe Nash was and still is a writer for the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy on whose board serves James Beamer, a Managing Director for Dominion. The latter of these two men, along with some of the current SWCB members, made controversial decisions in favor of Dominion regarding the company’s coal ash policies.
All of the current members of the SWCB were appointed or reappointed by Governor Terry McAuliffe, who has received hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations from Dominion. David Paylor, another appointee of Governor McAuliffe who has also received thousands of dollars in gifts from Dominion, is Director of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). The DEQ gives recommendations to the SWCB and oversees the day-to-day administrations of the SWCB programs.
If it were only one or two members of the SWCB with connections to Dominion, one might consider it a coincidence. After all, Dominion is a very large corporation. But because six out of the seven current Board members along with multiple related officials have connections with Dominion money or high level Dominion employees, the possibility of it being coincidence diminishes.
And while Dominion’s influence is directly tied to the ACP, any SWCB decision made with regards to one pipeline will potentially affect the other. It is highly unlikely the Board would approve water permits for the ACP without approving the same permits for the MVP. Doing so would make Dominion’s influence dangerously obvious.
These two pipelines would cross thousands of waterbodies and impact the drinking water sources of millions of people. With so many potential conflicts of interest involving the SWCB and Dominion, it begs the question: can the State Water Control Board really be trusted in making decisions on protecting our water with regard to the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley pipelines?