by Jon Sokolow
The Virginia State Chapter of the NAACP, this nation’s oldest and most respected civil rights organization, issued the following statement, urging Governor Northam to reverse his decision to fire two members of the Virginia State Air Pollution Control Board who spoke out forcefully against the environmental racism inherent in Dominion Energy’s plan to build a massive fracked gas compressor station in the historic African American community of Union Hill:
Virginia State Conference NAACP Deeply Troubled by Dismissal of Air Pollution Board Members Who Expressed Concern Regarding Environmental Justice
The Virginia State Air Pollution Control Board is tasked with the adoption, amendment, or repeal of regulations and may consider the issuance or amendment of certain permits. The Board has the responsibility to decide whether or not to approve Dominion Energy’s request for an air permit for a 56,000-horse powered compressor station in Buckingham County.
The Board received thousands of public comments, the majority of which were in opposition to the proposed permit and was scheduled to make a final decision at the November 8-9, 2018 Public Hearing in Richmond. However, a final decision was deferred to the December 10, 2018 meeting.
During the Public Hearing, it was apparent that the Board had concerns regarding the environmental injustices presented by the siting of the oversized compressor station in the historic African-American community of Union Hill. Union Hill was established by former slaves freed after the civil war. Direct descendants still call the Union Hill community home.
One week after the Public Hearing, Board members Samuel Bleicher and Rebecca Rubin, two of the Board members who expressed concerns regarding the permit application, have been removed from the Board by Governor Northam, effectively immediately.
While their term expired earlier this year, it was expected their term would be extended due to their involvement and knowledge of such a complex and monumental project. We fear disrupting the citizen review board midstream is a disservice to the Union Hill community’s right to a fair and impartial hearing.
The termination of two valued board members at this crucial juncture diminishes the ability of the board to effectively perform its assigned job. Furthermore, the governor’s action may signal to other Board members that asking too many questions about an influential utility’s potential impact on a vulnerable historic community may lead to their removal.
We urge the Governor to reinstate Mr. Bleicher and Ms. Rubin immediately so that the Board can provide an informed and impartial decision that meets the purpose and responsibility of the Board, to protect Virginia’s residents from unnecessary air polluting hazards.