See below for Gov. Ralph Northam’s new appointees to the state Water and Air Pollution Control Boards. For some background on this story, see BREAKING: Virginia Enviro Groups Call on Northam to Reverse Decision to Replace Air Board Members Opposed to Atlantic Coast Pipeline Compressor Station in Union Hill, Del. Mark Keam on Ralph Northam’s Decision to Fire Air Board Officials: “this could be a disappointing and horrible example of abuse of power by a state official”, Virginia State Conference NAACP Deeply Troubled by Dismissal of Air Pollution Board Members Who Expressed Concern Regarding Environmental Justice, Video: Less Than 24 Hours After Northam’s Shocking Announcement, Protesters at Governor’s Mansion Demand He Back Down, With compressor station decision pending, Northam replaces two members of state air board, and Gov. Northam names new members to state air, water boards as pipeline opponents fume.
In that last article, there are a number of important points and quotes:
- “’We hope these new board members are qualified, but, frankly, we have no idea who they are,’ said Mike Town, executive director of the Virginia League of Conservation Voters, in a statement.”
- Also from VA LCV director Mike town: “What we do know is that they are replacing two highly respected, well-qualified board members who dared to ask the hard questions about Dominion’s unnecessary and destructive pipeline, and that their appointments come just weeks before an important final vote on this project and on the heels of a contentious hearing where they raised serious concerns.” Note that I don’t think I’ve ever seen Town so worked up over something as this.
- Now here’s the key part: “On Thursday, Northam removed Rebecca Rubin and Sam Bleicher from the air board…Bleicher and Rubin had both expressed concerns about the siting of the station in Union Hill and whether the emissions produced would have a disproportionate effect on the largely African-American community.” In other words, Bleicher and Rubin threatened to vote NO and BLOCK Dominion Energy’s gigantic new compressor station for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline in the historically African-American community of Union Hill in Buckingham County. For more on that topic, see Echoes of a Dark Past at Virginia’s Standing Rock: The Atlantic Coast Pipeline, Video, Photos: Speakers Explain Why Dominion’s Massive Atlantic Coast Pipeline Compressor Station Should NOT Be Built in Union Hill (or at all!), Video: DOJ Official Comes to Historic Union Hill, Watches in “Astonishment” as Dominion/ACP Officials “Unable to Describe the Dimensions of the [Pipeline’s] Kill Zone”, and Dominion’s Atlantic Coast Pipeline, Environmental Racism, and the Appalling Silence of the Good People.
With that, who are the new members of the State Air Pollution Control Board and State Water Control Board? Their names are Gail Bush and Kajal Kapur (Air Board), Paula Hill Jasinski and James Lofton (Water Board).
The question, though, is who these folks are exactly – strong environmentalists or folks who will vote Dominion’s way regarding the Union Hill compressor station for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline? I asked around with leading Virginia environmentalists, and I got very similar reactions to what Mike Town of the Virginia LCV said – “frankly, we have no idea who they are.” So I did the next best thing: I Googled them. What I found was that they SEEM ok, albeit with limited information, at first glance, but that it’s basically impossible to tell where they’re coming from on the pipelines, compressor station, etc. Some info on each new member follows:
Gail Bush (Air Board): I found out that she’s “a Clinical Manager of Respiratory Care Services at INOVA Health System for the Heart and Vascular Institute and IMC (long term care) areas”; “has facilitated asthma education institutes, smoking cessation training, and numerous Lung Force Expo’s” and is a member of the group, “Virginia Clinicians for Climate Action.” That last item seems relevant, and it’s good that they are “bringing educational events on climate and health to medical centers and hospitals throughout Virginia” and ” is working to increase understanding of the public and state legislators on the critical intersections between health and climate.” Unfortunately, that doesn’t really tell us where Gail Bush stands on the pipelines, fracked gas, the compressor station, etc. And I found no donations listed on VPAP from Bush, so not sure what her political views are.
Kajal Kapur (Air Board): About the only information I found on this new member is that she founded a firm called “Kapur Energy Environment Economics, LLC” in 1999. The firm ” specializes in economic, policy, regulatory and environmental issues” and “provides expert advice on these issues to consulting firms, consumer counsel offices, federal and international agencies, state and local governments, regulatory commissions and environmental quality offices.” Kapur herself ” a Ph.D. in Economics from Cornell University in 1990 and has served as a specialist on energy and environment issues for more than twenty years.” She also has written on “gas deregulation issues in the United States,” “[p]articipated in a settlement process for the approval of Southern Indiana Gas and Electric Company’s conservation plan on behalf of the Indiana Office of Utility Consumer Counselor,” and other such research. That’s all perfectly fine, but it doesn’t really tell us anything about what Kapur’s views are on the compressor station, fracked gas, pipelines, etc. And I found no donations listed on VPAP from Kapur, so not sure what her political views are.
Paula Hill Jasinski (Water Board): Jasinski ” established Chesapeake Environmental Communications in 2007 to build on her 19 years of experience connecting environmental research to decision-making,” with recent experience including “the development of a federal climate change response strategy, supporting the development of climate change adaptation plans in Maryland and Virginia, and developing tools that communicate the status of ecosystem health.” Also see this article in the Daily Press from 2006, which discusses Jasinski’s work to save the Chesapeake Bay. Again, seems fine, but not sure what her views are on issues relevant to natural gas, pipelines, compressor stations, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline specifically, etc. Also, I found no donations by Jasinski on VPAP, so hard to know what her political views are exactly.
James Lofton (Water Board): I found very little information on Lofton, mostly his LinkedIn profile, which lists his current position as “Assistant Chief Counsel for Airports and Environmental Law at Federal Aviation Administration,” and a previous position as “Counsel to the Chief, Environmental Enforcement Section” at the U.S. Department of Justice (2010-2016). I found no donations by Lofton on VPAP, and also no indication what his views are on natural gas, pipelines, compressor station, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline specifically, etc.
Bottom line: these people all seem to have experience in the energy/environment arena, but have unknown views on the big issues currently facing the Virginia Air and Water Boards. More to the point, the big question is why Gov. Northam would move RIGHT NOW to replace current members of these boards, particularly the two on the Air Board who apparently OPPOSE Dominion Energy’s compressor station in Union Hill. Why couldn’t Northam have allowed these two members to at least serve through December 10, when the Board is scheduled to meet again to vote on the compressor station, which they’ve been considering for a long time now.
Why would Northam want to remove people with a great deal of expertise on this issue and replace them with “newbies” who almost certainly don’t have a great deal of knowledge regarding this specific issue? Seems verrry strange to a lot of Virginia environmental groups, as well it should. But frankly, this is WAY beyond an environmental issue, as it touches on corporate power (in this case Dominion Energy) over/possible “capture” of our government officials and regulatory bodies. That should concern EVERY Virginian, not just those who care deeply about protecting our environment or about environmental racism (which should be 100% of Virginians, by the way).