by Kay Ferguson, ARTivism Virginia & Water is life. Protect it.
What I saw yesterday at the Air Pollution Control Board Meeting was a very particular evil in the form of the lies of company men (“an employee whose allegiance to his employer comes before personal beliefs or loyalty to fellow workers”). I imagine now that each plan to exhaust and rob and to murder has often been accompanied by the thicket of company men speaking lies so detailed, so carefully boring, so seemingly reasonable and innocuous, so well wrapped in soft cloths of truth, so slow and then so quick, that they make the lies of Milton’s Satan in “Paradise Lost” look skinny, almost paltry by comparison.
The “company” lying in this way at the Air Pollution Control Board meeting in Richmond on 12-19-18 was Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), an agency headed by David Paylor that Virginia taxpayers finance for the purpose of protecting our water, land and air.
The rules of engagement for this meeting dictated that the public, over 150 strong, could not speak or ask questions. We held mostly silent — and if we spoke, were surrounded by police, while Dominion’s private security goons loitered near their two front rows of reserved seats. One new little twist to yesterday’s meeting — and there always is one — is that no one could leave the room, even to go to the bathroom, without giving up their seat to other citizens waiting outside to get in.
There were lots of repeated lies yesterday, about safety and monitoring and compliance, but one new lie was the real stunner.
Mike Dowd, DEQ’s Air Division Director, emerged finally from a long and winding path of excruciating detail to assert that historically African-American Union Hill was not, in reality, a majority African-American community. Dowd crafted this lie in order to negate the stark environmental racism of the siting for the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s fracked-gas compressor station in the heart of that community. In so doing, Mr. Dowd manipulated data to tell a bold lie which effectively erased the lives of people sitting in the room behind him.
“He seemed/For dignity composed and high exploit:/ But all was false and hollow” (2.110-12, John Milton’s “Paradise Lost”)
Pat Corbett, another Air Division “company man,” in his signature jocular, jaunty way, tossed off that the department’s numbers from the EJSCREEN data source were informal, and couldn’t address everything the Board members had requested, and then added, laughingly “It’s a screening mechanism. It’s not — I wouldn’t really rely on it.”
But the lie entered the public record as fact.
Meanwhile, a central and more relevant question asked in November by now fired Air Pollution Control Board member, Rebecca Rubin (and by the majority of public commenters at both hearings) had fallen off the company man beast entirely. That is the question of whether the DEQ and the Air Board should consider the total air pollution of the entire Atlantic Coast Pipeline — of which the Union Hill compressor station is such an integral part.
When David Paylor assured the Air Board and the public that he had spoken with the Health Department about a requested qualitative health assessment for Union Hill, he seemed very proud that he had made a phone call and even seemed a little bit sorry that while the Health Department had the resources to do such an assessment, it certainly could not be done before the compressor station was in operation. Paylor neglected to say that this kind of assessment is staunchly resisted by corporations before their pollutants are spewed, because then their poisoning can be proven in a court of law.
Large, almost primer-like slides listing very little new material, dominated the DEQ presentation, but they were swept away at the very end of the meeting, replaced with scans of the now-amended draft air permit, with small illegible type and cursory explanations of the numerous changes made, none of which were available to the citizens in attendance.
At this juncture, Board Chair Richard Langford repeated his meeting-long mantra that all these changes had been done in response to public comment and concern. Langford seemed irritated at our lack of gratitude. Thank you Daddy, but we would like to see them for ourselves and then to have our say. Mr. Langford, the only nay vote on the earlier motion to open a new public comment period, clearly sought to placate the public with this mantra. But less clear was his intention to dodge the legal notices regarding procedure his board had received on December 1, 2018 from the Southern Environmental Law Center and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
In the context of this thicket of lies, the truth was presented as simplistic and naive. Dr. Lakshmi Fjord’s demographic survey done on the ground, in person, for a community she loves and is part of, but also done by strict National Health Assessment standards, was dismissed as “voluntary,” but was grudgingly shared with the Board at the insistence of board member Nicole Rovner, who also presented the motion for a new public comment period.
At the Stand with Union Hill Concert of Prayer vigil held the night before, and outside the Air Board meeting itself next day, prayers from diverse faith leaders, music, chants and long beautiful banners told simpler truths. This compressor station is wrong. Powerful members of our state government have been corrupted and are not listening to the people. The storm of the climate crisis is washing away all illusions of difference and of separation. And as the water rises, so does a new diverse community of faith and intention. There can be no more sacrifice zones to new fossil fuel infrastructure, because we all share the same back yard now, and any part of any permit that increases greenhouse gas emissions, particularly in the form of the potent gas methane, threatens all our lives. In effect, We Are All Union Hill.
Perhaps there were similar meetings for the technology that empowered a misplaced comma to disenfranchise Georgia voters in November. Perhaps there were new, indecipherable regulations supporting a similar disenfranchisement of Native Americans whose addresses are and have long been post office boxes. Most likely the laws establishing Jim Crow and the internment of Japanese Americans had their own excruciatingly detailed regulations designed to mask their central hidden cruelty and harm. This writer shudders to consider the “company men” who likely debated the exact color and stitchery of the yellow stars sown on Jewish childrens’ jackets.
Corruption is seldom individual. Corruption’s execution is calculated, laborious and its devil does indeed hide in the ugly pile of its detailed lies.