by Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy
Climate change is not some distant threat — we’re witnessing many of its effects today right here in Virginia. More notably, we are seeing that the immediate burden of our changing climate is disproportionately impacting low-income communities and communities of color.
Union Hill, a predominantly African American community in Buckingham County, is being threatened by Dominion Energy’s effort to build a compressor station for a fracked-methane pipeline. Compressor stations enable gas to flow through the pipelines at high speeds. This pollutes the air and water with toxic chemicals like nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, and sulfur dioxide. These chemicals pose significant health risks, and are linked to heart attacks, irregular heartbeat, impaired lung function, and premature death.
Thankfully, we can do something about it. On Nov. 5, Democrats in Virginia won big — giving us a once-in-a-generation chance to implement real change. We need to lead with bold change in mind, and we can do this by fighting against the influence of big corporations like Dominion Energy who have controlled Richmond for far too long.
Virginians pay the 11th highest power bills in the nation. In 2017 alone, Dominion Energy overcharged Virginian customers over $300 million, and this is hurting communities of color the most. African Americans and Latinos are two-three times more likely to make serious financial sacrifices in order to pay for their electricity bills.
Today, Dominion Energy is attempting to construct the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a project that will cost ratepayers 3 billion dollars over the next 20 years, and will further lead to environmental degradation. Union Hill, where Dominion Energy seeks to place a 54,000-horsepower compressor station to service the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, is facing the biggest threat. Union Hill is also over 80% African American, and the compressor project will impose real health harms on the community and families.
What can we do? There are some who would argue that we can’t move too far or move too fast. There are others who deflect and say that the legislature is not the place to address these issues and point to the courts or the executive branch as better avenues. I reject those notions as politics as usual. We need to adopt an “all of the above” approach. Virginians are tired of corporations’ outsized influence on our political system and Dominion Energy’s stranglehold on our General Assembly. Our constituents want to see real change, not just the same backroom deals as before.
Last session, 17 members in the House of Delegates signed on to a bill that would have prohibited Dominion Energy from making expenditures related to lobbying, political contributions, certain advertising, and compensating any employee more than $5 million a year. Additionally, Delegate Chris Hurst sponsored legislation that would have curtailed the ability of a natural gas company like Dominion Energy to conduct surveys and other tests for its proposed pipeline. That bill would have made it significantly harder for Dominion to move forward with its pipeline project.
These solutions exist. These bills can be passed.
We can’t move forward with a clean energy economy without righting the wrongs of decades of pollution and corporate greed that disproportionately impact marginalized communities. We know that our planet is in crisis, and we need a hard commitment to not repeat the same mistakes made in the past.
Voters spoke loud and clear: they want a system that actually works for them — not Dominion Energy, not Appalachian Power, not corporate interests. They don’t want to be placated by half-measures.
Now is the time for bold leadership. It just takes the will to make it happen.