by Beth Kreydatus, Associate Professor, Department of Focused Inquiry, University College, Virginia Commonwealth University
SB 992 is a fossil fuel subsidy, pure and simple
Since June, when residents of Charles City County finally learned that their Board of Supervisors was courting two merchant gas plants that would make this small, rural, majority-minority county the fifth largest site of gas-produced electricity in the nation, there’s been growing momentum to stop these two projects. Residents formed Concerned Citizens of Charles City County (C5) to demand more transparency and accountability from their local government. C5 has drawn attention to a failed regulatory process that allowed the two projects to receive nearly all their permits from local and state agencies, without even notifying local residents or those in neighboring localities.
In recent weeks, C5 has pushed the Virginia Dept. of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to host a series of information sessions and hearings, at which increasing numbers of citizens are showing up to question whether the tax revenue from the plants would be worth the substantial air and water pollution, the declining property values, and the dangers of rapidly transforming a rural community into a potentially dangerous industrial site.
The C5 Concerned Citizens group now boasts hundreds of local members and partnerships with new groups. Environmentalists and citizens throughout the state are discovering that the two gas plants would contribute over ten million tons annually to Virginia’s carbon footprint. And the consequences of these plants are snowballing. Already, Virginia Natural Gas has proposed a “Header Improvement Project,” with over 20 miles of new pipelines and three compressor stations to supply C4GT, the smaller of the two Charles City plants. There is the prospect of even more gas infrastructure needed for the second, larger plant (Chickahominy Power), should it be permitted. In Northern Virginia, opposition to new Virginia Natural Gas pipelines and compressor stations is led by Delegate Lee Carter. And in central Virginia, the Citizens Against the Chickahominy River Pipeline has emerged to fight the pipeline project to the east of Richmond.
In short, there is a growing, vocal, and resolute movement of opposition to these gas plants. That’s why it is shocking, in the face of thriving progressive and multiracial opposition to the plants, that Democrats would be sponsoring legislation intended to encourage investors to make a quick profit off these notorious projects. Senator Lionell Spruill, a Democrat from Chesapeake, has sponsored SB 992, which “Directs the Air Pollution Control Board (the Board) to allocate allowances for three years to any electric power generating facility that was permitted prior to the June 26, 2019, effective date of the Board’s carbon trading regulations.” This legislation would benefit two fossil fuel projects, the two plants proposed for Charles City, by giving both of those plants a three-year reprieve from participating in a cap and trade program, should Virginia join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). The Director of Development for the Chickahominy Gas Plant, the larger of the two projects, testified in favor of the legislation, arguing that it would allow the developers to acquire the necessary financing to build the plants. He implied that without SB 992, investors worried about Virginia joining a cap and trade program wouldn’t see the plants as a route to profit, and therefore would not fund the plants.
SB 992 has sailed through two Senate committees without opposition, and appears scheduled for a full Senate vote on Sunday. Now, residents of Charles City have to wait and worry. Will Democrats, a party that promises action on climate change, a commitment to community-based democracy, and a belief in environmental justice, support a bill that encourages wealthy investors to exploit Charles City County and pollute Virginia? Let’s hope not.