From dozens of Virginia environmental and progressive groups:
Groups across Virginia call for the denial of gas plant permit that threatens Charles City County water supply
In a letter to the DEQ and State Water Control Board, groups highlight environmental injustice and threats to water from the merchant plant
RICHMOND, Virginia– Leading up to the June 29 State Water Control Board meeting, dozens of groups from across Virginia sent a letter to the Water Board and Department of Environmental Quality calling for the denial of the special exception groundwater withdrawal permit being considered for the Chickahominy Power Plant. The list of signing organizations included Concerned Citizens of Charles City County (C5), a group formed from impacted residents of Charles City County; statewide groups like Virginia Poor People’s Campaign, Virginia Environmental Justice Collaborative, and Virginia Organizing; and 30+ other state and regional organizations. Governor Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring were among those copied on the letter.
The withdrawal permit, which would allow 30,000,000 gallons of water per year to be extracted from the already threatened Potomac Aquifer, is being considered by the Water Board for the Chickahominy Power Plant slated for Charles City County. If granted, it would be a “special exception” to the Groundwater Management Act of 1992, which was passed to protect local water supplies like the one threatened by the power plant project.
The letter highlights the threats to local drinking water, mostly on personal wells, if such a large amount of additional groundwater extraction were to be allowed, and that these impacts would be disproportionately borne by majority-minority communities, predominantly low-income communities, communities of color, and Indigenous communities. It also draws light to the hindered ability of local residents to give input in the permitting process from the beginning, as was demonstrated at the Air Board hearing for the same project. Limited access to internet, cell coverage, and other resources necessary to meaningfully engage in the public process, as well as the lack of acknowledgement given to residents’ concerns by the DEQ and regulatory boards previously, have not only caused obstacles for the participation of impacted residents, but discouraged their participation. Further, the COVID-19 crisis has resulted in the Water Board meeting being moved to online, adding another obstacle to the participation of residents with limited internet access and cell coverage, especially at a time when the stressors and restrictions caused by the current health crisis cause additional limitations to residents’ ability to meaningfully engage in the process. Benita Cotman Lewis, a resident of Charles City County, said: “The local and state process for this power plant has left us out from the beginning. The DEQ’s decision to continue with the process on-line means we cannot be represented properly due to the lack of access to Internet and cell coverage. And with COVID -19 in our community, it will hamper resident’s ability to participate even more. At a time when deep, ongoing racial injustice is finally being revealed and discussed, we, here in Charles City County, can see that this power plant proposed for our community is clearly an environmental injustice.”
Acknowledging these injustices, the letter points out that it “would be inexcusable to knowingly move forward with the Chickahominy Power Plant’s permitting process while public participation is hampered…” and that “Under no circumstance should the special exception withdrawal permit for the Chickahominy Power Plant be approved.”
The full letter and list of signing organizations can be found here.