Community voices their opposition as Virginia officials consider pipeline infrastructure

A full room was on hand for the Buckingham County hearing on the state air permit for a proposed compressor station along the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. (© Stephanie Gross)

Last night members of the Virginia Air Board and staff from the Department of Environmental Quality heard person after person voice their opposition to a proposed compressor station in Buckingham County. The compressor station is an industrial facility used to regulate the pressure of natural gas that would be carried by the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Residents of Union Hill reminded regulators they don’t welcome additional air pollution in their neighborhood, particularly when it’s for a pipeline that’s not needed in the first place.

SELC Senior Attorney David Neal was on hand for the hearing and thanked the regulators for coming to Buckingham to hear directly from the community.  

We urge the Air Pollution Control Board to heed the concerns that residents have voiced tonight,” said Neal. “Virginia law directs the board to take a hard look at the underlying reasonableness of the proposed polluting activity. This includes evaluating the suitability of the polluting activity to the specific site, which should include an environmental justice review that considers the effects of this pollution on the predominantly African-American community that has called Union Hill home for more than 150 years.”

SELC is weighing in on the proposed permit for the compressor station, noting that it will introduce new greenhouse gas pollution from methane and carbon emissions just as the state is considering new limits on these pollutants. Additionally, the permit doesn’t meet legal requirements to use the best available technology to cut nitrogen oxide pollution and should require continuous monitoring.

The permit also overlooks the disproportionate risk of harm faced by the predominantly African-American community that lives within a mile of the proposed compressor station. Many of the African-American members living in the Union Hill community, the proposed site of the station, trace their heritage back to the Freedmen who settled the area following emancipation after the Civil War. Many of the landowners in closest proximity to the proposed compressor station are descendants of people enslaved here, where once the number of slaves was twice that of whites. Residents are rightly concerned about increased levels of pollution in their otherwise agricultural and residential community.

No Compressor, No Pipelines

Introducing air pollution is one of many concerns residents have with Dominion Energy's plans for a proposed new compressor station to regulate pressure in its Atlantic Coast Pipeline project. (@ Stephanie Gross)

As noted by many members of the public who spoke to regulators and the chair of the Air Pollution Control Board, this new industrial facility is particularly unwelcome because it is for a pipeline that is not in the public interest. A conglomeration of energy companies, led by Dominion Energy and Duke Energy, owns the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Affiliates of those same utilities have contracted for nearly all of the natural gas expected to flow through the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to generate electricity. But demand for electricity has been flat or declining for the last decade. Forecasts show there’s no expected increase in regional demand for natural gas-fueled power generation through 2030. Dominion itself announced earlier this year that it has no plans to build any new gas-fired combined cycle power plants. The capacity of existing pipeline and storage infrastructure is more than sufficient to meet demand for natural gas. 

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, the federal agency that is supposed to evaluate whether the project is in the public interest, failed to follow its own policies and take an independent look at whether there is a need for this $6.5 billion project. On behalf of several nonprofits, SELC is challenging FERC’s permit for the pipeline in federal court.

Now the Air Board will continue to seek comments on the compressor station permit through the recently extended the deadline of Sept. 21. Weigh in with your thoughts here.

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