Proposed Virginia power plant attempts to skirt environmental justice concerns

The James River flows near Shirley Plantation and Presquile National Wildlife Refuge in Charles City County, Virginia. (© Will Parson/Chesapeake Bay Program)

Chickahominy Power, LLC, the developer behind the proposed Chickahominy Power Station, has requested a special exception groundwater withdrawal permit for operation of its facility—which, if built, would be the largest fossil fuel-fired power plant in Virginia.

Adding insult to injury, the developer is proposing to construct and operate this facility in Charles City County, a majority-minority county already burdened with a second proposed fossil fuel-fired power plant.

SELC attorneys, along with Concerned Citizens of Charles City County, the Virginia Environmental Justice Collaborative, and Mothers Out Front, submitted comments opposing issuance of the groundwater withdrawal permit and calling on the Virginia State Water Control Board and Department of Environmental Quality to conduct a robust environmental justice analysis for the power plant.   

Chickahominy is proposing to withdraw 30 million gallons of groundwater annually for seven years from the taxed Potomac Aquifer, which Charles City County residents rely on for drinking water. Under the Virginia Energy Plan, DEQ has a responsibility to ensure energy facilities like the Chickahominy Power Station will not disproportionately impact economically disadvantaged and minority communities. And as the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit recognized in its recent decision in Friends of Buckingham v. State Air Pollution Control Board, “environmental justice is not merely a box to be checked.”

The most concerning part of DEQ’s earlier environmental justice analysis for the Chickahominy Power Station is that it mirrors the flawed analysis DEQ conducted for the Buckingham Compressor Station. Given that DEQ’s environmental justice analysis for the Compressor Station led some to doubt the very existence of the Union Hill community, it is critical that DEQ redo its analysis for the Chickahominy Power Station to ensure the same grave error does not happen again.”

—Attorney Emily Wyche

Unfortunately, that is precisely what DEQ has done here. Last year, during the air permitting process for the facility, DEQ erroneously concluded that no environmental justice communities existed near the power station. DEQ and the Water Board must now take this next permitting process to correct the flawed environmental justice analysis and consider the threat posed by the proposed groundwater withdrawal.

“The most concerning part of DEQ’s earlier environmental justice analysis for the Chickahominy Power Station is that it mirrors the flawed analysis DEQ conducted for the Buckingham Compressor Station,” says Attorney Emily Wyche. “Given that DEQ’s environmental justice analysis for the Compressor Station led some to doubt the very existence of the Union Hill community, it is critical that DEQ redo its analysis for the Chickahominy Power Station to ensure the same grave error does not happen again.”

The State Water Control Board should deny Chickahominy’s request for a groundwater withdrawal permit until DEQ conducts a meaningful environmental justice review for the facility. At a minimum, the Water Board should suspend the permitting process until such an analysis is complete.

Says Wyche, “The residents of Charles City County who would be burdened by this power station deserve to be meaningfully involved in the permitting process and deserve the full and fair treatment and consideration envisioned by the Virginia Energy Plan.”

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