News | October 29, 2019

Union Hill has day in court

SELC argues polluting pipeline infrastructure was improperly permitted

Today, SELC was before the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals challenging the state’s permit for a polluting compressor station sited in the historic African-American community of Union Hill, Virginia.

The compressor station is part of the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which would carry fracked natural gas for 600 miles from West Virginia, through Virginia and on to North Carolina. In January 2019, the Virginia Air Pollution Control Board granted Atlantic Coast Pipeline developers a permit for a large, polluting compressor station in the predominantly African-American, central Virginia community of Union Hill. During the permitting process, SELC and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation argued that the permit falls short of providing the people of Union Hill with the full protection of Virginia’s air pollution control laws.

“Union Hill is a historic African-American community that traces its roots to the end of the Civil War. The siting of the compressor station and its harmful air pollution in this community is not consistent with the Commonwealth’s commitment to protect the health of all Virginians,” said Senior Attorney Greg Buppert. “After five years, it remains a mystery why the pipeline’s lead partner, Dominion Energy, has never once proposed moving this facility.”

The standing-room only crowd at a February event in Union Hill was often on its feet while listening to speeches from civil rights light Rev. Dr. William Barber and former vice president Al Gore, among many others. (@Bill Emory)

At the heart of the pending case is the question of whether this industrial source of pollution is suitable for Union Hill. It’s a community where many of the residents are descendants of formerly enslaved people who bought land in the area after the Civil War. The air pollution from the compressor station can worsen asthma, decrease lung function, and increase emergency department visits and fatalities. Placing this compressor station in Union Hill is consistent with a longstanding history of siting polluting facilities in minority communities. SELC and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation have argued that the disproportionate risk of harm faced by the predominantly African-American community living within one mile of the proposed compressor station has not been adequately considered.

The compressor station is not the only problem with the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Since it was proposed five years ago, federal courts or the federal agencies have vacated multiple key permits. The project is currently without seven required permits and has been unable to proceed with construction since December 2018. 

This unnecessary pipeline will not only harm the mountains, forests, and waterways in its path—it will also disrupt the lives of the people living and working along its route and lock a new generation into decades more fossil-fuel consumption.

At the same time, the project’s justification has continued to erode as the demand for more natural gas to fire power plants has dwindled. The lack of need for this project further underscores the egregiousness of the environmental injustices and other harm that will directly result from the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

SELC, on behalf of its clients the Friends of Buckingham, will jointly argue this case with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.

You can read more about this case in SELC’s opening brief.