News | December 6, 2021

Victory for environmental justice: Mountain Valley Pipeline compressor station permit denied

Pittsylvania County NAACP members and supporters celebrate a permit denial for the Lambert Compressor Station. (Photo by Caroline Hansley/Sierra Club)

In a 6-1 vote, the Virginia Air Pollution Control Board denied a permit for the Lambert Compressor Station in Pittsylvania County that would have supported the Mountain Valley Pipeline’s proposed Southgate extension.

The basis for the denial? The permit did not meet the requirements for “fair treatment” of environmental justice communities under the Virginia Environmental Justice Act.

The board also found that the proposed compressor station site wasn’t suitable thanks to a 2020 decision in a lawsuit brought by SELC challenging a permit for the canceled Atlantic Coast Pipeline. 

In that decision, a federal court of appeals found that the board had failed to consider whether a compressor station would unfairly burden a predominantly Black community in Buckingham County.

The decision is a victory for environmental justice and for the residents of Pittsylvania County.

Senior Attorney Mark Sabath

A year later, residents of Pittsylvania County, including members of the Pittsylvania County NAACP, presented testimony to the board about another compressor station that would have pumped tons of fine particulate pollution each year into another Black community.

This time, the board did not approve the project.

The board’s vote was an enormous step forward for environmental justice in Virginia. Never before has the Virginia Air Pollution Control Board denied an air permit on environmental justice grounds.

“We are pleased that the air board recognized the health risks that the Lambert Compressor Station posed to communities in the area, including communities of color,” said Senior Attorney Mark Sabath. “The decision is a victory for environmental justice and for the residents of Pittsylvania County.”

Pittsylvania is a largely rural county in Virginia’s southwest, surrounding Danville. (@Paul Rezendes)

The Lambert Compressor Station was designed to support the MVP Southgate pipeline, which carries methane, a greenhouse gas with 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide over a 20-year period.

The station itself was projected to emit more than 125,000 tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent greenhouse gases each year alone.

If built, the Southgate project would extend the Mountain Valley Pipeline into North Carolina from Virginia, which committed last year to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from its power sector by 30 percent by 2030, and eliminating them altogether by 2050. The Biden administration has gone further, calling for a carbon-free electricity grid by 2035.

Yet so-called “natural gas” infrastructure projects like compressor stations continue our reliance on climate-warming fossil fuels. They are backwards-looking investments that would pump out dangerous greenhouse gas emissions for decades.

“By any measure, the compressor station would endanger people’s health — the health of people who can least afford it,” wrote Karen Campblin, environment and climate justice committee chair for the Virginia State Conference NAACP, and Dr. Samantha Ahdoot, co-founder of Virginia Clinicians for Climate Action, in the Washington Post in the week leading up to the hearing.

It is a win for local communities of color, for Virginia’s air quality, and for our climate that the board agreed.