Union Hill Citizens Overpower Unfair Atlantic Coast Pipeline
RICHMOND, VA — Today, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals handed Friends of Buckingham, represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center, and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation a victory in their case against the Virginia Air Pollution Control Board and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. The court’s ruling calls into question whether pipeline developers, Dominion Energy and Duke Energy, can now build a compressor station in Union Hill, Virginia, a historic African-American community settled by Freedmen and Freedwomen in the years after the Civil War.
“We are very happy with the court’s decision,” said Friends of Buckingham president and Union Hill resident Chad Oba. “Five years ago, Dominion told us that there was going to be a compressor station in Union Hill and there was nothing we could do about it. That’s not fair, and it’s not American. This is a win for a group of citizens who were committed to protecting their community and never ever gave up. It is also an uplifting win for our democracy at a time when we all need assurance that our human rights are protected, and we the people are being heard. Today we showed that our community, our community’s history, and our community’s future matters more than a pipeline.”
At the heart of the case was the environmental injustice of placing a compressor station in this predominately African-American community that has deep ties to the lives of formerly enslaved people, along with the failure of Virginia regulators to even consider an alternative compressor that would nearly eliminate all air pollution from the facility. In its decision the court said, “[E]nvironmental justice is not merely a box to be checked, and the Board’s failure to consider the disproportionate impact on those closest to the Compressor Station resulted in a flawed analysis.”
“For the first time since Dominion showed up in Union Hill, I feel like we’ve been heard. My ancestors, Freedmen and Freedwomen from Buckingham, remained here to start a new life in the years after the Civil War,” said Friends of Buckingham member and Union Hill resident John Laury. “They made a way from no way. Since coming back to Union Hill, we love being able to spend time outdoors on our small farm. It is a connection to the land my ancestors worked so hard to secure. The court’s decision shows that Dominion can’t ignore our community and pollute our air.”
“This is a major win for clean air, clean water, and the people of Union Hill,” said Jon Mueller, Chesapeake Bay Foundation Vice President for Litigation. “But even more importantly, it’s also a major step forward for meaningful environmental justice. The court has made clear that Virginia did not perform its legal duty to decide whether a major industrial facility in Union Hill would unfairly threaten the health of its vulnerable residents. That’s the crux of environmental justice.”
The decision marks the eighth time since May 2018 that a federal court or the federal agencies themselves have revoked or suspended Atlantic Coast Pipeline permits. As a result, pipeline builders Dominion and Duke shut down all construction more than a year ago with less than 6% of the project in the ground.
The future of this risky and highly controversial pipeline is uncertain. Developers must evaluate alternative routes that avoid two national forests—potentially redrawing significant portions of their proposal—in order to comply with an earlier court decision. And more than five years after the pipeline was first announced, new evidence makes it apparent that the project is excessively costly and unnecessary.
“For the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, it’s the same story again and again,” said Greg Buppert, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center. “Dominion tried to force a pipeline compressor station into a community where it didn’t belong, just like it has tried to force the pipeline through a national park, national forests, and steep mountains. But the people of Union Hill never backed down. Today they’ve won an important victory, not just for themselves, but for every community in Virginia facing the unjust burden of industry and pollution.”
Pipeline developers will face another hurdle on February 24, 2020, when the United States Supreme Court will hear arguments in Dominion and Duke’s appeal of Cowpasture River Preservation Association v. Forest Service. SELC won this case against Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the U.S. Forest Service in the federal Fourth Circuit in 2018.
To learn more about SELC’s work to stop the destructive and unneeded Atlantic Coast Pipeline visit stoptheacp.org.