The Virginia Air Pollution Control Board today unanimously approved an air pollution permit for a natural gas compressor station that would power Dominion Energy’s proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline.
The unanimous decision, based on the recommendation by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, came after months of scrutiny and review by the agency and the public. Today’s decision follows a supplemental written public comment period related to specific documents Board members received from DEQ following the November board meetings.
“DEQ treated the permit application – which qualifies as a minor source by state and federal regulations – as a major source of air pollution to better ensure pollution control to the greatest extent possible under the law,” said DEQ Air Director Mike Dowd. “DEQ’s analysis included reviewing compressor station permits across the country and scrutinizing pollution control technology. The Board recognized that this permit will significantly reduce the facility’s air pollution and set a new national standard that all future compressor stations will have to meet across the country.”
The permit was amended during the December board meetings to include ambient air quality monitoring near the site, rigorous reporting requirements and compliance procedures.
The permit requires the use of “best available control technology” to meet the health-based standards established by the federal Clean Air Act, which establishes the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS). The agency required an air quality modeling analysis to
demonstrate compliance with NAAQS, which provide an ample margin of safety to protect public health.
The proposed 54,000-horsepower compressor station came under fire from community residents because, when operational, it will run 24 hours a day, emitting noise comparable to a jet engine, and releasing into the air nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds and particulate matter and are linked to severe respiratory and cardiovascular ailments.
The approval came after evidence was presented at the board’s Nov. 8-9 meetings showing that the facility would have a disproportionate impact on the low-income community of Union Hill, which is predominantly African-American and was founded by the descendants of freed slaves.
Gov. Ralph Northam’s two new appointees to the board, Gail Bush and Kajal Kapur, did not attend the meeting. The seventh member of the air board, Roy Hoagland, stated that he would abstain from voting on the project, citing a conflict of interest.
Karl Neddenien, spokesman for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline
“Today’s unanimous approval is a significant step forward for this transformational project and the final state approval needed in Virginia. We commend the Board members and Virginia DEQ staff for the months of hard work and careful study they dedicated to reviewing this permit. We also appreciate the thoughtful input provided by members of the public.
“This permit is the most stringent air permit with the strongest environmental protections of any compressor station in the country. As a result of the permit’s strict conditions and the unprecedented protections we’ve put in place, most air emissions at the station will be 50 to 80 percent lower than any other compressor station in Virginia.
“While the approval process has concluded, we know we have to continue building trust in the community. It will begin with the investments we’re making in a new community center and rescue squad, but it will not end there. We have a profound respect for this community and its history, and we will continue working together to build a better future.”
Harrison Wallace, Virginia Director, Chesapeake Climate Action Network:
“Today, Governor Northam officially took ownership of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the Buckingham Compressor station, which includes elements of environmental racism. Working with his controversial DEQ on behalf of a deeply controversial fossil fuel company, Northam clearly tipped the scales in favor of approval of this compressor station. Just weeks ago, Northam took the unprecedented step of removing two board members who appeared to be prepared to vote against it. The governor’s interference sent a clear message to the surviving four board members to vote in favor of Dominion’s proposal. We will never know how the Board would have voted if Northam hadn’t meddled during its decision-making process, but what was clear — to Virginians and to the Board members — was that the governor’s thumb was firmly on the scale in favor of approval.
“His decision to remove two members of the Air Pollution Control Board was a complete reversal from his promise to stay out of the process and will be viewed by historians as a finger on the wrong side of the scale of justice.
“The people of Union Hill and Buckingham County have the right to walk out of their homes and breathe healthy air. This decision will infringe upon that right for a generation. Make no mistake about it: this project is neither a ‘minor’ nor a ‘new’ idea. The mere fact that Dominion has remained set on this community of freedmen as the ideal location of their compressor station should go in the dictionary as the definition of environmental injustice.
“CCAN will be exploring our legal options moving forward. If we listen to the science, the political momentum and the people of Union Hill, there is not one legitimate reason to allow this project to continue.”
Peter Anderson, Appalachian Voices Virginia Program Manager:
“This vote serves as further proof that Dominion has bent Virginia’s government to its will. It is an affront to the citizens of the commonwealth and to the concept of environmental justice, which states that no community should bear a disproportionate burden from adverse environmental impacts. We stand in solidarity with Union Hill. This fight is far from over.”
Kendyl Crawford, Director of Virginia Interfaith Power & Light:
“People of faith across the commonwealth have consistently called out the injustice of this compressor station, and we will continue to answer the higher, moral call to love and care for our neighbors.
“The choice of the Air Pollution Control Board and the Department of Environmental Quality to permit the sacrifice of our neighbors’ health and safety for a private company to profit is disheartening.
“The approval of this permit and the interference of Governor Northam in the permitting process makes it clear that we need comprehensive policy on environmental justice and to codify the Governor’s Advisory Council on Environmental Justice.”