RICHMOND, Va. — The final approval for a permit that would allow construction to start on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline in Virginia has been pushed back by a state board for another month.
Over the past two days, the Virginia State Air Pollution Control Board heard from members of the public, Department of Environmental Quality and Dominion Energy, the company pitching the pipeline project before deciding on a permit.
The permit is for an air compressor station in Buckingham County. This is the last thing Dominion Energy needs to be signed off before construction starts in the Commonwealth on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP), according to company officials.
The pipeline spans 600 miles from West Virginia to North Carolina. There are three air compressor stations, one in each state. Air compressors help manage pressure and flow of natural gas through a pipeline network. Construction on the pipeline has started in West Virginia and North Carolina, according to company officials.
During presentations, Department of Environmental Quality officials said this air compressor station permit is the most “stringently” regulated compared to the others along the ACP and nationwide. The department did a number of computer modeling tests, finding the compressor station would be able to withstand the “worse case scenario” of projected emissions. The permit was developed by looking at similar permits in other states, taking into account science, technology and human health.
There was significant opposition to the pipeline and the location of this air compressor station from the public. Residents from Buckingham County’s gathered at Third Street Bethel AME Church Thursday ahead of the hearings.
Some have had land in Buckingham County since relatives were freed from slavery, hoping it will stay with them for more generations. Others preach in the community.
Del. Jennifer Foy (D-2nd District) was there, showing her opposition to the project.
“When things don’t make sense, [we have] to ask questions. Why are we trying to build particular things in particular communities?” she asked.
That was a major concern. Residents say Union Hill is a predominantly African American community.
“Our community bares the brunt of this entire project,” Pastor Paul Wilson said. “We’re being used for the economic benefit of economic value.”
Dominion Energy officials say they’ve reached mutual agreements with more than 95 percent of landowners, who are allowing the company to build the ACP on their property. Eminent domain was used in “a small number of cases as an absolute last resort,” according to company officials. All have been compensated.
According to the company, ACP is expected to bring nearly $400 million in energy cost savings to customers and $28 million dollars in local tax revenue.
Some folks from Buckingham County and other Virginians saw this as a positive move for the state.
“I think we’re all affected by the pipeline because we all use energy. Wherever energy is created and however it is shipped it affects the prices that we pay on our area, wherever our area is,” James Parmelee, of Fairfax County, said.
Parmelee came out to the hearings, saying it was a very democratic process and he thinks it’s important that all voices are taken into consideration.
Dominion Energy officials at the hearing also discussed investing in the community. They are giving $5 million to build a new community center and outdoor recreation area for residents of Union Hill. They also mentioned to the board and audience a community liaison working with residents.
Advocates working in Union Hill, like Kay Ferguson, said that was the first time she’s heard of these outreach programs.
“We have not been part of this exaggerated claim to community engagement,” Ferguson said.
The board raised a number of concerns with the permit as it is written now. One issue is that it doesn’t take into account water quality impacts from air pollution, which DEQ said they do not have authority over with this type of permitting process. The board questioned the issue of authority, given the scope of the project.
One board member, Rebecca Rubin, went so far to say the board and DEQ should consider larger impacts from the pipeline, not just the air compressor station.
“I am not entirely satisfied by what I perceive to be the narrow interpretation of where our authorities lay. I think it is very difficult to look at just the compressor station without taking into account the broader potential emissions impacts from the pipeline,” Rubin said.
Another issue circles back to the Union Hill community. Board members asked for more information about the demographics of the area where the compressor station would be built. While environmental justice and equality were taken into account while developing the permit, the board questioned why there wasn’t more data specifically about this community available, given the concerns from residents.
“The fact that there’s been a lot of community engagement, the fact that the permit is protective of public health, the fact that there is no discriminatory intent here. Yes, those things are all relevant. But they are not a complete answer to whether there is disproportionate impact. I believe in order to have a complete answer to that question, we need more demographic information than we’ve been given about this community,” Nicole Rovner, another board member, said.
These concerns were raised after board member Ignacia Moreno motioned to defer action on the permit and to adjourn the meeting so it would be taken up at their next board meeting.
“This would give the board more time to consider the information the board received from the public, from DEQ and from Dominion Energy during the course of these proceedings,” she said.
Unanimously, the board decided to push back any decision on the permit until the next meeting on Dec. 10.
Click here to read more about the Buckingham air compressor station permit.