VA Air Pollution Board Approves Contested Buckingham Compressor Station

by Duane Nichols on January 12, 2019

Compressor station protestors were removed by the police

Hissing, shouts of ‘shame’ as ACP compressor station gets permit

By Denise Lavoie, Roanoke Times (Associated Press), January 9, 2019

RICHMOND — A state board approved a contentious plan Tuesday to build a natural gas pipeline station in a historic African-American community, prompting angry shouts of “shame” from more than 200 opponents.

The Virginia State Air Pollution Control Board voted 4-0 in favor of a key permit for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which would run 600 miles and carry fracked natural gas from West Virginia into Virginia and North Carolina.

Some opponents of the project hissed, coughed and shouted during the meeting. Fifteen people were removed by state police, and one woman was charged with trespassing after she laid down on the floor and refused to comply with police verbal commands to leave.

The proposed site for the compressor station is in Union Hill, an unincorporated community founded by freed slaves. The community is in rural Buckingham County, about an hour’s drive west of Richmond.

Opponents are concerned that exhaust from the 54,000-horsepower compressor station would hurt low-income and elderly residents living nearby. Supporters say it will boost development.

The station would be built on 15 acres of a 70-acre site with the rest of the property left undisturbed, according to Dominion Energy, the pipeline’s lead developer. Compressor stations are used to power interstate natural gas pipelines, moving gas through the system.

Paul Wilson, pastor of two Baptist churches near the proposed site, said opponents will keep fighting. He didn’t elaborate on whether they would take legal action. “We’re looking at all of our avenues,” he said after the vote. “It’s a long way from over. I think Dominion wants to wear people down. But that’s not going to happen.”

Dominion spokesman Karl Neddenien acknowledged in a statement after the vote that it will “have to continue building trust in the community.” He said the project’s backers are making investments in a new community center and rescue squad “but it will not end there.”

Neddenien said most air emissions at the station will be 50 to 80 percent lower than at any other compressor station in Virginia. The air pollution permit has become a flashpoint in the yearslong fight over the pipeline.

Supporters say it’s needed to help boost the supply of natural gas. Opponents say it is an unnecessary fossil fuel infrastructure project that tramples on land rights and hurts the environment.

With a current pricetag of $6.5 billion to $7 billion, the pipeline has recently suffered significant legal setbacks, including a 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling last month throwing out a permit for the pipeline to cross two national forests, including parts of the Appalachian Trail. Dominion has suspended all project construction and said it plans to appeal the ruling.

John Laury, who lives less than a mile from where the compressor station would be built, said he doesn’t believe assurances from Dominion or state regulators that emissions from the station would not hurt residents’ health or the environment. “I challenge them to come live in the community with us, to breathe this air, drink this water,” said Laury, 74.

Mike Dowd, the state Department of Environmental Quality’s Air Director, said the department reviewed compressor station permits from around the country and scrutinized pollution control technology. He said the station will “set a new national standard that all future compressor stations will have to meet across the country.”

Gov. Ralph Northam angered environmentalists and minority groups when he replaced two members of the pollution control board after it delayed a scheduled vote in November. Northam, a Democrat, said the move was unrelated to the compressor station vote and that members were replaced because their terms had expired. Two new members didn’t vote Tuesday, nor did a third member who cited a conflict of interest.

Board member William Ferguson said at the hearing that there’s a real need for the pipeline, particularly in Virginia’s Hampton Roads region. “The region needs the energy; the state needs the energy,” he said. His comments prompted a woman to shout: “How much is Dominion paying you?”

Some opponents held pieces of paper with a blown-up photo of the governor’s face and the words “foul” or “shut it down.” Northam has said he’s agnostic on how the board votes. “As far as the pipeline … there’s not a lot of middle road on that issue,” Northam said in a recent radio interview. “I’ve tried to be as fair as I can.”

After the board approved the permit, some of the opponents overturned their chairs. Charles Strickler, a retired dentist, predicted that opponents will not give up their fight. “I think there are going to be people in front of bulldozers for the pipeline, getting arrested,” he said.

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Tara Lohan June 17, 2019 at 6:56 am

Dr. Robert Bullard: Lessons From 40 Years of Documenting Environmental Racism

From an Article by Tara Lohan, The Revelator, April 19, 2019

This March an important new study revealed that black and Hispanic communities in the United States face a disproportionate amount of air pollution caused mostly by whites. It was the first time researchers examined not just who is harmed by pollution but also who causes it.

For Dr. Robert Bullard, the findings weren’t a surprise. A distinguished professor of urban planning and environmental policy at Texas Southern University, he’s been gathering data on environmental racism since long before there was a term for it. As a sociologist at Texas Southern University in the late 1970s, he began researching environmental racism in Houston communities after his wife, attorney Linda McKeever Bullard, took a case representing members of a black middle- class community who were fighting a landfill in their suburban neighborhood.

The lawsuit was the first case in the United States to use civil rights law to challenge environmental discrimination. And while a judge ultimately ruled in favor of the company running the landfill, Dr. Bullard was inspired to learn more about other communities of color facing unjust pollution burdens. Over the past 40 years, he’s become a leading expert, with 18 books on the topic. Along the way he’s been recognized as “the father of environmental justice.”

We talked with him about the Houston study that led to a career-long investigation and how much progress he thinks we’ve made since.

How did you begin researching what we know of today as environmental justice?

I got started around 1979 in Houston collecting data and doing research on a lawsuit that my wife had filed: Bean vs. Southwestern Waste Management Corp. A municipal landfill was being placed in a predominantly African-American suburban community of homeowners, and she wanted to know if it was random or part of a pattern of discrimination.

I had 10 students in my research methods class at Texas A&M University, where I was a professor. And I told my students that in this study we would be sociologists as detectives, trying to find out what happened in Houston over roughly 40 years.

Using a racial lens — an equity lens — is more common today, but in 1979 that was not something that most people thought of as part of any kind of research study or to challenge the location of these facilities.

But I think having data and having proof really goes a long way in getting people to understand that you’re not just talking about emotion, you’re not talking about getting sympathy — you’re talking about justice.

Dr. Robert Bullard

Dr. Robert Bullard is often called the “father of environmental justice.” (Photo courtesy of Texas Southern University)
What did you find in Houston, and did the results surprise you?

When we looked at the data and analyzed it, we found that 5 out of 5 of the city-owned landfills were located in black neighborhoods. Six out of 8 of the city-owned incinerators were in black neighborhoods. And 3 out of 4 of the privately owned landfills were in predominantly black neighborhoods.

Even though blacks only made up 25 percent of the population from the 1930s to 1978 — the period that I looked at — 82 percent of all of the waste dumped in Houston was in black neighborhoods.

It was eye-opening for me to realize what we were looking at was not random. Houston is the fourth largest city and the only major city that doesn’t have zoning — it didn’t have zoning then, and it doesn’t now — so these were decisions that were made by individuals.

Houston is in the south. It was part of the resistance to civil rights and equal protection. So when we discovered these findings, it was not surprising that this kind of discrimination existed since discrimination like this existed in terms of housing, education, employment, voting, etc. So this was another layer of structural racism.

How did it impact your own professional trajectory?

And after what we found in Houston, it made me want to know if it was just there or other places. So I expanded the study to Dallas and looked at lead smelters and found that they just happened to be located in black and brown neighborhoods.

And I then I expanded my research to Louisiana to look at what was happening along the Mississippi River corridor that’s commonly referred to today as “cancer alley” and found a disproportionate share of the chemical plants, refineries and waste facilities along the river were in black communities. Then I found the largest hazardous-waste landfill in the country was located Emelle, Alabama, which is 95 percent black. Then I went all the way to Institute, West Virginia, a town first settled by freed slaves, and there I found a Union Carbide plant that was only place in the U.S. that manufactured methyl isocyanate — the same gas that leaked from the Bhopal, India plant and killed 2,000 people.

So when I pieced together these five case studies looking at waste facilities, landfills, chemical plants and incinerators, the pattern became really clear. And that’s how I wrote Dumping in Dixie: Race, Class and Environmental Quality — the first environmental justice book.

How was it received at that time?

I finished the book in 1990 and I sent the manuscript to a lot of publishers. And I got back lots of rejection letters saying there was no such thing as environmental racism — that the environment was neutral.

This whole idea of trying to collect the data and show the relationship between race and place and the siting of dangerous facilities and pollution was not something that was easy to convince people was true. Way back in 1979 when we showed the Houston data to some of the environmental groups their response was, “Well, isn’t that where the landfills and the dumps are supposed to be?” They saw nothing wrong with it.

We showed the same data to a couple of civil rights organizations and their response was, “We don’t work on the environment. We work on housing, voting, education and employment discrimination.” It took almost two decades before the environmental community and the civil rights community converged to understand what we were talking about — that environmental racism, environmental justice is real.

When you look back at the past 40 years, how far do you think we’ve come — especially in light of the March study about pollution burdens?

The study basically reinforced what we have been saying for the last 40 years and has been documented for the last 40 years. It also reinforces that we still need to keep doing these studies.

When you start looking at the data and looking at the studies, what’s occurring is that race is still the most potent variable to explain who’s getting dumped on and who’s getting sick. African-American children, for example, are 10 times more likely to die from asthma than white children.

But it doesn’t mean that we have not made progress. In 1989 there was not a single book on environmental justice or environmental racism. In 1990 there was one. If you look today, you’ll find that there are thousands of books on this issue and it has expanded from toxics to look at transportation, housing, food security, disaster response and climate change.

We’re still getting to justice, but we’re not there yet. We have a long way to go to dismantle the institutionalized and structural racism that is so embedded in every institution in our society.

Creative Commons

>>> Tara Lohan is deputy editor of The Revelator and has worked for more than a decade as a digital editor and environmental journalist focused on the intersections of energy, water and climate. Her work has been published by The Nation, American Prospect, High Country News, Grist, Pacific Standard and others. She is the editor of two books on the global water crisis.


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