Pipeline Compressor Site Threatens Vulnerable Virginians

The Virginia Air Pollution Control Board (APCB) is about to consider a permit for a natural gas compressor station for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. The site being considered for this compressor station is inappropriate, yet the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has not sufficiently assessed site suitability or alternate locations. The Board can and should deny this permit.

The Board will meet on November 8th and 9th and Virginia law gives the APCB the authority to “take final action” on a permit. The law is clear that the APCB has independent authority to determine whether the draft permit complies with federal and state air quality protection laws. More specifically, Virginia law states that the Board, in approving permits, “shall consider facts and circumstances relevant to the reasonableness of the activity involved,” including: “The character and degree of injury to, or interference with, safety, health, or the reasonable use of property which is caused or threatened to be caused,” and “The suitability of the activity to the area in which it is located.”

The Board also has the authority to consider whether environmental justice would be denied if the draft permit is approved. If the Board finds that the draft permit would not fully comply with the law, it can deny the permit.

There are several significant concerns about the draft permit’s compliance with the law. A previous blog post explains why the proposed site is not “suitable” for the planned compressor station, including the significant health and safety risks from dangerous air pollutants, harmful noise, and the risks of explosions.

I won’t go into all the details in this post, but I want to highlight the environmental justice concerns that make this site unsuitable. To date, there has been no thorough analysis of the population that lives near this proposed site. According to the Virginia State Conference of the NAACP, “a more thorough and comprehensive analysis of potential negative and cumulative impacts to the natural and social environments” needs to be conducted, and “Careful consideration must be made to properly identify residents located within the study area to ensure Title VI compliance and that there are no disproportionate impacts on burdened communities.”

Even the Virginia Governor’s Advisory Council on Environmental Justice recommended to the Governor that he direct DEQ “to suspend the permitting decision for the air permit for the Buckingham compressor station pending further review of the station’s impact on the health and the lives of those living in close proximity.”

Unfortunately, this has not happened. The NAACP is calling for a more comprehensive socio-economic analysis of the surrounding community, a qualitative risk assessment, a comprehensive Health Impact Assessment, and more meaningful public engagement with residents directly impacted by the projects. It’s estimated that within a one-mile radius of the proposed compressor station are approximately 100 households, with a population that is 83% African American, Native American, and Hispanic.

In North Carolina, ACP is also proposing to build a compressor station in a community that has a higher African American population and poverty level than the state as a whole and a higher lung cancer rate. No pipeline should be allowed to place dirty facilities that emit dangerous pollutants into poorer communities of color.

Dominion Energy, the owner of ACP, recently dropped its plans for another compressor station (in Maryland, associated with a different pipeline). It faced legal opposition, and the Mount Vernon Ladies Association opposed the construction of the compressor station because the station and its exhaust fumes would be in the viewshed of Mount Vernon. Dominion Energy agreed to investigate alternative locations for the compressor facility.

If Dominion can change its plans in Maryland, it can also do so in Virginia. There has not been an adequate analysis of alternative sites, like Dominion agreed to do in Maryland, to avoid impacts on the citizens of Union Hill, so the APCB can and should deny this permit. Much more comprehensive analysis needs to be done before considering this or any other site for a compressor station. If you are a Virginia resident, you can take action here and tell the VA DEQ to reject the proposed air permit for the Buckingham compressor station.

About the Authors

Amy Mall

Senior Advocate, Dirty Energy, Lands Division, Nature Program

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