In a move that has raised a lot of concerns from the general public, Governor Ralph Northam has removed two people from the state Air Pollution Control Board. Both board members, Sam Bleicher and Rebecca Rubin, had expressed concern over the Buckingham Compressor Station being proposed. The compressor is supposedly needed for the controversial Atlantic Coast Pipeline, but the station would have a huge impact on the historically black community of Union Hill.
The timing of the move is highly suspicious because the board is scheduled to vote on the station on December 10 and the Governor’s office isn’t even ready to announce the new members. A statement several environmental groups released about the decision highlights how this is a clear attack on the public’s ability to weigh in on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the impact it’ll have on the community.
“Removing citizen board members in the midst of contentious debate sends the wrong message,” the statement said. “Citizen boards must remain independent from political interference during the decision-making process. We call on the governor to reverse this decision until the current board has finalized its deliberations on the proposed permit.”
The decision also comes after the Governor removed a member of the State Water Control Board who raised concerns about the pipeline and blatantly ignored a letter from his Environmental Justice Advisory Council calling for construction of the pipeline to be stopped. In other words, Northam is actively removing and/or ignoring any opposition to the pipeline even if it comes from his own advisers.
All of this has caused prominent members of the Governor’s own party to speak out on the issue. Delegate Mark Keam, for instance, wrote a tweet saying Northam “and his senior staff have always told me their hands are tied on stopping fracked gas pipelines due to federal laws, but this action shows they’re willing to be proactive in SUPPORT of pipelines!”
“I really hope [the Governor] and his senior staff have legitimate explanation for taking this unusual action now,” he added in a later tweet, “or else we’re left to believe that it IS about helping Dominion Energy get its pipeline and compressor station.”
While people are genuinely concerned about the immediate environmental impact this decision could have, the Governor’s move has also served as reminder of the political influence that Dominion Energy has here in Virginia. Charlotte McConnell, a candidate in the race to fill Jennifer Wexton’s seat in the state senate, highlighted this in her statement on the latest developments.
“Governor Northam will listen to advice from Dominion Energy but not the independent councils created to advise him on matters of air pollution and environmental justice,” McConnell said. “It must be noted that Dominion Energy has donated $508,940 to our legislators in 2018. Since 2010, Dominion Energy has donated $6,792,288 to influence our legislators. This money is given to both sides of the aisle. A total of $199,251 has been given to our Governor from Dominion Energy.”
It’s also worth noting that this was a huge issue during the 2017 Democratic gubernatorial primary as Tom Perriello was an outspoken critic of the pipeline. Northam and his supporters were quick to quash any suggestion that he’d actively help the pipeline’s progress. Now that it’s clear he’s violated the spirit of those promises, however, he’ll be forced to take full responsibility for the pipeline and the negative impacts it’ll have on the community.