Interfering in the regulatory process of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP), Virginia’s Governor Ralph Northam (D) removed two members of the Air Pollution Control Board last week prior to a crucial vote scheduled for December 10th. This vote had been delayed from an initial vote scheduled for November 9th, following a public comment hearing the day before on November 8th. Due to the highly controversial nature of the air permit, particularly related to the potentially disproportionate impact that the proposed Compressor Station would have on the predominately African-American freed person community of Union Hill in Buckingham County, the Air Pollution Control Board had unanimously decided to delay the vote until December 10th in order to more fully review the matter.
Governor Northam’s decision to remove two board members prior to this vote has drawn condemnation from environmental and civil rights groups throughout the Commonwealth, who have expressed concerns about the necessity for this citizen board to remain independent from political influences and corporate interests. Governor Northam’s interference has drawn further criticism due to the fact that these two board members (Samuel Bleicher and Rebecca Rubin) were among those who had raised questions during the permit hearings last week about the location and safety of the proposed Compressor Station in terms of environmental justice concerns. The Virginia State NAACP expressed “fear that disrupting the citizen review board midstream is a disservice to the Union Hill community’s right to a fair and impartial hearing,” as well as concern that “the governor’s action may signal to other Board members that asking too many questions about an influential utility’s potential impact on a vulnerable historic community may lead to their removal.”