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Northam Replaces Air and Water Board Members Ahead of Vote

Ben Paviour/WCVE News


Governor Ralph Northam will replace two members on each of the state air and water boards, according to his spokeswoman.

Pipeline critics fear the appointments could tip the scales on an upcoming vote by the State Air Pollution Control Board on a critical piece of Atlantic Coast Pipeline infrastructure.

That board was set to vote on whether to grant an air permit for the Buckingham Compressor Station on November 9. But the board pushed back the vote until December 10 after hearing from many in the historic African American community of Union Hill who were concerned about pollution from the plant.

Northam spokeswoman Ofirah Yheskel said governor was replacing board members whose terms expired in June. She said the timing of the appointments was unrelated to the upcoming meeting.

“We have been reviewing a field of very qualified applicants and the governor has arrived at his decision,” she wrote in an email.

The new appointments set off alarm bells for critics of the pipeline who feared Northam would stock the boards with more compliant members.

Democratic Delegate Sam Rasoul called the appointments “terrible” and an affront to those who testified against the station.

“For that voice to be dismissed with the stroke of a pen is an injustice and an outrage,” he said. “I know that this administration and whoever else is behind it--Dominion Power, etc.--you will hear from us.”

Jorge Aguilar, Southern Regional Director for the environmental advocacy group Food and Water Watch, said the governor was ignoring findings from the Advisory Council on Environmental Justice, whose members expressed concerns over the plan.

“This administration and many other officials tend to find a way to make sure these projects go through,” he said.

Yheskel said the new appointments would go into effect “when we receive their finalized paperwork as per our usual process,” but declined to name a date or provide names of the outgoing board members. A news release from pipeline activists identified the members as Rebecca Rubin and Sam Bliecher.

The 600-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline will move natural gas from West Virginia down to North Carolina. It has mobilized activists across those states who are upset over environmental, health, and land rights issues.

Dominion Energy says the pipeline will help the state transition from coal plants to natural gas, and create jobs along the way.

The Buckingham Compressor Station is one of three along the route. The other two, which sit outside Virginia, are already under construction.

The Department of Environmental Quality says the compressor station will have the tightest pollution controls in the country, but critics say Dominion is dumping the station on a disadvantaged black community.