Virginia Air board member wants focus on environmental justice • Virginia Mercury

An outgoing member of the State Air Pollution Control Board — whose repeated attempts to raise awareness of environmental justice issues helped stop construction of a Mountain Valley Pipeline compressor station in Pittsylvania County — has called for his successor, who will be appointed by Governor Glenn Youngkin. , to maintain a sharp focus on how energy projects can disproportionately impact Virginia communities.

Once a new board member assumes their new role, the Air Board will be comprised of a full slate of appointees selected by Youngkin, including stewardship of environmental justice policy by the administration has been scrutinized by advocates and lawmakers.

Acting Secretary of Natural and Historic Resources Travis Voyles appears before the state Air Pollution Control Board. (Charlie Paullin/Virginia Mercury).

Hope Cupit said at last Wednesday’s air board meeting that she felt the need to express “a deep concern that I hope will resonate with all of you.”

“Environmental justice is not just a slogan,” Cupit continued. “This is a fundamental principle that will guide us in ensuring that communities, especially those historically marginalized, have a voice in decisions that affect their health and well-being.” »

Abbreviated as EJ, environmental justice is defined by the United States Environmental Protection Agency as “the fair treatment and meaningful participation of all people, regardless of income, race, color, national origin, tribal affiliation or their disability, in agency decision-making and others. Federal activities that affect human health and the environment. THE Virginia Environmental Justice Actvoted in 2020, search “promote environmental justice and ensure it is implemented throughout the Commonwealth.

Environmental justice has become a focal point of Virginia regulations after a controversial permit for the Chickahominy Power Plant in Charles City County was approved by the air board, leading to strong community opposition and to creating public engagement. Committee in 2019. The power plant was canceled following the outcry; the public engagement committee, which the Virginia Manufacturers Association said led to costly delays in approving projects, abandoned activity in 2022 under the leadership of Air Board Chairman James Patrick Guy, a Youngkin appointee who still chairs the board. The Air Board is responsible for reviewing regulatory applications for everything from carbon markets And vehicle emission standards, to permit for power plants, to monitor and control emissions that pollute the environment.

In several parts of the state, other projects have faced setbacks and scrutiny over their disproportionate impact on the environment and the quality of life of communities of color.

In January 2020, the Richmond-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit vacated an air permit for the now-canceled Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s polluting compressor station, which would have been located in the predominantly black Union Hill in Buckingham County, citing a lack of consideration for environmental justice.

In 2021, Mountain Valley Pipeline developers were unable to obtain an air permit from the Department of Environmental Quality for a planned compressor station in Lambert, Pittsylvania County, after the Commission of the ‘air pointed out that DEQ saw Lambert as an environmental justice community that could be disproportionately affected by the compressor.

Cupit, along with board member Lornel Tompkins, whose term also expires June 30, advocated for the state to give more consideration to people who lived near the proposed compressor. They referenced DEQ’s analysis that 32 percent of people living within a mile of the compressor station would be black — although blacks make up only 20 percent of the state’s population. The same report indicates that 31% of residents within a five-mile radius of the site had low incomes.

Following this decision, a 2022 law moved approval of air permits at the DEQ agency level, which provides greater administrative control over applications than the more public, citizen-compromised air board, unless they are deemed controversial.

“Having an environmental justice advocate on this board has been crucial in bringing these issues to the forefront,” Cupit said Wednesday. “My role is to amplify the voices of those who are often ignored. »

Board chairman Guy said Cupit and Tompkins had “provided exceptional service,” while being “very caring and with great integrity.” He thanked the women for their service to the state and also said it was “safe to assume” that Cupit’s replacement would be named by the next board meeting.

A DEQ spokesperson said the next Air Transportation Board meeting has not yet been scheduled, but is typically held quarterly.

Democratic lawmakers and environmental groups have critical Youngkin’s commitment to environmental justice after announcing his appointments to the Virginia Council on Environmental Justice, created by the Environmental Justice Act. The governor’s appointments came after a long-running vacancies on the board, which members said hampered their work, and after he vetoed a bill from Rep. Mike Jones, D-Richmond , which would have required him to fill vacant positions by August. Youngkin’s board picks were affiliated with the waste, labor, infrastructure, fossil fuel and power industries.

Democratic lawmaker questions Youngkin’s nominations to environmental justice council

“They’re not terrible people; it’s just, where are they going to be when it comes to environmental justice? Jones spoke about Youngkin’s nominations in a previous interview with the Mercury. “We need to recruit people who understand the challenges facing communities that, for so long, have been negatively impacted by many of the decisions made by the energy community. »

In response to Jones’ concerns, Youngkin spokesperson Christian Martinez previously said “The governor’s appointments reflect a variety of communities and stakeholders across Virginia who are committed to continuing Governor Youngkin’s efforts to protect our natural resources and vulnerable communities across the Commonwealth.

Lee Francis, deputy director of the League of Conservation Voters, said Youngkin’s administration “has not shown at all that he takes environmental justice seriously.”

“I’m not holding my breath… that (a Youngkin appointee) doesn’t represent an industry that they’re supposed to regulate, because that’s the trend.”