The compressor station has been roundly opposed by Union Hill residents and environmental groups including Appalachian Voices, the publisher of this newspaper. On Dec. 8, 100 Union Hill residents, state delegates, and celebrity climate activists including Danny Glover, Karenna Gore and Don Cheadle sent an open letter to the board describing “an undeniable pattern of dangerous, polluting industrial facilities being sited in poor communities of color across our nation.”“‘Environmental racism’ is a phrase used to describe this systematic positioning,” the letter reads. “Right now, a consortium of companies led by Dominion Energy–the largest corporate donor in state political campaigns–is attempting to place the only Virginia compressor station for its unneeded, natural gas Atlantic Coast Pipeline in the low-income, mostly African-American community of Union Hill, in Buckingham County. Many area residents trace their ancestry to the people enslaved on or near the plantation land sold for this site.”
In November, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam replaced two members of the air board days after they spoke critically of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline during a meeting. This happened less than a month before the board’s vote on the permit was scheduled to take place on Dec. 10, although the vote was ultimately postponed multiple times until Jan. 8.
On Dec. 19, the board delayed its vote to review new demographic information from the state Department of Environmental Quality that called Union Hill’s status as an environmental justice community into question. The board allowed public comments over the holidays from Dec. 21 to Jan. 4 regarding the DEQ’s findings.
But community residents stated that the agency based these findings on flawed methodology. Anthropologist Lakshmi Fjord had previously provided an analysis to the DEQ and the board about the community’s demographics using the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s preferred research methods. The board approved the compressor station after reviewing the DEQ’s information.
“It is disheartening that the people we presented to didn’t seem to care enough to consider what we submitted,” said Marie Gillespie, a Buckingham County resident. “To not know what the future will hold is very unsettling. This has been a lengthy process for us. I know it will impact our lives. It is frightening to not know what will come next.”