By Freeda Cathcart
SB 657 and HB 1261 are air and water pollution bills that appear to have been designed to help the Mountain Valley pipeline, after the State Air Pollution Control Board denied MVP Southgate permit for the station. Lambert air compression.
MVP lobbyists tricked lawmakers into trying to take the “power” away from environmental citizen councils and give it to the Department of Environmental Quality.
Legislators believed that taking “power” away from councils and giving it to the DEQ director would be good for business.
However, if the bills are enacted, it would create more instability for business development based on recent court rulings. Companies are under pressure from investors and workers to achieve good environmental, social and governance ratings. It doesn’t help a business get a license only to have the federal courts throw it out as illegal.
State code already requires councils to implement DEQ recommendations unless there are valid legal reasons not to. This change came after a 2007 bill with a reinstatement clause was passed twice, once in 2007 and again in 2008 when it came into force. Councils still receive real-time guidance from an assistant attorney general during their deliberations to ensure their decisions comply with state code, making proposed legislation unnecessary and undemocratic.
The recent State Air Pollution Control Board hearing in Chatham revealed MVP’s lack of preparation and DEQ’s failure to provide proper guidance for MVP Southgate to succeed. The council members did their duty by questioning the specifications of the MVP Southgate, which included gasoline turbines. A nearby Transco pipeline had recently upgraded its compressor station to use electric turbines, which reduced harmful emissions. If MVP Southgate was to be a cutting-edge development, electric turbines should have been included in their plans.
The board interacted with environmental lawyers who attended the MVP Southgate hearings. They wanted to know why the United States Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit denied an aerial map permit for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and how that decision should guide MVP Southgate’s clearance. The ACP permit was denied due to federal environmental justice laws that are still in effect. If DEQ had done its job, it would have alerted MVP to the problem and demanded a solution, before submitting a recommendation to the APCB to issue a permit.
The APCB had followed the recommendation of DEQ staff to issue the ACP Union Hill permit according to state code, even though dozens of scientists, lawyers and university professors had warned them that the permit was illegal. and unfair under federal law. Part of the 4th Circuit Court’s decision focused on ACP’s plans not to use electric turbines. The DEQ’s recommendation to the APCB to issue the MVP Southgate permit without requiring power turbines demonstrates that the DEQ has not learned the lessons of the ACP Union Hill lawsuit and that the DEQ cannot be trusted with the sole power to issue permits.
Other recent significant developments regarding permits issued by the APCB and the State Water Control Board and legal challenges:
A recent amendment to the Senate bill requires the DEQ to hold citizen hearings. Based on recent past experience, there is no point in having audiences when an organization is not listening or acting on the information it receives. Issuing illegal permits hurts businesses, landowners, local businesses and communities.
It would be prudent for the General Assembly to see how ongoing court cases resolve before making changes to the state code. Let’s give the truth a chance. Changes of this magnitude deserve more time and thought before they become law.
Attaching a reconstitution clause to SB 657 and HB 1261 would give the General Assembly a year to determine whether this legislation would be beneficial or if it would do more harm than good.
Freeda Cathcart is the Director of Soil and Water Conservation representing the City of Roanoke. Contact her at [email protected].