Controversial permit for Va. pipeline approved, but hurdles remain before construction


RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — After months of delays, a state board unanimously approved a controversial air permit for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline on Tuesday. 

While today’s decision was the last approval needed from the state for the project, Dominion Energy will still need to get through some hurdles.  

The packed meeting room was filled with tension. The head of the State Air Pollution Control Board ordered police to escort roughly a dozen demonstrators out of the crucial meeting. 

The board unanimously signed off on a permit for an air compressor in Buckingham County for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. The pipeline spans 600 miles from West Virginia to North Carolina. There are three air compressor stations, one in each state. Air compressors help manage pressure and flow of natural gas through a pipeline network. 

Mike Dowd, the state Department of Environmental Quality’s Air Director, said the station in Virginia will “set a new national standard that all future compressor stations will have to meet across the country.”

In his remarks, the chair of the air board emphasized this.

“My conclusion is, this criteria has been met,” Richard Langford, the Air Pollution Control Board chair, said. 

People who live in the pathway of the pipeline say the environmental impacts could hurt an historic black community in Union Hill. Reverend Paul Wilson preaches there and says the project is causing tension.  

“Families are divided,” Wilson said. “I looked in there today and saw two sisters, one for it and one against it.” 

The process to get to a vote has been controversial. Ralph Northam, using his rights as Governor, replaced two air board members in the middle of the permit hearings. Their terms had expired in June. Some raised issue with the decision because both of these air board members had expressed concerns about the environmental impacts of the permit and the overall pipeline project. 

Only four board members participated in the vote. The two new ones did not vote, and the third abstained because of a conflict of interest in the permit. 

At the air board’s prior meeting in December, they delayed a vote so the public could review and respond to a number of new documents the board received about the site suitability and demographics of Buckingham County. 

While the air permit has been approved, Dominion Energy still has some legal hurdles to get through in order to build the pipeline. A federal court put a hold on other pipeline permits in December. 

“Until that is resolved,” Karl R. Neddenien, a spokesman for Dominion Energy and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, said, “all construction has been voluntarily been suspended on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.”

Dominion is waiting for a reply “for clarification on the extent of the stay” for the Fish & Wildlife permit after filing with the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals.  

“We are evaluating the best course of action to take in response to the court’s vacatur of the Forest Service permit to cross the Appalachian Trail,” Neddenien said. 

Dominion Energy officials say ACP is expected to bring nearly $400 million in energy cost savings to customers and $28 million in local tax revenue. The company is also giving $5 million to build a new community center and outdoor recreation area for residents of Union Hill. 

“We are going to continue to be a good neighbor for Buckingham County because we have a lot of respect for them,” Neddenien continued. 

People who live in there say they will continue to fight. 

“But this is a struggle as we’re in it for the long haul,” Wilson said. 

The project’s timeline is still being finalized.

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