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Virginia board approves air permit for Atlantic Coast Pipeline gas compressor

Highlights

Opponents had raised environmental justice concerns

Vote clears compressor though legal hurdles remain for larger project

Houston — Dominion Energy won approval from Virginia's State Air Quality Board for a permit for a natural gas compressor in Union Hill, Virginia, that is part of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline project, overcoming controversy over whether a rural, African American community would be disproportionately affected.

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The 4-0 decision removes one sticking point for the 600-mile, 1.5 Bcf/d pipeline project, although construction is on hold because of other legal setbacks in appeals court over a variety of federal permits.

The project, like the neighboring Mountain Valley Pipeline, is designed to move Appalachian shale gas to markets in the Mid-Atlantic.

At a meeting Tuesday, which was interrupted by protests and heckling from the audience, the state board backed a minor new source review permit for the 53,375-hp Buckingham Compressor station, one of three compressors that would provide pressure needed to move gas through the pipeline system.

The board's chairman, Richard Langford, said that increased emissions would meet standards and leave the community with "some of the cleanest air in Virginia." A Department of Environmental Quality staff presentation emphasized that the facility would meet the most stringent emission limits for a compressor station in the country.

FINAL APPROVAL FOR COMPRESSOR

"Today's unanimous approval is a significant step forward for this transformational project and the final state approval needed in Virginia," said Dominion spokesman Karl Neddenien. "As a result of the permit's strict conditions and the unprecedented protections we've put in place, most air emissions at the station will be 50-80% lower than any other compressor station in Virginia."

He acknowledged Dominion would need to continue building trust and cited its "profound respect for this community and its history."

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The environmental group Appalachian Voices in a statement contended the approval came despite evidence showing the facility would have a disproportionate impact on the low-income community of Union Hill, which it said was about 85% African American and was founded by descendants of freed slaves.

Board Member William Ferguson stressed that the natural gas from the pipeline project was needed in coastal and southern parts of the state, including rural counties that rely on dirtier sources of energy. Virginia Natural Gas cannot offer guaranteed gas to a new, large customer anywhere east of Williamsburg, he said.

LITIGATION

Southern Environmental Law Center said the group would explore legal options with its partners. In recent comments, the group argued the DEQ and ACP have provided the board with inadequate, preliminary demographic information that was too generic to provide a meaningful basis for a site-suitability determination. The group has been involved in litigation in the 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals over a variety of other permits for ACP that has led to construction being put on hold.

The lead-up to the board vote was marked by controversy over the timing of Virginia Governor Ralph Northam's decision to remove from the board two sitting members who had been more critical of the project. One of those members, Rebecca Rubin, wrote an Op-Ed in The Washington Post Monday expressing her concern that the siting would disproportionately affect a minority community and suggesting a broader analysis was needed of the air-quality effects of the pipeline in Virginia.

At the board meeting, state officials said a two-phase health consultation would be done, looking at current conditions and future monitoring.

-- Maya Weber, maya.weber@spglobal.com

-- Edited by Valarie Jackson, newsdesk@spglobal.com