The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality recently issued a summary of public comments about the draft air discharge permit for the proposed Lambert compressor station in Chatham. The summary included the agency’s responses to some of the comments.
I reviewed the public comments, and I take exception to DEQ’s summary. I believe it is biased and inaccurate. The department begins its summary by stating “Comments were received in support of the Lambert Compressor Station (LCS) and the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) and comments were received in opposition to the draft air permit and MVP.”
I counted 325 comments. Three hundred and nine comments opposed permit issuance. Fourteen comments favored permit issuance. Two comments expressed no opinion about the permit.
One would think that an honest summary would include the overwhelming public opposition to the permit. DEQ apparently chose to hide that information.
To put this into perspective, imagine a summary of a Virginia Tech football game that states “Both teams scored points.” A more accurate summary would state “Virginia Tech 309, Opponent 14.”
Nevertheless, this is not a football game. This is much more important.
This is the health and well being of our fellow citizens being threatened by a third compressor station in their community. In an earlier version of their summary DEQ labeled groups opposed to the permit, like the NAACP and Sierra Club as “Special Interest Groups.”
Groups in favor of the permit, like the Virginia Chamber of Commerce were not labeled in this manner. To DEQ’s credit, or maybe at the advice of their attorney, they removed this disparaging label from their final summary.
DEQ’s summary states “The majority of the comments received were general in nature, mostly consisting of various form letters with some slight individualization.” This is another biased statement that insinuates that form letters don’t deserve as much credit as an individual letter. In many cases a form letter conveys more information than an individual letter. The form letters I read all contained specific information that was relative to the permit.
DEQ’s summary further states “Where these comments were related to air quality, they were general in nature and did not suggest any specific improvements or short-comings in the draft air permit.”
I believe that this is DEQ’s biggest misrepresentation. I counted 297 comments in opposition to the permit that included specific concerns about permit inadequacies regarding air quality, or suggested how the permit should be improved to better assure that the discharge would not harm the public health and the environment.
The good news is that DEQ does not get to decide if this permit is approved. That’s the job of the Virginia State Air Pollution Control Board, a group of knowledgeable Virginia citizens who are appointed by the governor.
The bad news is that board members may be tempted to read DEQ’s summary of the comments, rather than the comments themselves.
If Board members read DEQ’s summary, and don’t read the actual public comments, they will be reading what I believe is inaccurate and biased information. They may vote on the permit based on that information.
In my research into the fossil fuel industry, I’ve learned that you can’t take what you read from the industry at first glance. The language frequently appears crafted to deceive rather than to inform. DEQ seems to have written their summary right out of this industry playbook. Our representative democracy has no place for self serving misinformation from a public agency.
Now DEQ adds insult to injury.
DEQ has announced that the Lambert compressor station air permit hearing before the Board, which has been scheduled for Thursday and Friday, has been postponed. No new date has been set, but DEQ announced that there will be no virtual option for the hearing. Citizens will be required to risk their health in person during the worst pandemic in 100 years in order to address the board.
Not only is DEQ risking the health of the citizens of Chatham by issuing a draft approved permit, it’s also risking the health of the overwhelming number of citizens opposed to that permit who may wish to testify on their behalf, as well as others.
There are good people at DEQ. Blue Ridge office staff have always been helpful.
I think the problem with DEQ is at the top.
I believe that department director David Paylor should resign. If he does not, Gov. Ralph Northam should remove him from office. If he does not, Attorney General Herring should investigate this sordid affair.
Limpert is a retired environmental regulator who formerly lived in Bath County along the route of the since-canceled Atlantic Coast Pipeline. He now lives in Maryland.