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Rasoul: State Water Control Board has the power to ensure a livable future for Virginians

Today, seven Virginians are tasked with determining our state’s environmental and climate future. This Tuesday, the State Water Control Board will determine whether to grant or deny the Department of Environmental Quality’s draft permit as to whether the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline can safely build across more than 200 water bodies in the state.

The Board members, seven private citizens serving on this independent regulatory body, have the fate of the communities that my colleagues and I serve in their hands.

The MVP has already caused permanent damage by violating Virginia’s water protection laws more than 300 times.

The project has been heavily fined for failing to control erosion and sediment, with some of the riskiest proposed construction up for review in this permit.

It is up to the board to ensure this destruction does not continue.

Two weeks ago, the Virginia Air Pollution Control Board stood up for the environmental and health rights of all Virginians by denying a key air permit for the Mountain Valley Pipeline’s Lambert Compressor Station.

The decision was made because the board recognized that the Compressor Station directly impacted Indigenous, Black, and low income people in an environmental justice community, and the permit therefore would have violated Virginia fair treatment and site suitability laws.

The board cited the Virginia Environmental Justice Act in denying the permit’s adherence to key environmental justice requirements.

Last Thursday, Attorney General Mark Herring established an environmental justice policy at the request of state Sen. Ghazala Hashmi, stipulating that the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and other state agencies have to consider the Environmental Justice Act when reviewing permits for all kinds of construction, programs and policies.

I know that the Mountain Valley Pipeline is an environmental justice disaster. It is an incomplete fracked gas pipeline that is steamrolling its way over our state, across 303 miles, from northwestern West Virginia to southern Virginia.

The pipeline has already paid millions for environmental damage and has destroyed the water and land of rural, low-income, majority-elderly communities ... and gas hasn’t even started flowing.

Pipeline construction threatens the cleanliness and safety of our waters, the air quality and public health of our children and communities, and the mountains and lands we all treasure.

If built, it could account for 1% of all greenhouse gasses from the U.S. energy sector. This would be like adding 26 coal plants or 19 million passenger vehicles to our state.

MVP has specifically targeted our communities because many people do not have the resources and time to ensure the end of this project. This is a blatant act of environmental injustice that is completely misaligned with Virginia’s Environmental Justice Act.

Moreover, the pipeline would only intensify the global climate crisis that we face today. The International Energy Agency recommended in May that no new oil or gas can be developed if we are to avoid catastrophic global warming.

The United Nations found that we must cut human-cased methane by 45% in this decade if we are to have a livable future. The world is in consensus: we cannot keep building new fracked gas pipelines. Virginia must continue its environmental leadership by ensuring the Mountain Valley Pipeline is stopped.

The State Water Control Board members can be the heroes we need to help stop this pipeline’s devastation.

I urge them wholeheartedly to stand up for our communities. Today, I hope to see the board prioritize environmental justice and deny the Mountain Valley pipeline this key water permit.

Sam Rasoul, a Democrat, represents the city of Roanoke in the Virginia House of Delegates.

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