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Sylvester-Johnson: Pollution Control Board has a chance to do the right thing

Sylvester-Johnson: Pollution Control Board has a chance to do the right thing

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Joy Sylvester-Johnson

Joy Sylvester-Johnson

Are some people disposable?

One might ask why the Mountain Valley Pipeline has chosen to build its Lambert Compressor Station in the only majority-minority election district in Pittsylvania County. It’s own consultants acknowledge the station will emit pollution within ten miles of at least ten distinct communities with disproportionately minority or low-income populations.

For many years, case studies have found that natural gas pipelines primarily cross through socially vulnerable communities. Once this was done without notice or resistance, but today it has become a question of environmental injustice and has resulted in major lawsuits against gas companies and lengthy public acts of protest by citizens everywhere new pipelines are being constructed.

The very real risk to public health, the lowering of property values, the damage to the environment and the disruption to the lives of communities least able to defend themselves from this sort of “planning” should be enough to make the members of the Virginia Pollution Control Board pause before issuing an air permit to Equitrans Midstream (the developer of the MVP and the Southgate projects).

The Mountain Valley Pipeline already has requested permission to emit more than 100,000 pounds of pollution each year into the air of Pittsylvania County including concentrations of so-called “non-threshold pollutants” — like ozone and particulate matter for which there is no safe threshold — as well as neurotoxins like hexane and known carcinogens like formaldehyde.

The meeting of the Virginia Pollution Control Board to vote on the requested air permit is to be held in person this September in Richmond, which is more than three hours away from the impacted communities. The meeting format currently offers no call-in or virtual option for citizens who,live in areas where the internet is not available or reliable and is symptomatic of the limited public engagement that has plagued this proposal.

But it’s a new day. This time the board has a chance to do the right thing for public health, environmental justice and the future of our climate by denying the Lambert Compressor Station an air permit, just as the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality recently did for Southgate’s water permit.

The Virginia Pollution Control Board has an opportunity to tell the people of Pittsylvania County that they are not disposable. They can set a new trajectory which will inspire trust instead of doing “business as usual” leaving a number of socially vulnerable and economically challenged communities in their wake.

If you agree that no community is disposable, let the Virginia Pollution Control Board know by emailing them at : CitizenBoards@DEQ.Virginia.gov

Or contact the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality at

P.O. Box 1105 Richmond, VA 23218

Or Call them at:

1-804-698-4000

1-800-592-5482

Joy Sylvester-Johnson is an activist with the Citizens Climate Lobby.

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Michael Paul Williams — a columnist with the Richmond Times-Dispatch in Richmond, Va. — won the 2021 Pulitzer Prize in Commentary "for penetrating and historically insightful columns that guided Richmond, a former capital of the Confederacy, through the painful and complicated process of dismantling the city's monuments to white supremacy."

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