Friends, I have recently searched the Constitution of Virginia for any language describing a Virginian”s right to clean air and unpolluted water. Here is what I found (it may be dense, but definitely worth wading through):
“Article XI.Section 1. To the end that the people have clean air, pure water, and the use of enjoyment for recreation of adequate public lands, waters and other natural resources, it shall be the policy of the Commonwealth to conserve, develop and utilize its natural resources, its historical sites and buildings. Further, it shall be the Commonwealth’s policy to protect its atmosphere, lands and waters from pollution, impairments or destruction for the benefit, enjoyment and general welfare of the Commonwealth.”
“Article XI.Section 2. In the furtherance of such policy, the General Assembly may undertake conservation, development, or utilization of lands or natural resources of the Commonwealth, the acquisition and protection of historical sites and buildings, and the protection of its atmosphere, lands and waters from pollution, impairment or destruction by agencies of the Commonwealth or by the creation of public authorities, or by eases or other contracts with agencies of the United States, with other states, with units of government in the Commonwealth, or with private persons or corporations. Notwithstanding the time limitations of ArticleX. Section 7 (‘no appropriation shall be payable more than two years and six months after..end of session..law is enacted..’) of this Constitution the Commonwealth may participate for any period of years in the cost of projects which shall be the subject of a joint undertaking between the Commonwealth and any agency of the United States or of other states.”
In April of this year, Governor Northam issued Executive Order 6 tasking the Department of Environmental Quality and the Secretary of Natural Resources to review their permitting, monitoring and enforcement activities, to report back within one year. There are multiple ways in which the DEQ could improve its activities to better serve its legal role of protecting Virginia’s environment and in adherence to the Virginia Constitution.
I filed HB363 in 2015 requiring the State Corporation Commission, in its consideration of an application for approval of an electrical generation facility (such as the proposed Union Hill compressor), to consider environmental effects not expressly governed by a permit or expressly considered by a permitting authority, including carbon emissions and the overall impacts of new and existing facilities on the health and welfare of the residents of the Commonwealth…also removes the provisions that prohibited the SCC from imposing additional conditions with respect to such matters. HB363 was left in the House Commerce and Labor Committee largely because the SCC argued that the bill was unconstitutional and committed to modifying its regulations along these lines.
I think that it is time to refile this legislation, to inquire about the progress of the DEQ and Secretary of Natural Resources’ compliance with Exec. Order 6, and to use Article XI Sections 1 and 2 to protect Union Hill against the damage that will be wrought by proposed air compressor.
The Union Hill compressor comment period is still open. Please let your voice be heard–it is time to show democracy in action!
Delegate Kory represents the 38th District in the Virginia House of Delegates. She may be emailed at [email protected]