There have been quite a few bills presented and passed that give me great concern.
Rather than making a list, I will mention a particular bill, SB657.
Senate Bill 657 essentially curtails the power of two citizen boards and shifts a significant measure of their authority to the staff and Governor-appointed Director of the Department of Environmental Quality. The Boards in question are the State Air Pollution Control Board and the State Water Control Board.
To quote the “Impact Statement” attached to the bill, “[The bill] limits the authority of the Air Pollution Control Board and the Water Control Board to issuance of regulations [only] and transfers the existing authority to issue permits and orders to the Department of Environmental Quality.” Senate Bill 657 was passed by the Senate and given final approval and passage by the House of Delegates yesterday, February 28th. It will now go to Gov. Youngkin, whom I have no doubt, will gladly sign it.
You may be aware that these two citizen boards have come under much scrutiny in the past few years, as they have been involved and responsible for the permitting decisions made about the construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline. While the Boards have not been “a brick wall” protecting environmental and social justice advocates’ interests, they have listened to the public in public and made reasonable decisions. Most of those decisions delayed the construction of the pipeline, which was planned to be built in protected parkland and towns historically socially and economically disadvantaged and much of the land owned by people of color.
The Boards are composed of citizen members appointed by the Governor. Even though they are technically political appointees, the Boards’ members have been very independent in their actions and decisions. The Boards are the only established citizen input mechanisms into air pollution control decisions and water quality control decisions legally recognized by the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Governors and legislators from both parties have sought to limit the authority of the Boards over the years that they have been in existence. Most recent and most notable was Governor Northam’s abrupt dismissal of two members of the Air Pollution Control Board as they considered a crucial permit decision to allow a compressor station for Dominion Energy’s Atlantic Coast Pipeline to be built at Union Hill, a predominantly Black community settled by freed people and those formerly enslaved. The Board’s statutory authority included the ability to evaluate the “suitability of the activity to the area in which it is located”. And according to one of the dismissed Air Pollution Control Board members, “moving the station would not address the larger questions about the stringency of the proposed air permit, the need for the pipeline and the pipeline’s public health and environmental consequences”–all critically important questions needing to be responded to before a final decision was made.
Between 2006 and 2010 the Kaine administration and the legislature “regularly undermined the Board when we chose to deviate from DEQ’s permitting and regulatory recommendations and adopt tighter standards,” said a former State Air Pollution Control Board member.
Briefly: the State Water Control Board is responsible for administering the Virginia Water Control Law, enacted in 1950, And the Ground Water Control Management Act of 1992 underscores the need for this Board “pursuant to the groundwater Act of 1973, the continued unrestricted usage of ground water is contributing and will continue to contribute to pollution and shortage of ground water, thereby jeopardizing the public welfare, safety and health….the right to reasonable control of all ground water resources within this Commonwealth belongs to the public, and that in order to conserve, protect and beneficially utilize the ground water of the commonwealth and to ensure the public welfare, safety and health, provision for management and control of ground water resources is essential.” The Water Control Board and the Air Pollution Control Board protect the public welfare, safety and health in the most democratic way possible — by oversight from citizen Boards in the public view of all citizens.
Delegate Kory represents the 38th District in the Virginia House of Delegates. She may be emailed at [email protected]