This week the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) submitted comments on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) draft environmental impact statement for Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line (Transco)’s proposed Commonwealth Energy Connector Project and Columbia Gas Transmission’s Virginia Reliability Project (VRP).
The comments were submitted on behalf of the Sierra Club in partnership with Chesapeake Bay Foundation and Chesapeake Climate Action Network. The current draft EIS does not adequately address environmental justice impacts, alternatives that would avoid the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, alternative methods for the Project’s waterbody crossings, and the alternatives to building the Southside Reliability Enhancement Project’s Compressor Station 168.
The majority of the communities in the projects’ paths are defined as environmental justice communities, which face disproportionate health risks from pollution. That includes many living in the vicinity of the proposed expansion of the gas-fired Petersburg Compressor Station.
“The communities that will be impacted by the construction and operation of this project deserve more scrutiny of this project and its potential impacts,” said Taylor Lilley, Environmental Justice Staff Attorney for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
The proposed expansion of the Petersburg Compressor Station would increase emissions of many pollutants that threaten public health, including increasing nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide to unhealthy levels higher than air quality standards. People in environmental justice communities live as close as 1,200 feet from the compressor station site. The census tract next to the project site is in the 89th percentile for levels of people suffering from asthma and 69th percentile for low-income population.
“Replacing the existing gas units with electric or hybrid units would add capacity while improving local air quality. The fact that the gas companies didn’t even consider an electric option shows a glaring lack of concern for the people burdened by pollution from the Petersburg Compressor Station,” Lilley said.
Threats from the Petersburg Compressor Station, combined with other nearby industrial facilities, will only increase health risks to the community from polluted air. Air pollution will eventually fall back to the ground and waterways, increasing pollution to Virginia rivers, streams, and the Chesapeake Bay.
Columbia Gas has said the VRP will help meet greater demand for power in the Hampton Roads region of the state. Specifically, the project will replace existing 12-inch diameter pipes with 24 inches pipelines along a 49-plus mile route, from Sussex to Chesapeake, with construction starting as early as 2024.
As a result, the project is proposing to increase the horsepower of the Petersburg compressor station, increasing the pollution of an already cumulatively disadvantaged community. A final EIS must fully evaluate the Petersburg compressor station as well as alternatives to what is currently proposed.
“Alternatives to increasing the Petersburg Compressor Station’s horsepower and thus the pollution of an environmental justice community needs to be explored, including the ‘no action’ alternative.” said Lynn Godfrey, Sierra Club’s Just Transition Program Manager.
Greg Buppert, Senior Attorney and leader of SELC’s regional gas team, said “people across the state are watching these projects.”
“These are two projects that we and others are watching closely. Communities in this part of the state are being hit on every side. Rising sea levels and increased flooding. Dealing with the impacts of past bad projects and pollution. The climate and environmental justice impacts must be fully explored, taken into consideration, and addressed.”