By Lisa Sorg
Thirteen environmental justice groups and their affiliates allege the state Department of Environmental Quality discriminated against communities of color when it approved permits for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.
The organizations, including Clean Water for North Carolina, the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, NC WARN, and many of the groups’ chapters, filed the Title VI civil rights complaint today against DEQ with the Environmental Protection Agency.
Title VI complaints can be filed only against entities that receive federal funding.
DEQ could not be immediately reached for comment.
Update: 1:40 p.m.: DEQ spokesperson Megan Thorpe issued a statement, saying the agency “conducted extensive public outreach in communities along the ACP route. The public input we received allowed us to strengthen our decisions within the scope of our authority.”
“The failure to assess the environmental justice impacts of the proposed ACP on communities of color along the route led to the improper actions taken by DEQ,” the complaint reads. The procedures for issuing the permit “were not fair and impartial.”
The complaint continues:
“The actions allowed by the permit decisions would have a significant and adverse impact on the health and well-being of the members of the Environmental Justice Groups, and on their families, the use and enjoyment of their property, the value of their property and other economic interests. Again, members in communities of color would bear a disproportionate impact.
Many of the families on the ACP route are having their property taken by the ACP through eminent domain. Many of the families are within the blast zone and / or evacuation zones around the proposed pipeline. Many of the families have drinking water wells which may be negatively impacted by groundwater contamination from the proposed pipeline. Many of the families will be significantly and adversely impacted by the toxic air pollutants emitted by the pipeline and the proposed compressor station in Northampton County.”
The ACP is a 600-mile natural gas pipeline starting at a fracking operation in West Virginia. The pipeline, co-owned by Dominion Power and Duke Energy, runs through Virginia before entering North Carolina in Northampton County. From, there it continues another 160 miles through eight counties in eastern North Carolina, including American Indian and Black communities.
Valerie Williams, a member of Concerned Stewards of Halifax County and an African American landowner in Halifax County, said in a prepared statement: “The land is our family tree and it speaks of legacies, heritage, and memories. No one would take that away from us.” She resolves, “No pipelines on our valuable historic farms. No intruders on our land.”
In the complaint, NC WARN attorney John Runkle described the “curious” way federal regulators measured potential ACP impacts on local residents: comparing the incomes of residents close to the pipeline with statewide incomes, while only comparing racial characteristics of residents close to the pipeline with the county in which the project is located.
He noted that analysis, conducted by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, masked large disproportionate impacts on communities of color, particularly Native American and African-American populations along the route.
A study conducted by the Research Triangle Institute found the federal analysis – which was adopted by the state agencies – failed to account for racial disparities. “The counties crossed by proposed ACP route collectively have a significantly higher percentage minority population than the rest of the counties in the state,” RTI concluded.
FERC approved a certificate of necessity for the ACP, but DEQ was responsible for issuing water quality, buffer, air, sedimentation and other permits.
The filing occurred just two weeks after DEQ Secretary Michael Regan announced the formation of the Environmental Justice and Equity Advisory Board. Its charge is to advise the agency on issues of disproportionate impacts of contamination and polluting industries on communities of color and low-income residents.