Jump to Navigation
Jump to Content

Friends of Buckingham v. State Air Pollution Control Board

ELR Citation: 50 ELR 20018
Nos. 19-1152, (4th Cir., 01/07/2020)

The Fourth Circuit vacated the Virginia Air Pollution Control Board's approval of a permit for construction of a compressor station associated with a natural gas pipeline in an historically African-American community. Environmental groups argued that the Board erred in failing to make any findings regarding the demographics of the community that would have allowed for a meaningful analysis of the likelihood of disproportionate harm. The court agreed, finding that the Board was presented with conflicting evidence about whether and how the community was a "minority" environmental justice population and provided no explanation as to its resolution of that conflict, thus violating both federal and Virginia law. The Board asserted that two of its members assumed it was an environmental justice community and that the court should assign that reasoning to the rest of the Board, but the court held that the Board could not assume away what it was required to decide. Further, the court found that the Board arbitrarily relied on the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality's (DEQ's) "woefully inadequate" site evaluation rather than independently determining whether this station was suitable for this particular site in light of environmental justice and potential health risks. The groups also argued that the Board erred in failing to consider electric turbines as zero-emission alternatives to gas-fired turbines. The court found that the Board's failure to consider electric turbines at all was the result of DEQ's reliance, without any explanation, on a nonexistent state "redefining the source" doctrine, and thus that the Board approval of the permit without consideration of the alternative was arbitrary and capricious. It therefore vacated the permit and remanded for further proceedings.