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Friday, 30 November 2018 14:01

Del. Mark Keam on Removal of Two Air Board Members

Written by Del. Mark Keam

"I am hoping that this is nothing but a very badly botched personnel decision made in the worst possible timing.”

For the past several months, I’ve been vocal about my opposition to the two proposed fracked gas pipelines being proposed in Virginia, one of which is owned by Dominion Energy.

I’ve joined hundreds of Virginians in raising our specific concerns to Governor Ralph Northam and his senior staff by holding press conferences, writing letters, filing public comments, signing petitions, and showing up at various rallies.

Earlier today, I was contacted by a couple of environmental activists who said they heard rumors that Governor Northam was going to replace some citizens who serve as volunteers on state boards that oversee the pipelines.

Although these citizens serve at the pleasure of a Governor, and the chief executive has the right to fire anyone he wishes to, the concerns raised to me were about specific appointees and the timing of this decision.

They were concerned that Governor Northam, who has been supportive of these pipelines, would replace commissioners who oppose pipelines with those who support them, thereby impacting the final decisions to be made by the state’s air and water boards.

When I heard this “rumor,” I dismissed it as some kind of crazy conspiracy. Knowing Governor Northam to be a good and decent man, I couldn’t imagine that he would use his authority in such a starkly political way to influence decisions to be made by an independent board.

Well, I just caught up with the news tonight and it seems that this is exactly what is going on here in Virginia — our Governor seems to have fired a couple of specific citizen board members right before a major decision is to be made by that board.

And by no coincidence, these are the very board members who were vocal about their opposition to the pipelines!

Sam Bliecher and Rebecca Rubin currently serve on the Air Pollution Control Board, and Roberta Kellum on the Water Pollution Control Board.

These members have two things in common: They have been critical of Dominion’s pipeline proposal, and their terms have expired in June.

In my correspondences with the Governor a few months ago, his senior staff assured me that these appointees would continue to serve beyond their terms, which they explained to me, is a common practice.

Yet, now that the Air Board is scheduled to meet on December 10 to vote on the highly controversial compressor station in a low income African American community that must be built to support the pipelines, these board members are being removed based on the excuse that their terms expired?

Why couldn’t they be removed at the end of the year instead of right now? And how quickly can their replacements on the boards be installed and educated on this complex issue in time to vote on December 10?

This decision by Governor Northam is truly puzzling, and I really hope there’s a legitimate explanation other than his goal to influence the outcome of the pipeline permitting process.

I really like Governor Northam a lot as I have worked with him in the General Assembly when he was a State Senator, and I campaigned hard for him both in 2013 and 2017.

I agree with almost every policy position he has taken, except for this issue over gas pipelines.

That is why I am hoping that this is nothing but a very badly botched personnel decision made in the worst possible timing.

If not, this could be a disappointing and horrible example of abuse of power by a state official that I would not have expected from my friend Ralph Northam.

Read 57 times Last modified on Friday, 30 November 2018 14:13

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