Attorney General Mark Herring (D) last week attended the second of three “Healing Virginia” discussions being held by the Loudoun NAACP and community partners. While the actions Herring has already taken and proposed to take are commendable, his response to the questions posed to him on environmental justice in Virginia were dismaying.
One of the panelists for the event, Karen Campblin, is the NAACP Virginia State Conference Environmental and Climate Justice chair. She spoke about the very real, near-term and disastrous impacts climate change will have on communities of color (CoCs). She addressed how CoCs are negatively impacted by three pipeline projects, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP), the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) and the Southside Connector, all currently under construction in Virginia. While Herring appropriately talked at length about steps that the community could take in order to remove road signs with segregationists’ names on them – like Harry Flood Byrd Highway – and other similar issues, the impact of climate change and fossil fuel infrastructure on African American communities did not receive a single word from him.
During the question and answer portion of the event, I asked Herring directly what his office is doing to protect vulnerable communities, considering the greatest predictor of the location of fossil fuel infrastructure is whether or not it’s a CoC. His disappointing response was deflection to the legislature.
Attorneys general are tasked with providing consumer protection from dangerous products, which fossil fuels are, and from bad corporate actors, which fossil fuel construction and distribution companies are. In the 1990s, it was state attorneys general that went after the tobacco industry for the public health crisis they were causing and won. Climate change will certainly kill more of us than tobacco will.
Attorneys general are further tasked with the protection of the state's resources by upholding state and federal environmental laws. Herring’s office has argued to continue the moratorium on uranium mining in Virginia and won at both the 4th Circuit and the Supreme Court. The MVP, ACP and Southside Connector are already harming potable water, poison-free land and breathable air across huge swaths of Virginia. The MVP alone has had over 300 construction violations, prompting AG Herring’s office to file lawsuits against the pipeline construction company, while inconceivably allowing construction to continue.
Enough is enough. Virginia's attorney general must issue a halt work on the MVP, pursue his lawsuit against MVP to its fullest, refuse to settle the case, reverse his staff's poor legal advice at the last Water Control Board hearing and affirm the state's authority to revoke the Clean Water Act 401 certification it granted.
To convince him of this, hundreds of people will gather on the Leesburg Courthouse lawn on May 18 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. to listen to speakers, hear music from the affected communities and find out how they can put pressure on Herring to use his power and authority to stop these tragedies from further harming our great commonwealth.