What’s the problem with Dominion Energy?

Dominion Energy’s use of it’s financial influence over Virginia’s state government to implement policies profitable to Dominion while harmful to Virginians is well-documented, and as a legalized monopoly, the corporation uses its captive ratepayers to fund its malpractices.

Dominion has given over $10 million in donations to almost every Virginia state legislator or statewide candidate both Democrat and Republican over the past two decades. The corporation is also known for showering public officials with gifts, like the thousands of dollars’ worth of gifts given to David Paylor, Department of Environmental Quality director and one of the state’s top regulatory officials.  By wielding financial influence over all aspects of Virginia’s government, Dominion is able to push harmful policies through the state legislature and get away with abusing its ratepayers.

For example, the General Assembly passed the 2015 rate freeze bill that resulted in Dominion overcharging rate payers hundreds of millions of dollars in 2016 alone.  According to a recent study done on Dominion’s political influence and policies, “From 2017 to 2018, Dominion increased it’s lobbying, gift, and advertising expenditures ten-fold while successfully pushing to enact a law that was expected to substantially increase customers’ electric bills.”  (The full study, which includes more details on some of the facts above and other aspects of Dominion’s influence, can be found here).  Additionally, billions of dollars in costs from Dominion’s Atlantic Coast pipeline will be charged to ratepayers despite the project’s lack of necessity being well-proven, while Dominion has abused eminent domain laws to steal private property for the unnecessary project.

The corporation has also managed to block numerous bills that would require it to take more measures to implement clean, renewable energy and bills that would allow for community solar energy programs.  For example, Dominion’s lobbying resulted in the defeat of bills HB1490, which would have mandated 100 percent renewable energy by a certain date and a moratorium on new fossil fuel infrastructure, and SB1208, which encouraged the ownership by customers of community solar energy sources.  Dominion’s push for more fossil fuel projects, like the Atlantic Coast pipeline, rather than clean energy is especially dangerous considering the recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that calls for drastic reductions in methane, the primary component of the gas slated for the pipeline, and found that we only have until 2030 to implement policies that prevent catastrophic climate change.

Dominion wields its political power to not only abuse captive Virginia ratepayers, but also to get away with the abuse of the environment and the communities surrounding its polluting infrastructure.  The corporation’s disregard for the environment is underscored by its 41 federal environmental violations and over $1.2 billion in penalties since 2000.  These violations are only at the federal level and do not include local or state environmental violations, nor do they include violations in other areas like nuclear safety violations, workplace safety and health violations and more.  A comprehensive list of Dominion’s federal violations can be found here.  This long rap sheet of violations of regulatory laws demonstrate Dominion’s ability to simply pay a fine and walk away versus being confronted with real government actions that force the corporation to change its ways.

A clear example of this is Dominion’s handling of toxic coal ash.  Dominion’s unlined coal ash ponds have been proven to cause toxic contamination of nearby water.  A report found that the drinking water of residents neighboring one of Dominion’s coal ash ponds contained arsenic, hexavalent chromium, cobalt, boron, strontium, and many more dangerous chemicals, many of which are carcinogenic.  Virginia’s regulatory agencies are well aware of these dangers, yet, at the behest of Dominion lobbyists, have refused to make the corporation move the toxic coal ash.

Further, dangerous projects like Dominion’s Atlantic Coast pipeline (ACP) and accompanying Buckingham compressor station are being rubber stamped by Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) under the corporation’s influence.  The State Water Control Board, at the recommendation of the DEQ, approved the 401 water quality certification for the ACP despite overwhelming evidence that the pipeline is unnecessary and can not be constructed without violating Virginia’s water quality standards.  The recent suspension of the ACP’s NWP12 water crossing permits, on which the DEQ’s recommendation for the approval of state permits relied, proves that the DEQ and Water Board acted unjustly in approving the state water quality permits for the pipelines.

The DEQ’s recommendation for approval of the ACP’s water quality permits also helped win the approval of permits for the other pipeline threatening Virginia, the Mountain Valley pipeline (MVP).  It can be assumed that the DEQ could not turn down the permits for the MVP without affecting the ACP’s chances of approval, and thus the influence of Dominion, though not the owner of the MVP, may have had a hand in the MVP’s approval as well.  MVP construction has already resulted in massive water contamination and violations and has also had its NWP12 permit proven insufficient in the courts.

Dominion’s dangerous projects and environmental policies have been allowed even in the face of the corporation’s well-known practices of environmental racism and injustice.  For example, the majority of Dominion’s toxic coal ash ponds are in low-income communities and communities of color.  All along the route of Dominion’s ACP, low-income communities, communities of color, and Indigenous communities will shoulder a disproportionate share of the negative impacts.  The ACP’s compressor station in North Carolina will be placed in a predominantly African-American community in Northampton, and ACP’s compressor station in Virginia, the Buckingham compressor station, will be placed in the historic African-American community of Union Hill.  The environmental racism and injustice involved with ACP and Buckingham compressor station was documented by Governor Northam’s Advisory Council on Environmental Justice and submitted to Northam, yet under the influence of Dominion, the Governor has ignored the recommendations of the Advisory Council and even threatened the Council’s continuation.

Perhaps the most egregious recent example of corruption on Dominion’s behalf is Governor Northam’s decision to remove two members of the Air Pollution Control Board in the middle of its decision on Dominion’s Buckingham compressor station air permit.  At hearings on November 8-9, the terminated Board members, Rebecca Rubin and Sam Bliecher, voiced concerns over the environmental injustice and lack of necessity involved with the project.  Shortly after the Air Board voted to defer a decision on the air permit until its December 10 meeting, Northam replaced the two Air Board members.  The Governor claimed that the Board members’ terms were up and he had simply found replacements, but this is negated by the fact that it is common practice to allow Board members to serve beyond their term limits (as described in this article); and the fact that it had been years since one of the selected replacements for the terminated Board members had submitted an application for consideration.  Northam also had an undisclosed meeting with Dominion CEO Tom Farrell around the time of the termination of the two Air Board members.

It is clear that Dominion’s influence over Virginia’s state government is not to the benefit of Virginians and is a threat to the democratic and regulatory processes of our state — the time is now to get involved and stand up against this type of corporate corruption so that Dominion’s harmful policies cannot continue.

 

 

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