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Opinion/Editorial: Air board appointments shock, surprise

Opinion/Editorial: Air board appointments shock, surprise

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Gov. Ralph Northam is no Donald Trump.

Or is he?

Mr. Trump is known for — some would say infamous for — tone-deaf comments or bull-in-china-shop actions regarding public policy.

Mr. Northam has more finesse.

On the other hand, The Donald also is known for getting rid of those who disagree with him or who try to impede his plans.

Mr. Northam has just gotten rid of two State Air Pollution Control Board members less than a week after they voiced concerns over the Atlantic Coast Pipeline compressor station planned for Buckingham County.

You’d have to twist yourself into a pretzel trying to come up with a position on this decision other than the obvious one: Gov. Northam deliberately removed the two people most likely to object to approval of the compressor station.

The decision and its timing are just too conspicuous to be coincidental — although the governor says there is no connection.

If you believe that the governor never intended to eliminate dissent, then you’d also have to conclude that he was clueless — or careless — about the impact of his decision, a la Trump.

Not only did the removals occur a mere six days after the pair aired their concerns about the compressor station, but they come less than a month before the board meets again to consider that facility.

Let’s pause here to consider some political facts of life.

The governor has full authority to appoint members to boards or to remove them at will; members serve at his pleasure.

Additionally, these particular members already had been serving beyond their official terms, which had expired in June — although it is common practice for members to remain active until replaced. It’s also not unusual for a governor to make new appointments some months after these official expiration dates.

Also not to be missed is the fact that citizen boards have tremendous power in the Virginia system. As the commonwealth’s Department of Environmental Quality points out on its website, boards “appointed by the governor are responsible for adopting many of Virginia’s environmental regulations. DEQ administers the regulations as approved by the boards.”

Another key element: One of the new board members is from Albemarle County and is a professional energy, environment and economics consultant. Dr. Kajal Kapur has assisted local and federal governments with sustainability, conservation and climate change analyses, according to her company’s website.

Perhaps her expertise will emerge as particularly important in arriving at a fair decision on the compressor station.

Of course, a switch at this stage of the game means that the new appointees will have to come up to speed rapidly on an issue in which veteran board members have been immersed for months.

Right before a major decision is typically not a good moment to upend a group’s membership, all other things being equal.

To opponents of the replacement maneuver, however, that aspect of timing is only part of the issue. More critical is the implication that the governor deliberately dumped compressor critics — and perhaps even replaced them with people more likely to smooth the facility’s path.

We seriously doubt that Gov. Northam was clueless about how this maneuver would be perceived.




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Related to this story

The headline of The Daily Progress’ Nov. 20 editorial, “Air board appointments shock, surprise,” captures the feelings of many around Virginia. Opponents of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline — and associated projects like the huge, hazardous compressor station proposed in Buckingham County — have long been frustrated by Gov. Ralph Northam’s lack of leadership in protecting Virginia’s environment.

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