–A putting green, golf cart shuttle ‘courtesy of Dominion,’ and Master’s-inspired banner are greeting DEQ employees right now
–Activists question cozy culture of influence after revelation that Virginia’s top environmental regulator, David Paylor, took a golf vacation on Dominion’s dime
Richmond, Va. — Two dozen concerned citizens are currently staging a “golf tournament” in front of the headquarters of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality to highlight the questionable relationship between the agency’s director, David Paylor, and Dominion Virginia Power, the state’s largest climate polluter.
Recent reporting by Washington’s WAMU radio station revealed that Paylor, the top state official responsible for overseeing Dominion’s controversial coal ash disposal plans, let Dominion pay his way to the 2013 Master’s golf tournament, a trip valued at $2,300. Activists are concerned that this gift is emblematic of a longstanding, cozy relationship between Dominion and top state officials, one they worry is negatively impacting the quality of Virginians’ air and water.
As of 9:30 a.m. this morning, Department of Environmental Quality employees and passersby will have a chance to play mini golf on a large putting green, or hop on-board one of two golf cart shuttles offering courtesy trips to Dominion’s downtown offices. A large green banner, themed after the Master’s logo and slogan reads, “Dominion & DEQ: A tradition unlike any other.”
“Virginia’s top environmental regulator should never have considered accepting gifts, let alone a golf vacation, from Virginia’s top polluter,” said Drew Gallagher, field organizer at the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. “This is a glaring conflict of interest, and it raises troubling questions about who is truly looking out for the health and safety of Virginians. From coal ash pollution to pipelines to climate policy, we see Dominion’s interests being put before those of the public time and again.”
DEQ ignited a firestorm of criticism in January, when the agency and the State Water Control Board signed off on permits that allow Dominion to dump millions of gallons of toxic coal ash wastewater into the Potomac and James Rivers. Those permits allowed Dominion to discharge toxins like arsenic at levels far exceeding limits set by neighboring North Carolina. DEQ will decide this spring on additional water discharge permits, as well as solid waste permits that would allow Dominion to “cap” leaky, unlined coal ash ponds in place, where toxins could continue to leach into Virginia waterways for decades to come.
Advocates and concerned citizens say that Director Paylor’s actions have raised alarm bells beyond the issuing of these controversial permits:
- Paylor repeatedly said that “no water was discharged” into state waters in response to questions about Dominion’s secretive and potentially illegal dumping of nearly 30 million gallons of untreated coal ash wastewater into Quantico Creek, a tributary of the Potomac River, in May 2015. Dominion and DEQ later admitted the dumping had happened, prompting the Potomac Riverkeeper Network and the city of Dumfries to call for a criminal investigation by the Environmental Protection Agency.
- In March of 2015, Paylor testified before the U.S. Congress in support of industry-backed legislation that would have delayed, weakened, and eliminated various health and safety provisions in new federal rules for coal ash disposal. In testifying, Paylor misrepresented himself as sharing “Virginia’s views,” even though he was not testifying on behalf of the McAuliffe administration.
- For over a decade, spanning Paylor’s tenure at DEQ, the agency has known that Dominion’s coal ash ponds at the Chesapeake Energy Center along the Elizabeth River and at the Possum Point plant along Quantico Creek have been leaking high levels of dangerous pollutants into groundwater and local waterways. Given DEQ’s failure to address this toxic contamination, the Southern Environmental Law Center and the Sierra Club have sued Dominion under the federal Clean Water Act.
Drew Gallagher, (804) 896-2654, firstname.lastname@example.org
Photos from today’s action are available for use at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/chesapeakeclimate/albums/72157663967379614