Council on Environmental Justice asks Northam to institute fossil fuel infrastructure ban

Council on Environmental Justice asks Northam to institute fossil fuel infrastructure ban
Coal stacks at the now-closed Potomac River Generating Station in Alexandria, Va. (Source: Sarah Vogelsong/Virginia Mercury)

The Virginia Council on Environmental Justice is asking Gov. Ralph Northam to issue a moratorium on all new fossil fuel projects and permits in the state.

In an April 7 letter signed by 12 members of the 21-person advisory body, the council argues that a ban is necessary “to avoid future devastation” and calls on Northam “to fulfill your climate and environmental justice commitments.”

“When we move rapidly and boldly from fossil fuels to clean affordable energy sources, we will transform our economy to be more just and sustainable,” council members wrote. “Widespread adoption of renewable energies will create new jobs, establish cleaner infrastructure, and ensure a healthier future for all.”

Exactly whether Northam has the legal authority to issue such a moratorium is unclear. Michael Kelly, chief of staff for Attorney General Mark Herring, said in an email that “the specific question of authority is legal advice that we would only be able to provide to a state government client.”

However, he wrote, “Attorney General Herring is extremely skeptical of the environmental and economic wisdom of significant new fossil fuel infrastructure at a time when we need to be investing in cleaner energy to address climate change and create jobs.”

The council’s request comes as Mountain Valley Pipeline, the beleaguered 303-mile conduit intended to carry large quantities of natural gas from the Marcellus and Utica shale fields into Virginia and beyond, faces fresh challenges in obtaining necessary permits from Virginia.