Did the Black Lives Matter movement impact an SCC ruling on a Virginia Natural Gas pipeline?

Virginia News

CHESAPEAKE, Va. (WAVY) — A Virginia attorney who fights public utilities and the taking of private property says he thinks the current culture climate helped impact a recent natural gas pipeline ruling. 

Last week, the State Corporation Commission put on hold a Virginia Natural Gas Pipeline project that would run near predominately-minority communities. 

“It absolutely had an impact,” attorney Brian Kunze said of the Black Lives Matter movement’s impact on the SCC ruling. 

Chesapeake resident Rodolfo Matarita wears a mask that says, “I can’t breathe.” His neighbor has a “Black Lives Matter” sign in his front yard. He says economic disparity is a reason his community and others couldn’t defeat Virginia Natural Gas’ previous efforts to put in a 24-inch pipeline through their neighborhoods. Matarita is convinced of this.

“I believe with the protests happening today with the cultural change … we would have defeated the pipeline … because people would have seen black people trying to get ahead … and then we are blocked.” 

Let’s make it clear, when he speaks of cultural change, he is talking about the Black Lives Matter movement.  

Matarita and his attorney both think they lost because the minority community did not have money or political power to win.   

“Black lives matter and black homes matter. They (the State Corporation Commission) want to make sure they are not damaging these historically African American communities,” Kunze added. 

So, last week when the SCC delayed a Virginia Natural Gas pipeline project in another minority Chesapeake neighborhood, Kunze took notice.

“The SCC has for a long time issued blank checks to utilities for projects like these, and finally they have taken back that blank check.” 

The SCC told us the reason for the pipeline delay was primarily economic uncertainty with the project, but the SCC noted to the gas company to address environmental justice issues to prevent “disproportionate adverse impact on economically disadvantaged or minority communities.” 

July 1, new Virginia Laws go on the books.  The 2020 General Assembly adopted the Virginia Clean Economy Act (VCEA) which became effective July 1, 2020. This pipeline improvement application was filed by Virginia Natural Gas in December 2019.

Ken Schrad is director of the division of information resources for the SCC and makes clear the pipeline delay was caused by concerns over the economic uncertainties of the $346-million gas pipeline project running through South Norfolk and other areas of Chesapeake. 

Our sister station contacted Virginia Natural Gas. 

“Virginia Natural Gas is in receipt of the preliminary order issued by the State Corporation Commission. We look forward to working with the SCC, Department of Environmental Quality, and other relevant state agencies to develop a model project that meets all regulations. It would be inappropriate for us to speculate on the decision-making process of the State Corporation Commission and would refer you to them for your questions,” Rick DelaHaya, a spokesman for Virginia Natural Gas. 

Louise Baltimore, who lives in the Holly Point Apartments — almost on top of where the pipeline is buried in her backyard — thinks had they fought Virginia Natural Gas today, and not three years ago, in the current political climate today, they may have won, 

“I’m quite sure we would have held up, but  I’m sure it would’ve been a different scenario.” 

Virginia Natural Gas has until December 31 to resolve several issues laid out in the 18-page SCC ruling.  

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