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Bill stripping citizen boards of permitting authority headed to House floor

The House of Delegates is considering a Senate bill that would strip permitting authority from two citizen boards.

When the Air Pollution Control Board denied a permit for a pipeline compressor station in Chatham, some criticized the ability of a citizen-led board to issue permits. One of those people is Republican Senator Richard Stuart of King George County. Now he has a bill stripping the Air Pollution Control Board of deciding who gets a permit and who doesn't.

"You have a board who makes a decision, not necessarily due to the science or the facts as we have seen in the past and they don't have to explain themselves," Stuart explains. "So this bill actually opens up the transparency of these decisions in my opinion."

The Air Pollution Control Board meets and votes in public, although its members sometimes make controversial decisions. Stuart’s bill strips permitting authority from that board as well as the Water Control Board – giving permitting authority for air pollution and water quality to state officials. Former Water Control Board Chairman Shelton Miles says that’s a mistake.

"The State Water Control Board makes its decisions based upon the public record after full public input and full public deliberation, which has been included. But also a public vote," Miles says. "All of that happens in transparency in public. That's not going to happen if this bill is passed."

The Senate has already approved Stuart's bill, and a House committee approved it Wednesday. So it's on its way to the House floor, where it's likely to get a welcome reception.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria.