One of Governor Ralph Northam’s new appointments for the State Air Pollution Control Board says she was first contacted “a few days ago” about the role.
Kajal Kapur, who runs a Charlottesville-based environmental consultancy, said her appointment was a “delightful surprise” after first applying to a vacancy in 2015.
“They called sometime to discuss the qualifications,” Kapur said on Tuesday. “I believe it was a few days ago.”
For critics of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, the timeline casts further doubt on Northam’s motives for replacing two former board members who’d voiced skepticism about a piece of pipeline infrastructure.
“Clearly, this was a sudden, rushed decision by the Governor,” said Mike Tidewell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. “The timing is stunningly suspect.”
The Northam administration says his November 16 appointments was unrelated to the pending vote on the controversial Buckingham Compressor Station.
“These were terms that expired back in June,” Northam said on Monday. “My job is to put new members. And there’s a lot of enthusiasm and people that wanted to serve on these boards.”
Northam’s communications director, Ofirah Yeheskel, said that governor had arrived at his decision after reviewing “a field of very qualified applicants.”
Northam has the ability to appoint new members of boards once terms expire on state’s citizen boards. A Richmond-TImes Dispatch report counted 235 expired terms on other state boards that the governor has yet to replace.
Kate Addleson, director of the Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club, said the latest timeline suggested a hurried process.
“This--like everything we've learned about how Northam handled this situation--seems to point to a rushed decision that belies an ulterior motive,” she wrote in an email. “As a result, Northam has lost people's trust because of his willingness to side with a polluter like Dominion Energy over vulnerable communities.”
Kapur said she was still getting up to speed on Dominion Energy’s proposed facility in Buckingham ahead of a December 10 vote on permits for the facility.
“I’ve looked at the compressor station question more after the appointment, because reporters like yourself have been calling me and asking me about this,” Kapur said. “And I don’t have an opinion…. I make up my opinion after looking at things very carefully.”
Some residents in a historic African American community near the site are worried about pollution from the plant, and say there’s a strong environmental justice argument to moving the facility away from a historically disadvantaged community.
The state says the plant will be the safest of its kind in the country. Dominion has also promised over $5 million to the community.
Kapur said her firm, Kapur Energy Environment Economics LLC, specializes in economic, policy, regulatory and environmental issues and has done work for the Environmental Protection Agency but not Dominion.
“It’s a very detail-oriented, data-oriented approach that we take in my firm because of my economics background,” Kapur said.
She said the governor’s office hadn’t asked her about the Buckingham facility specifically, focusing instead on her background and experience.
“I don’t know how many people applied or how many people were interested,” Kapur said. “But to get chosen is definitely something I’m very happy and excited about. ”