By Grant Smith – Capital News Service
A score of environmental activists practiced their putting Wednesday outside the headquarters of the state Department of Environmental Quality, highlighting the recent controversy over Dominion Virginia Power’s paying for DEQ Director David Paylor’s trip to the Masters golf tournament in 2013.
The protesters, dressed in golf attire, displayed a Masters-inspired banner that read “Dominion & DEQ, a tradition unlike any other.” Meanwhile, other protest members boarded golf carts, shuttling between the DEQ office and Dominion’s headquarters several blocks away.
On March 14, WAMU, a public radio station in Washington, reported that Dominion paid for Paylor to attend the Masters Tournament on April 13-14, 2013, in Augusta, Ga. On his financial disclosure statement filed with the secretary of the commonwealth, Paylor estimated the trip’s value at $2,370.
Neither DEQ nor Dominion intervened in connection with the protest event that lasted for several hours Wednesday morning.
“There was some activity in front of the building today. It did not cause any disruption,” said DEQ spokesperson Bill Hayden. “We really don’t have much to say other than to reiterate that Mr. Paylor’s golf trip had nothing to do with the Dominion permits that were recently issued.”
But the protesters disagree.
“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.
Over the past few months, the approval of two DEQ permits that would allow Dominion to discharge treated water from coal ash ponds into the Potomac and James rivers has drawn opposition from environmental groups, concerned citizens and some state legislators.
The disclosure of Paylor’s 2013 trip to the Masters has become a focal point for environmentalists who perceive the approval of the coal ash permits as an indicator of the influence Dominion has over politicians and regulators alike.
“I think what people see is business as usual – Dominion proposes something, and they get it despite massive overwhelming opposition,” Gallagher said.
Gallagher went on to explain the inspiration for the satirical, golf-themed protest. He cited the sit-in demonstration earlier this month when 17 students from the Virginia Student Environmental Coalition were arrested after occupying the DEQ lobby for three hours.
“We have seen several arrestable actions recently, where people have been willing to put their body in harm’s way to highlight what they see as a flawed process,” Gallagher said.
“That’s certainly an important part of effecting change, but sometimes people need to have a smile and a laugh. We thought that it would be good to take (the issue) in a lighter direction.”
Paylor has declined to comment specifically on the WAMU story. However, in an earlier statement, he said, “The people who work at DEQ take their environmental stewardship obligations seriously, and recent accusations against DEQ’s integrity are baseless.
“The quality of Virginia’s rivers and streams has improved dramatically over the years. DEQ will continue to write and enforce permits that protect Virginia’s environment in the consistent, thorough and responsible manner that Virginians deserve.”