Virginia Regulatory Town Hall
Department of Environmental Quality
Department of Environmental Quality
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2/25/23  6:59 am
Commenter: Bill Wright

Proposed Variance to Allow Data Centers to Operate on Diesel Generators

DEQ's website states its mission “is to protect and enhance the environment of Virginia in order to promote the health and well-being of the Commonwealth's citizens, residents, and visitors in accordance with applicable laws and regulations.”


I question how DEQ's mission squares with the accommodation being proposed to permit a single wealthy industry to hazard our health and well-being.


My skepticism about DEQ’s blind eye toward data center growth goes back some time.  On November 21, 2021, I asked regional director Tom Faha whether he intended to respond to a requested review of the Prince William Digital Gateway proposal. Despite the unprecedented scope of this project, Mr. Faha replied that: “Such proposals are considered local zoning matters and outside of the agency’s regulatory purview.”


In my follow-up e-mail to Mr. Faha on November 22, I stated: “While I understand that DEQ does not have direct jurisdiction over zoning matters in Prince William County, you are the state’s environmental experts and I expect that DEQ will at least render an opinion on the environmental risks and impacts of a project of this scope in order to protect the state’s equities and its citizens’ safety.” 


On December 16, after DEQ declined to submit a review, I wrote Mr. Faha again, lamenting that DEQ’s reluctance to engage until very late in the game “is like saying this poison might kill you, but I won’t know for sure until I conduct the autopsy after you’re dead.” 


On March 31, 2022, I wrote DEQ Director Mike Rolband imploring DEQ to engage in the review of the Prince William Digital Gateway after Fairfax County’s concerns made it a state issue.  His reply to me on April 6 stated: “it is premature for DEQ to offer opinions in advance of necessary permit applications.”


DEQ’s established pattern of after-the-fact engagement constitutes gross negligence that violates its mission and will hazard Virginia’s citizens.  Uncontrolled data center growth and irresponsible approvals by willfully ignorant local governments did not sneak up on anybody.  The crisis in electrical grid strain we are facing was not unforeseen.  And the current data center capacity causing this crisis is a fraction of what Prince William County has already recklessly approved, but not yet built out.  How many variances are in our future?


At what point will some local, state or federal agency step up and acknowledge what any child can see?  The data center industry is way out over its skis and requires more careful regulation.


As for this insulting variance, I suggest DEQ instead propose a temporary ceiling on cat videos and pictures of food, and recommend internet users catch up on their summer reading. 


Thank you.

CommentID: 209037