Coal Ash

Nearly every major river in the Southeast has one or more unlined, leaking pits on its banks filled with water and holding coal ash from power plants.

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Photo © Hollis Bennett

SELC’s six-year legal effort to protect rivers, streams, groundwater, and drinking water sources from coal ash rose to national prominence following the devastating spill on the Dan River.

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Photo © Waterkeeper Alliance

2008 Coal Waste Spill in Tennessee: The catastrophic waste spill at the TVA plant in Tennessee underscored the urgent need for regulation of coal waste.

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Photo © Jerry Greer

Latest News

Virginia coal ash bill pushing Dominion to provide more info heads to full committee More »

Virginia is inching toward getting Dominion Virginia Power to clean up its coal ash problem in the Commonwealth. Monday a House of Delegates subcommittee unanimously voted to advance a bill requiring Dominion to provide more information on their coal ash management plans. Draft plans show the utility intends to “cap in place” the more than 25 million tons of coals ash it stores in crude unlined leaking pits. Lawmakers debated the bill in a room packed with citizens concerned over Dominion’s current proposal.

Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax, whose district includes Dominion’s Possum Point Power Station, sponsored the original bill that passed the Senate on a bipartisan 29-11 vote. Importantly, that version stipulated that before issuing “closure” permits DEQ must receive and evaluate the following information from Dominion:  

  • identify the existing pollution coming from its coal ash ponds,
  • propose ways to restore water quality,
  • evaluate options for excavating the coal ash to modern, lined landfills or repurpose the ash as cement or concrete,
  • demonstrate how its closure plan would stand up to risks such as flooding, hurricanes, storm surges and erosion, and
  • demonstrate that the coal ash is not located in areas where it would be unsafe to leave the ash in the ground.

Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield, co-sponsored the bill. Chase’s district includes Dominion’s Chesterfield Power Station where coal ash ponds are sitting in unlined ponds seeping into the groundwater in a former channel of the James River, next to a public recreation area.

“I’m going to call this a hot mess. Because that is a hot mess waiting to happen,” Chase told the Agriculture subcommittee.

The bill advanced to a full committee vote after lawmakers agreed on an amended version that, among other things, stripped out the provision that would have ensured DEQ would get a complete picture before issuing the closure permits.

Dominion is already in the process of closing four coal ash facilities with its “cap in place” strategy across the state. The utility is furthest along in its permitting process at the Possum Point power plant at the edge of the Potomac River. This Thursday the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality will hold a public meeting at Potomac High School at 7 p.m. to hear public comments on the draft permit to close Possum Point by capping unlined, leaking coal ash pits.

The full House Committee on Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources is scheduled to vote on Senate Bill 1398 Wednesday morning.

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Protecting Our Water and Health from Coal Ash

Nearly every major river in the Southeast has one or more unlined, leaking pits on its banks filled with water and holding coal ash from power plants. Containing millions of tons of toxin-laden waste, these pits are unlined and have leaked arsenic, mercury, thallium, selenium, and other contaminants into the rivers and the underlying groundwater for decades. 

Putting a Stop to Years of Pollution

SELC is in federal and state courts to force utilities to clean up their unlined, leaking coal ash waste sites and protect our clean water and people's health. When state and federal governments did not act following a devastating 2008 spill in Kingston, TN, we began enforcing the law ourselves on behalf of local citizen groups. 

In North Carolina, our lawsuits have produced cleanup commitments at eight Duke Energy sites, and SELC continues to represent a number of citizen groups to require the clean up or recycling of coal ash at all 14 of Duke Energy’s leaking, unlined coal ash sites across the state.

In South Carolina, a combination of legal action and public pressure from SELC prompted all three of the state’s major utilities to clean up all of their leaking, unlined coal ash pits on South Carolina’s rivers - a historic accomplishment for clean water in South Carolina.

In Virginia, we uncovered decades of coal ash pollution leaking from three different Dominion Virginia Power sites: the Bremo site on the James River, the Possum Point Power Plant along the Potomac River, and the Chesapeake Energy Center along the Elizabeth River. SELC is working to make sure Dominion is held responsible for cleaning up its dangerous coal ash storage sites on these waterways. 

In Tennessee, we filed a lawsuit against Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) for coal ash at the Gallatin Plant polluting the Cumberland River, which provides drinking water for 1.2 million residents downstream.  

Advocating Tougher Standards

Despite the dangers revealed by the catastrophic Kingston spill in 2008 and the 2014 Dan River spill in NC, only in 2015 did the EPA put its coal ash rule into effect. This rule establishes only minimum  protections, so we will continue to enforce stronger U.S. and state clean water and anti-pollution laws to protect rivers and communities from the dangers of coal ash.

Is There a Coal Ash Waste Site Near You?

To help communities find out more about risks to their communities, SELC and its partners launched SoutheastCoalAsh.org, a website that provides an interactive map and database of 100 coal ash impoundments.