Coal Ash

SELC’s three-year legal effort to protect local drinking water from coal ash rose to national prominence following the devastating spill on the Dan River.


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.


Photo © Jerry Greer

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Dominion’s solution for its leaking coal ash: Just put a lid on it More »

Dominion Virginia Power's recently announced plans to close the coal ash ponds at four Virginia power stations fail to stop the pollution of groundwater and nearby waterways and will allow the toxic coal ash to continue to leak out of unlined pits at all four sites. 

Dominion plans to close ponds at four of its power plants: Bremo Power Station in Fluvanna County, Chesapeake Energy Center in Chesapeake, Chesterfield Power Station in Chesterfield County, and Possum Point Station in Prince William County. Of the eleven coal ash ponds at these four facilities, ten ponds are completely unlined and allow the toxic pollutants to freely leach out into the surroundings. Only one pond has a partial clay liner around the sides. At all of these sites, covering up the coal ash and calling the sites “closed” will not stop the pollution.

"Dominion’s decision to just put a lid on the problem will not prevent the coal ash from leaking out of the bottom of these unlined pits,” said Greg Buppert, Senior Attorney with Southern Environmental Law Center. “Contaminants from Dominion's coal ash, such as arsenic and cadmium, have been polluting Virginia's rivers for decades and this will continue for years to come under this plan. Our communities deserve to be protected from the toxic threat of coal ash by moving coal ash to dry, lined storage safely away from our waterways, just like a modern landfill.” 

Last month, Southern Environmental Law Center, on behalf of the Sierra Club, filed a lawsuit in federal court against Dominion for the leaking of coal ash pollutants from the Chesapeake Energy Center into the Southern Branch of the Elizabeth River and Deep Creek in violation of the Clean Water Act. Concentrations of arsenic, a known carcinogen, were found in the groundwater near the site at levels as high as 30 times the state standard.

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Regulation of Coal Combustion Waste

Protecting Our Water and Our Health from Coal Ash

Nearly every major river in the Southeast has one or more lagoons on its banks holding slurries of coal ash from power plants. Containing hundreds of thousands of tons of toxin-laden waste, these pools are often unlined and have leaked arsenic, mercury, thallium, selenium, and other contaminants into the rivers and the underlying groundwater for years, if not decades. 

Putting a Stop to Years of Pollution

SELC is using its law and policy skills to force our region’s utilities to clean up their waste sites and store coal ash in ways that protect water quality 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. 

In North Carolina, our lawsuits have produced cleanup commitments at four Duke Energy sites, and SELC is representing a number of groups in ten different state and federal lawsuits to require clean up at all 14 of Duke Energy’s leaking coal ash sites throughout 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 begin a significant cleanup to clean up leaking coal ash lagoons 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 two different Dominion Virginia Power sites: the Possum Point Power Plant along the Potomac River 30 miles south of Washington D.C., and the Chesapeake Energy Center along the Elizabeth River. SELC is working to make sure Dominion is held responsible for cleaning up these waterways. 

In Tennessee, we filed a notice of intent 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 in Gallatin, Nashville, Rutherford County, and Williamson County. Furthermore, TVA is still cleaning up in Kingston, TN after the biggest coal ash spill in the country occurred six years ago.  

Advocating Tougher Standards

Despite the dangers revealed by the catastrophic Kingston spill in 2008 and the 2014 Dan River spill in NC, the EPA released long-awaited federal coal ash protections in late 2014 that fail to adequately protect communities and waterways. This rule establishes only a bare minimum of protection, so we will continue to enforce stronger federal 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 Southerners find out more about risks to their communities, SELC and its partners launched, a website that provides an interactive map and database of 100 coal-fired power plants and their coal ash impoundments.