Coal ash cleanup victory in Virginia

New law requires excavation of all sites in Chesapeake Bay watershed

All four of Dominion's coal ash storage sites, each of which is within the Chesapeake Bay watershed, will be cleaned up under legislation advanced by Virginia's General Assembly today.  (© Robert Lewellyn)

Today, Virginia legislators from both sides of the aisle came together amid a remarkably tumultuous political backdrop, to pass a law that will once and for all protect Virginians from coal ash toxins in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The legislation, which is on its way to the Governor’s desk, will require the complete excavation of the more than 28 million tons of coal ash Dominion currently stores at Chesterfield Power Station, Chesapeake Energy Center, Possum Point Power Station, and Bremo Power Station.

“This means there is an end in sight to Dominion’s coal ash pollution in Virginia,” said Nate Benforado, attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center. “Today’s new law is the culmination of years of diligent work by legislators, conservationists, and citizens who made it their mission to ensure that Virginia address coal ash pollution head on and get done what the federal government has been unable to accomplish. Other states who are struggling to find solutions to deal with coal ash should take a hard look at this sensible piece of legislation.”

With significant uncertainty at the national level—including attempted rollbacks of the federal coal ash regulations, and a decision by a federal appeals court that those rules were not even protective enough in the first place—state lawmakers decided that Virginians could not afford to wait any longer.

The new law will require Dominion to do the following:

  • Excavate all of the coal ash at these four facilities, and either recycle the ash into products like cement and concrete, or place it in modern, lined landfills. At least a quarter of the coal ash must be recycled, and the construction of any new landfills will be subject to local zoning and permitting requirements;
  • Develop a transportation plan with the affected localities where any coal ash needs to be moved offsite; and
  • Prioritize the hiring of local workers throughout the closure process.

“We thank all of the legislators and citizens who have fought tirelessly on the issue, as well as the Secretary of Natural Resources and Dominion, for recognizing there is a better way forward. This plan provides an economically sound solution to an environmental problem, and avoids the wasted dollars that customers would have spent on the original approach—which all the evidence suggests would not work and would leave communities and waterways at risk, for generations to come.”

Importantly, Dominion’s costs for complying with this new environmental requirement will be subject to the scrutiny of the Virginia State Corporation Commission, as with any other environmental compliance cost.

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