Today, Virginia legislators considered a bill championed by Governor Ralph Northam that could finally put an end to coal ash pollution in Virginia. The legislation, backed by both Democrats and Republicans, would require Dominion Energy to dig up its 28 million tons of coal ash in leaking pits across the state.
Coal ash is the substance that results from burning coal, and contains a toxic suite of pollutants like arsenic and radium. In Virginia, Dominion stores this ash in unlined or poorly lined leaking pits near iconic rivers—the James, Potomac, and Elizabeth—causing serious contamination to drinking water sources and waterways.
“Recent disclosures from Dominion have shown that coal ash pits across the state are too close to the groundwater — and, in fact, sitting in the groundwater,” said SELC Attorney Nate Benforado, “and that’s led to serious contamination issues.””
A recent study revealed that pollution coming from the Chesterfield Power Station southeast of Richmond could be leading to an increased health risk for some visitors to the nearby Chesterfield County Dutch Gap Conservation Area.
In states across the Southeast, utilities are excavating coal ash and recycling or landfilling it through responsible measures. Recycling is an option that Governor Northam and lead lawmakers see as a win-win situation for Virginia.
“This bill gives Virginia the opportunity to stop this contamination once and for all, using cost-effective recycling while benefitting local economies,” said Benforado.
Recently, Dominion, following legislation compelling them to do so, conducted a recycling study that shows that nearly half of the ash in Virginia can be recycled in 15 years, with the remainder landfilled at a cost that is only slightly higher than less protective measures, like cap-in-place. Given the serious contamination at these sites, Dominion is now admitting that its cap-in-place strategy will be much more expensive and complicated than originally proposed, requiring perpetual operation of things like pump and treat systems, without any guarantee that the existing pollution will be stopped. Leaving the ash in these primitive pits also means communities and waterways will always be vulnerable to spills and potential failures during storms like Hurricane Florence.
In South Carolina recycling coal ash is proving to be a boon for utilities. “It’s good for the environment, it’s good for our customers and it’s good for the economy because it’s providing and sustaining jobs,” said Mollie Gore, the spokeswoman for the South Carolina utility, Santee Cooper. With proof of success in neighboring states, Governor Northam and other Virginia lawmakers seem poised to bring the economic benefit to the Commonwealth.
More detailed information about each of Dominion’s four coal ash sites across Virginia is available below.