Dominion disregards harm to James River, sturgeon in permit request

The James River is one of few known spawning grounds for the endangered Atlantic sturgeon. (© Xavier Ascanio)

Dominion Energy is asking the National Marine Fisheries Service to allow it to kill thousands of endangered Atlantic sturgeon in order to continue operating its harmful and polluting Chesterfield Power Station without violating the Endangered Species Act. Last week, SELC submitted comments to the federal agency imploring it to reject this permit request, which would allow the power plant to operate for 10 years without taking any necessary precautions to minimize the deaths of this endangered and crucial fish in the James River.

“If not for the Chesterfield Plant, hundreds more juvenile sturgeon would likely be swimming in the James River today—a critical step in the species’ long and tenuous road to recovery,” said SELC attorney Nate Benforado. “Dominion is attempting to shirk its responsibility to this recovery effort by requesting this permit.”

Atlantic sturgeon are one of the oldest known fish species and played a crucial role in Colonial American history as a cornerstone of early settlers’ diets. Sturgeon can grow up to 15 feet long during their decades-long life but there is still much not known about this fish, making protection of their James River spawning grounds all the more urgent.

The Chesterfield Plant is having a significant effect on the survival and recovery of Atlantic sturgeon in the James River. Its antiquated cooling water system sucks up more than a billion gallons of water from the river each day and, during critical spawning periods, that intake water can contain as many as tens of thousands of infant Atlantic sturgeon. The 130º F water spilling out of the plant and polluting the river is also likely to kill and harm sturgeon.

Although utilities like Dominion are required by law to develop a habitat conservation plan and to mitigate such impacts, by improperly disregarding Chesterfield’s serious impacts, Dominion has not proposed any modifications to its operations that could help save sturgeon, nor has it proposed any measures that would preserve or restore actual habitat. Instead, Dominion seeks a 10-year blank check to kill these important fish without any meaningful changes.

SELC’s filing today urges The National Marine Fisheries Service to refuse this permit until Dominion proposes some real ways to minimize the harm to Atlantic sturgeon.

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