A preliminary look at Dominion’s assessment of its coal ash pits in Virginia paints an unsettling picture of what lies ahead for the Commonwealth’s rivers and recreational areas.
The assessment, required by a recently adopted bill in the Virginia legislature, appears to fail to take a serious look at the real risks posed to Virginians by leaving ash in unlined pits, ignoring the substantial evidence that many of these pits have already been leaking toxic pollution into our land and into our rivers for years.
“At first glance this report seems skewed toward justifying Dominion’s insistence on capping these leaking coal ash pits in place, rather than taking a realistic look at alternative closure methods,” said attorney Nate Benforado. “Given that Dominion now admits to substantial groundwater pollution at all of the sites, we cannot simply leave this ash in these leaking pits. We need to get it out of our water and either into a modern landfill, or into the hands of Virginia businesses that want to use it safely in roads and other projects.”
Dominion’s assessment appears to drastically overstate the time and cost associated with removing the ash, claiming it could take 30, 40, or even 50 years for some of these options. Those numbers are far out of line with what is happening in other neighboring states. Regionally, 90 million tons of ash are being excavated. In North Carolina, for example, utilities are excavating 46 million tons, with 12 million tons already out of the ground. Dominion can deal with its 25 million tons much more expeditiously.
Although the assessment acknowledges that Virginia manufacturers face a shortage of ash, Dominion appears content to let North Carolina ash be imported to satisfy that demand. Forcing Virginia businesses to import ash due to Dominion’s failure to consider this viable alternative sooner is not the solution. And given the admission of existing contamination at all of the sites, there is a significant risk that Dominion may be required to remove the ash anyway if the required standards cannot be met. Spending hundreds of millions dollars to close these leaking pits twice is not right for Virginia.
SELC will continue reviewing Dominion’s coal ash assessment and will be providing comments and analysis to the State Water Commission, Department of Environmental Quality, and legislators.