Stunning reversal in Virginia coal ash cleanup

Gov. Northam negotiates excavation at all Dominion sites

Dutch Gap Recreation Area is a public park next to one of Dominion’s four coal ash storage sites slated for closure under a new bill announced Thursday. Recent studies showed pollution from the coal ash was reaching the park and adjacent James River. (© Lynda Richardson)

Today, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam and the state Secretary of Natural Resources Matthew Strickler announced a bipartisan agreement to clean up coal ash in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

After years of seeking to leave its coal ash in leaking pits, Dominion is agreeing to support legislation that will require all four sites in the watershed to be completely excavated. The bill will get Dominion's toxic coal ash off the banks of Virginia's iconic rivers, including the James, Potomac, and Elizabeth Rivers, and either recycled into cement or concrete, or placed in a modern, lined landfill.

This is an important day, not only for all those who fight against coal ash pollution in Virginia, but for all the Commonwealth's citizens who will benefit from clean water and safe communities. After years of diligent work from citizens, who refuse to sit idly by while unlined pits pollute our waterways, and legislators like Senators Scott Surovell and Amanda Chase, and Delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy, Dominion is now finally acknowledging that getting this ash out of the ground is the only way to protect people and waterways, and that we can do so in a cost-effective way," said SELC Attorney Nate Benforado. "We applaud the administration for taking a clear stand against an irresponsible plan to leave this ash where it sits, vulnerable to hurricanes and flooding, and for finding a way forward on this important issue.”

Under the latest proposal, at least 25 percent of the ash will be recycled for beneficial use, with the remainder disposed of safely in modern, lined landfills. The bill also limits the amount of removal costs that can be recovered from ratepayers in any given year, and includes language to minimize transportation impacts of closure activities on nearby communities, promote the training and hiring of local workers, and encourage further recycling and beneficial reuse.

The bipartisan agreement is expected to be presented to the appropriate Senate committees over the next several days, including the Senate Coal Ash Subcommittee meeting.

Dominion stores more than 28 million tons of toxic coal ash at four sites across the Commonwealth. A recent study showed that toxins from the ash, like lead and arsenic, are reaching local waterways. This pollution is of particular concern at Dominion’s Chesterfield site, which is surrounded by a public park and historic site.

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