Virginia coal ash bill pushing Dominion to provide more info heads to full committee

Dominion Virginia Power’s plans to leave toxic coal ash sitting in leaky ponds next to waterways across the Commonwealth is drawing attention in the General Assembly and at public hearings. (© Mark VanDyke)

Virginia is inching toward getting Dominion Virginia Power to clean up its coal ash problem in the Commonwealth. Monday a House of Delegates subcommittee unanimously voted to advance a bill requiring Dominion to provide more information on their coal ash management plans. Draft plans show the utility intends to “cap in place” the more than 25 million tons of coals ash it stores in crude unlined leaking pits. Lawmakers debated the bill in a room packed with citizens concerned over Dominion’s current proposal.

Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax, whose district includes Dominion’s Possum Point Power Station, sponsored the original bill that passed the Senate on a bipartisan 29-11 vote. Importantly, that version stipulated that before issuing “closure” permits DEQ must receive and evaluate the following information from Dominion:  

  • identify the existing pollution coming from its coal ash ponds,
  • propose ways to restore water quality,
  • evaluate options for excavating the coal ash to modern, lined landfills or repurpose the ash as cement or concrete,
  • demonstrate how its closure plan would stand up to risks such as flooding, hurricanes, storm surges and erosion, and
  • demonstrate that the coal ash is not located in areas where it would be unsafe to leave the ash in the ground.

Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield, co-sponsored the bill. Chase’s district includes Dominion’s Chesterfield Power Station where coal ash ponds are sitting in unlined ponds seeping into the groundwater in a former channel of the James River, next to a public recreation area.

“I’m going to call this a hot mess. Because that is a hot mess waiting to happen,” Chase told the Agriculture subcommittee.

The bill advanced to a full committee vote after lawmakers agreed on an amended version that, among other things, stripped out the provision that would have ensured DEQ would get a complete picture before issuing the closure permits.

Dominion is already in the process of closing four coal ash facilities with its “cap in place” strategy across the state. The utility is furthest along in its permitting process at the Possum Point power plant at the edge of the Potomac River. This Thursday the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality will hold a public meeting at Potomac High School at 7 p.m. to hear public comments on the draft permit to close Possum Point by capping unlined, leaking coal ash pits.

The full House Committee on Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources is scheduled to vote on Senate Bill 1398 Wednesday morning.

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