Virginia leaps forward on coal ash

New law requires excavation of all coal ash ponds in Chesapeake Bay watershed

Four large coal ash storage sites, all owned by Dominion Energy, sit along the banks of Virginia rivers that feed into the Chesapeake Bay. (© Robert Llewellyn)

Today, years of work by a host of dedicated citizens, conservation groups, and elected officials came to fruition, as Governor Ralph Northam signed legislation to clean up more than 28 million tons of toxic coal ash currently stored in leaking ponds along the banks of the James, Elizabeth, and Potomac Rivers.

This coal ash cleanup is an historic step forward. But it is also a reminder that we can, and should, protect communities from environmental harms in the first place.”

—Nate Benforado, SELC Attorney

“This landmark bill passed with overwhelming bipartisan support and strong support from Governor Northam, which shows Virginians want clean water and safe communities regardless of party affiliation,” said SELC attorney Nate Benforado. “Key legislators and officials—including Senator Scott Surovell, Senator Amanda Chase, Senator Rosalyn Dance, Senator Frank Wagner, Delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy, Delegate Riley Ingram, Speaker Kirk Cox, along with Secretary of Natural Resources Matthew Strickler—moved this bipartisan agreement across the finish line.”

SELC worked alongside citizens and conservation groups fighting tirelessly for this result—including the James River Association, Potomac Riverkeeper Network, Virginia Conservation Network, League of Conservation Voters, and the Sierra Club.

The new law will require Dominion to excavate all of the coal ash at four facilities—Chesapeake Energy Center, Chesterfield Power Station, Bremo Power Station, and Possum Point Power Station—and either recycle the ash into products like cement and concrete, or place it in modern, lined landfills. At least 25 percent of the coal ash must be recycled, and the construction of any new landfills will be subject to local zoning and permitting requirements.

The law also has a strong emphasis on protecting and improving the communities directly affected by coal ash by requiring Dominion to: 

  • Pay for public water supply connections for any residents that use well water within a half-mile of a coal ash pond, or regular well testing if there is no public supply available;
  • Develop a transportation plan with input from nearby communities where any coal ash needs to be moved offsite; and
  • Prioritize the hiring of local workers throughout the closure process.

“This coal ash cleanup is an historic step forward, helping to ensure we have a healthy environment for all who live here. But it is also a reminder that we can, and should, protect communities from environmental harms in the first place,” said Benforado.

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