News | March 23, 2017

Governor fights to protect Virginia’s waters from coal ash pollution

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe has amended an important proposed bill for closing leaking coal ash pits in the Commonwealth and sent the bill back to the General Assembly. The Governor’s version of Senate Bill 1398 moves the language back in line with the original version of the bill, co-sponsored by State Senators Scott Surovell and Amanda Chase. The Governor’s new language calls on Dominion Power to submit crucial information—including the utility’s plans to address existing water pollution from its leaking coal ash pits, any long-term safety risks from flooding or storm surges, and evaluations of excavation or recycling for concrete options—by December 2017.

It’s the only sensible way to move these closures forward while making sure we protect Virginians now and for generations to come,” said Attorney Nate Benforado. “We applaud Governor McAuliffe and his administration for recognizing the need to gather more information about these leaking coal ash pits before a final decision on Dominion’s permits is reached.

If adopted by the General Assembly, the amended bill will establish requirements that ensure the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality has critical information in hand before approving any “closure” permits for Dominion’s coal ash pits across the state.

This is a victory for clean water — Governor McAuliffe deserves credit for responding to the widespread public concern about the public health impacts of coal ash in their communities. We’re hopeful that Virginia legislators will do the same — the people of Virginia deserve a solution that protects their drinking water and their property values,” said Potomac Riverkeeper’s Dean Naujoks. “It took bi-partisan support to get us here, and that will need to continue for these precautions to remain intact through the vote.

The General Assembly still needs to approve the amended measure when it reconvenes for a one-day session April 5.

These amendments provide a common sense approach to a complex issue and ensure that coal ash ponds are closed properly to safely protect Virginia’s precious water resources for the future,” said Jamie Brunkow, Lower James Riverkeeper for the James River Association.

Dominon Power has been attempting to move forward with “cap-in-place” plans for its leaking coal ash pits, which would leave the toxin-laden ash buried, allowing it to continue leaking into nearby rivers and streams. At Dominion Power’s Chesterfield Power Station, coal ash pits are leaking into a widely used public recreation area along the James River. Pollutants found in the sediment of this area reveal arsenic levels 400 times greater than the level considered safe for residential soil and 100 times greater than that for industrial facilities.