News | January 18, 2018

Outside experts find Dominion coal ash assessment inadequate

SELC has sent a letter to Virginia State Senators Scott Surovell and Amanda Chase providing its own assessment of the leaking coal ash pits in the Commonwealth after a Dominion assessment failed to consider realistic clean closure options or properly analyze the pollution at these sites.

Most notably, Dominion failed to assess 2.1 million tons of ash at Chesapeake—ash that a federal district court has already ruled is polluting the surrounding rivers with arsenic. SELC identified a number of other significant deficiencies and errors in the report, all of which suggest a clear bias in the assessment towards justifying cap-in-place.

A team of hydrologists also undertook the work that Dominion failed to do at three other sites—Chesterfield, Bremo, and Possum Point. Based on the available data, all of the ash at these sites is in contact with and contaminating the groundwater, which then flows directly into the surrounding rivers. Based on the site conditions, the experts concluded that installing a cap will not stop this pollution; even with a “perfect” cap, the pollution will continue indefinitely.

“If Dominion took this law and clean closure seriously it would have conducted a thorough review, and wouldn’t have forced outside experts to do the work for them,” said Attorney Nate Benforado. “The General Assembly already spoke on this issue and Dominion did not listen.”

A team of experts also analyzed Dominion’s ash market study, which asserts that the market could not support ash recycling in Virginia. Given the number of basic errors and unjustified assumptions, the experts concluded that Dominion’s study is simply not credible. Dominion artificially limited the market for its ash assuming, for example, that it could only sell recycled ash within 50-miles. This assumption is inconsistent with Dominion’s own report, which acknowledges that ash is being imported into Virginia from distances far greater than 50 miles—from South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, Ohio, and even around the world from India.

“Recycling is not only viable, it’s likely to be cheaper in the long run,” said Phillip Musegaas of the Potomac River Keepers. “Capping this coal ash in place does not not take into account public health costs, environmental costs, or costs associated with catastrophic failure.”

The actual data shows that there is a strong market for Dominion’s ash, particularly as coal plants continue to shutter thereby reducing the supply of new ash. Recycling would not only solve an environmental problem, but it would also create local jobs and tax revenues while fulfilling a local manufacturing need.