News | February 26, 2016

SELC, partners appeal Dominion’s licenses to pollute Virginia waterways

Today, on behalf of Potomac Riverkeeper Network, SELC filed an appeal of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) permit to Dominion allowing the company to legally pollute Quantico Creek and the Potomac River with 150 million gallons of coal ash wastewater that is contaminated with high levels of toxic metals. The appeal will be heard in Virginia circuit court.

The appeal follows the recent approval by the State Water Control Board of a lax permit for Dominion’s Possum Point facility. For example, the permit allows Dominion to pollute Quantico Creek and the Potomac River with arsenic levels well above the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s safety threshold to protect aquatic life, and 15 times higher than the standard in neighboring North Carolina. Arsenic is a known cancer-causing chemical.

We are challenging the permit in part because it does not require Dominion to abide by the standard set in the federal Clean Water Act to use readily available water treatment technologies to remove most of the toxic metals from the coal ash wastewater before it is released into a waterway. It is a waterway used by many for fishing, boating, and bird watching, increasing the need for these protective standards. 

Last April, in response to new federal standards for coal ash, Dominion announced its flawed plan to deal with its leaking coal ash dumps throughout the state. The plan includes draining the highly polluted wastewater into nearby rivers and then just covering up the remaining toxic ash without further safeguards to protect nearby groundwater and surface waters from pollution leaking out from the bottom and sides of these coal ash pits.

Since the permit for Possum Point is the first state permit of its kind, a worrisome precedent could be set for how the state will deal with the problem of contaminated coal ash wastewater that is currently stored in unlined, leaking pits next to rivers throughout the Commonwealth.

“DEQ has known about coal ash contaminating groundwater at Possum Point for three decades and nothing was ever done to stop it. Now DEQ is allowing Dominion to empty toxic coal ash wastewater with high levels of harmful metals into a popular recreation and fishing spot, even though Dominion has readily available technology to clean the water and meet state standards,” said Senior Attorney Greg Buppert. “We need our state environmental agency to stand up to Dominion and protect Virginia’s citizens and natural resources from this pollution.”  

SELC is considering appeal of a similar discharge permit for Dominion's Bremo Bluff plant along the James River.

Watch NBC29's coverage of the story here.

Below is a clip of Senior Attorney Greg Buppert from the press conference.