News | March 14, 2016

Virginia’s chief environmental regulator went to The Masters on the dime of a major state polluter

Today public radio station WAMU 88.5 revealed that David Paylor, the head of Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), went on a trip to the Masters Golf Tournament in 2013 paid for by Dominion Virginia Power, a utility regulated by DEQ.  According to WAMU, “the value of the trip was estimated to be $2,300, according to Paylor’s 2013 financial disclosure statement. Dominion also paid the tab for a $1,200 outing to O’Toole’s, an Irish pub in Augusta that Paylor attended along with nine others.”

Recently, Dominion received a permit from DEQ for discharges of coal ash wastewater from Possum Point Power Station into state waters containing toxic metals at levels far exceeding the state’s own safety standards for human health and aquatic life. A similar wastewater permit issued by North Carolina’s environmental agency made the limit for cancer-causing arsenic 30 times safer than what was allowed by the state of Virginia at Possum Point.

Last month, Dominion revealed that in April 2015 it dumped 27.5 million gallons of untreated coal ash wastewater from Possum Point into Quantico Creek near the Potomac River without prior notification to the public. At a February meeting of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, DEQ staff reported that the agency was aware of the situation at the time Dominion had discharged water from pond E. This is in contradiction to the statement from DEQ Director David Paylor in a June 2015 email to SELC that “we know that water was moved between ponds but our best information is that no water was discharged to state waters.”

Questions remain about the validity of the permit issued by DEQ. Recently, the Virginia town of Dumfries asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to investigate whether the state regulatory agency and utility broke the law. 

Last week, Prince William County came to a settlement with Dominion to resolve its concerns regarding the permit at Possum Point. In the settlement, Dominion readily agreed that it can treat coal ash wastewater to a far higher standard than the DEQ permit required. 

SELC is moving forward with an appeal of the permit on behalf of Potomac Riverkeeper Network to fight for strong, enforceable limits that require Dominion to treat its coal ash waste with the best available technology in accordance with federal law. The state of Maryland is also taking the state of Virginia to court to challenge this permit. 

In addition, Dominion and DEQ have known for over thirty years that the coal ash ponds at Possum Point have been illegally contaminating nearby groundwater, evidenced by Dominion’s own monitoring data submitted to the state. For over three decades DEQ has failed to enforce the law at this site and stop this ongoing coal ash pollution.