Press Release | March 19, 2015

Conservation Groups File Suit Against Dominion Virginia Power Over Coal Ash Pollution Leaking into Elizabeth River in Virginia

Dominion Virginia Power Continues to Leak High Levels of Dangerous Pollutants into Groundwater and Popular Waterways

Charlottesville, VA – Dangerous pollutants from coal ash pits at Dominion Virginia Power’s Chesapeake Energy Center are contaminating the groundwater and popular recreation areas in the Elizabeth River, alleges a new suit brought by the Sierra Club today. The Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), representing the Sierra Club, filed a lawsuit today under the Clean Water Act to stop the pollution from Dominion’s leaking coal ash pits.  

Last December, SELC and the Sierra Club provided Dominion with a notice of intent to sue, a requirement under the Clean Water Act that provides the utility time to address the problems and alerts the state environmental agency to the alleged violations. Neither Dominion nor the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has attempted to remedy the problem over the past three months.

For over a decade, both Dominion and DEQ have known that the more than one million cubic yards of coal ash stored at the Chesapeake site are illegally leaking high levels of arsenic, cobalt, sulfide, and other dangerous pollutants into the groundwater and two waterways popular for recreational activities—the Southern Branch of the Elizabeth River and Deep Creek. In the last three years alone, concentrations of arsenic, a known carcinogen, have been found in the groundwater near the site at levels as high as 30 times the state standard. 

The Chesapeake power plant closed its coal-burning units at the end of last year, and the facility now stores over sixty years of coal ash waste onsite in unlined, leaking pits and a landfill built on top of the old pits. Dominion has submitted to the state environmental agency its closure plan for the ash storage facilities at the site, which proposes to continue indefinitely the decades-long contamination by leaving all coal ash in place and merely covering it with plastic and dirt. If approved by the state, the plan would only continue the long legacy of polluting the Elizabeth River.

“While other utilities in the South are leading the way by responsibly moving their coal ash into lined, dry storage away from waterways, Dominion has made no plans to stop this documented coal ash pollution.” said Deborah Murray, Senior Attorney at Southern Environmental Law Center.

“Dominion’s solution, accepted by DEQ, was to ignore the coal ash pollution leaking into the Elizabeth River rather than cleaning it up,” said Glen Besa, Director of Sierra Club’s Virginia Chapter.  “Dominion has a fancy name for ignoring their pollution; they call it natural attenuation.”

Concerns about water contamination caused by coal ash coming from Dominion’s Chesapeake Energy Center are not new to this community. Since 2007, citizens in Chesapeake, Va. have been questioning the safety of groundwater near the Battlefield Golf Club, a golf course built using 1.5 million tons of coal ash from the Chesapeake plant.

Coal ash ponds from power plants line the banks of nearly every major river in the Southeast, and SELC is partnering with conservation groups throughout the region to protect communities and the environment from the dangers of coal ash pollution.

Following lawsuits by SELC, South Carolina Electric & Gas and Santee Cooper are moving all wet coal ash stored in South Carolina to safer, dry, lined storage facilities away from rivers and lakes. In North Carolina, SELC represents various groups in ten different state and federal lawsuits against Duke Energy, which is currently facing state and federal charges and has recently agreed to clean up four of its leaking coal ash sites in the state. In addition, the Tennessee environmental agency filed a lawsuit against Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) in response to a notice filed by SELC against TVA for contamination of drinking of water sources upstream from Nashville and nearby towns.


About Southern Environmental Law Center:

The Southern Environmental Law Center is a regional nonprofit using the power of the law to protect the health and environment of the Southeast (Virginia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama). Founded in 1986, SELC’s team of about 60 legal and policy experts represent more than 100 partner groups on issues of climate change and energy, air and water quality, forests, the coast and wetlands, transportation, and land use.

About Sierra Club:

The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with more than 2.4 million members and supporters nationwide and over 15,000 members in Virginia. In addition to creating opportunities for people of all ages, levels and locations to have meaningful outdoor experiences, the Sierra Club works to safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying, and litigation.

Are you a reporter and would like more information? Please visit our press contact page for a full list of SELC’s press contacts.

Press Contacts

Deborah M. Murray

Senior Attorney with a focus on litigation

Phone: 434-977-4090