Press Release | March 23, 2017

Governor McAuliffe Fights to Protect Virginia Waters

Amended Bill Ensures Coal Ash Pits are not Closed Improperly

Charlottesville, VA – Governor Terry McAuliffe’s new proposed amendment for coal ash pit closures is an example of good governance and careful review.  The Southern Environmental Law Center and its clients, the Potomac Riverkeeper Network and the James River Association, strongly support the Governor’s version of Senate Bill 1398.  This amended version moves the bill back in line with the key purpose of original bill, co-sponsored by Senators Scott Surovell and Amanda Chase: to make sure we fully understand the coal ash problem now, so that we can get these ponds closed right the first time.

“It’s the only sensible way to move these closures forward while making sure we protect Virginians now and for generations to come,” said Southern Environmental Law Center 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 the permits is reached.” 

The new language calls on Dominion to submit the required information, including plans to address existing water pollution from its leaking coal ash pits, long-term safety risks from flooding or storm surges, and evaluations of excavation or recycling for concrete options, by December 2017.  If adopted by the General Assembly the amended bill will make sure the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality has this critical information in hand before it approves any “closure” permit for these coal ash pits.

 “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 its reconvenes 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.

Dominion Power has been attempting to move forward with cap-in-place plans for its leaking coal ash pits, which would leave the ash buried and allow 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.


About Southern Environmental Law Center:

The Southern Environmental Law Center is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. With nine offices across the region (Charlottesville, VA; Chapel Hill, NC; Atlanta, GA; Charleston, SC; Washington, DC; Birmingham, AL; Nashville, TN; Asheville, NC; and Richmond, VA), SELC is widely recognized as the Southeast’s foremost environmental organization and regional leader. SELC works on a full range of environmental issues to protect the South’s natural resources and the health and well-being of all the people in our region.

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

Nate Benforado

Senior Attorney