Press Release | January 14, 2013

Groups Challenge Permit Renewal for Yorktown Coal-Fired Power Station Due to Concerns over Discharge

Environmental groups have appealed the renewal of a water pollution discharge permit for the Yorktown Power Station, a coal-fired plant owned and operated by Dominion Virginia Power. According to the claims filed in the suit the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) failed to evaluate the impact of discharging arsenic and other metals to the York River, failed to set pollution limits for the facility’s coal waste streams, and failed to establish ongoing pollution monitoring requirements.

The aging Yorktown plant, built in the 1950s, is located along the York River and some of its coal waste streams discharge directly into the river, which flows into the Chesapeake Bay. While Dominion has indicated that the plant may be retired in the next few years given its age and outdated technology and pollution controls, the company has avoided a binding agreement to do so.

“Given Yorktown’s proximity to the Chesapeake Bay, one of Virginia’s most treasured natural resources, it’s unthinkable that the plant continue operating without reducing and monitoring the coal waste pollutants released upstream of the Bay,” said Rick Parrish, attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, which filed the appeal on behalf of the Sierra Club. “The public deserves a rigorous permitting process that will require modern pollution controls for Yorktown.”

At issue is the plant’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit, which under the Clean Water Act governs the discharge of Yorktown’s treated wastewater, storm water, and cooling water. Prior to the permit’s required five-year renewal, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency advised DEQ to establish limits for the harmful pollutants that are discharged from coal piles and coal waste at the facility, including arsenic, nickel, copper, and zinc. Despite similar comments filed by the Sierra Club and SELC in response to the draft permit, DEQ rejected these concerns and renewed the permit in November 2012.

“This is yet another example of the dangers of relying out outdated coal fired power plants. The dangerous coal waste from the Yorktown Power Station threatens our water and public health. We need our DEQ to make sure adequate protections are in place, but in this case they failed to do so,” said Kate Addleson, program manager with the Virginia Sierra Club.

Filed today, the appeal addresses three Clean Water Act claims related to the permit renewal:

  • DEQ failed to conduct an analysis of the best available technology to control the discharges of pollutants in Yorktown’s coal waste streams, which appear to chiefly come from piles of unburned coal. Further, DEQ failed to establish pollution limits reflecting the level of pollution control that these technologies can achieve.
  • Not only did DEQ fail to complete the analysis required under the Clean Water Act to establish limits, it reduced or removed monitoring requirements for these pollutants from a number of outfalls.
  • DEQ failed to conduct an analysis of the facility’s cooling water system. Under the Clean Water Act, the discharge permit for facilities that discharge cooling water such as Yorktown must reflect the best technology available to minimize harmful impacts to the aquatic environment. However, DEQ failed to take any steps to address or analyze Yorktown’s cooling water impacts in re-approving the facility’s antiquated once-through cooling system. In lieu of providing justification for allowing the less protective cooling system, the renewed permit merely states that the permit may be “reopened” at some later date to address compliance with best available technology requirements.

“These omissions reflect clear violations of the Clean Water Act, and we believe Dominion and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality must be held accountable to adequately regulate older polluting plants such as Yorktown Power Station in order to protect the health of our waterways,” said Parrish.

The Sierra Club is America’s largest grassroots environmental organization, with more than 2.1 million members and supporters nationwide. The Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign aims to move our nation beyond coal to clean energy solutions by 2030 through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying and litigation.

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