SELC, Sierra Club seek to end decades of Dominion coal ash pollution into the Elizabeth River

earth-newOn Thursday, the Southern Environmental Law Center, representing the Sierra Club, sent notice to Dominion Virginia Power of their intention to bring suit under the Clean Water Act to clean up leaking coal ash pits at the Chesapeake Energy Center (CEC) on the Southern Branch of the Elizabeth River in Chesapeake, Virginia.

For over a decade, Dominion has known that over one million cubic yards of coal ash stored at the CEC are illegally leaching 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 as high as 30 times the state standard.

Dominion is in the processing of closing the coal-burning units at the CEC, which currently stores over sixty years of coal ash waste onsite in unlined, leaking pits and a landfill built on top of the old pits. Recently, Dominion prepared a closure plan for its ash storage facilities at the site, which proposes to continue indefinitely the decades-long contamination by leaving all coal ash in place and covering it with a plastic liner and dirt. If approved by the state, the plan would only continue the long legacy of polluting the Elizabeth River.

“The people in Chesapeake have been suffering the consequences of Dominion’s inadequate coal ash management for decades. The time is now for Dominion to finally fix the problem by safely moving the coal ash to dry, lined storage away from waterways,” said Deborah Murray, Senior Attorney at southern environmental law center.

“Dominion’s landfill closure plan is just like closing the lid on a coffee maker. They are doing nothing to stop the toxic brew from dripping out of the bottom,” said Glen Besa, Director of Sierra Club’s Virginia Chapter.

Contamination concerns about coal ash from Dominion’s Chesapeake Energy Center are not new to Chesapeake, VA. Since 2007, citizens in this community 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 CEC. This past summer the City of Chesapeake decided to require Dominion to get a special-use permit to continue storing coal combustion byproducts at the plant.

Tomorrow, after six years of deliberation, the Environmental Protection Agency will hit its deadline to provide the first coal ash-specific federal regulation, which could impact communities like Chesapeake, Virginia.

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. On behalf of sierra club and Potomac Riverkeeper, SELC filed notice with Dominion Virginia Power earlier this year of Clean Water Act violations from leaking coal ash ponds at the Possum Point facility along the Potomac River.

Following lawsuits by SELC, South Carolina Electric & Gas and Santee Cooper are removing coal ash from unlined pits near rivers 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 has recently agreed to clean up four of its leaking coal ash sites in the state. In addition, SELC has notified the Tennessee Valley Authority of its intent to sue unless TVA cleans up the coal ash ponds that are leaking into drinking water sources upstream from Nashville and nearby towns.