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Potomac Riverkeeper applauds Virginia coal ash legislation

environment climate changePotomac Riverkeeper Network and Potomac Riverkeeper Dean Naujoks today thanked Gov. Ralph Northam and Virginia legislators who worked across party lines to pass historic legislation to resolve the Commonwealth’s longstanding coal ash pollution problem.

“This legislation, which is a result of four years of persistent work by Potomac Riverkeeper Dean Naujoks and our Virginia partners, is an historic step to solve the serious and lingering pollution problem of legacy coal ash,” said Nancy Stoner, President of Potomac Riverkeeper Network.  “The bill, signed today by Governor Northam, requires that all legacy coal ash in the Commonwealth be recycled or safely landfilled within 15 years, rather than left in the current dangerous and leaking coal ash ponds along the Potomac, James, and Elizabeth Rivers. The bill prohibits the use of cap-in-place, which would lead to future contamination, and requires Dominion Energy to recycle a minimum of seven million tons of the roughly 30 million tons at its four coal ash sites across Virginia.”

Potomac Riverkeeper Network and Naujoks played a leading role in the creation and passage of this legislation. Beginning four years ago, Naujoks began testing drinking wells located near some of Dominion’s coal ash ponds and discovered that lead and arsenic from the leaking ponds had contaminated nearby groundwater and some residents’ drinking water wells.   He continued with efforts to inform Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality and the federal Environmental Protection Agency. His work with local affected residents included many town hall meetings and important discussions with Virginia legislators to inform them of the gravity of the risk and available disposal options that would protect the river and local communities.   His task was more difficult because Dominion’s preferred solution was to “cap-in-place,” which meant simply leaving the coal ash in the ponds and covering them, thus doing nothing to stop the leaching of the chemicals or solving the problem for the future.

Potomac Riverkeeper found a coal ash champion in Senator Scott Surovell, who worked tirelessly to push forward legislation and bring other lawmakers and the Governor onboard in 2018 to bring a bill to the Governor’s desk.  Southern Environmental Law Center and the Virginia Conservation Network were critical partners in PRKN’s drive to make coal ash a statewide environmental issue that gradually gained bipartisan support in the General Assembly.   Greg Buppert, senior attorney at SELC, said, “PRKN was on the frontlines with a critical on-the-ground investigation at Possum Point—discovering decades of contaminated discharge without a  permit, the secret release of 27 million gallons of ash pond water into Quantico Creek, and polluted drinking water wells. That work helped build a groundswell of support from the public and elected officials for a permanent solution.”

“We have long fought for legislation like this,” said Dean Naujoks. “The dangers of coal ash, leaking into groundwater, drinking wells, our rivers and streams and ultimately the Chesapeake Bay, have long been documented and we’re proud of our role in fixing the problem.”