Virginia Senate committee votes to responsibly close coal ash sites
The Senate Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources voted to pass Senate Bill 1533 and refer it to the Senate Finance Committee by a vote of 9-5 on Thursday, the first step towards permanently dealing with the legacy of the toxic coal ash pollution in the Chesapeake Bay watershed in Virginia.
SB1533 requires Dominion to excavate the toxic material by either recycling or placing it in lined landfills. Today, Dominion Energy Virginia stores more than 28 million tons of coal ash in unlined leaking pits on the banks of the Elizabeth, James and Potomac rivers in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. The coal ash pits at all four of these Dominion sites – Chesapeake, Chesterfield, Bremo and Possum Point – are leaching toxic pollutants into the groundwater, which in turn flow directly into these iconic Virginia rivers and the groundwater of local communities.
“As Virginia continues to grow its clean energy economy away from dirty and harmful fuels like coal, we must ensure the most effective solutions are used to clean up fossil fuels’ toxic legacy of pollution,” said Kate Addleson, director of the Sierra Club Virginia chapter. “Long after coal-burning power plants have been decommissioned, coal ash sites continue to harm nearby families by affecting their water quality, wildlife and environment. Today, our lawmakers took an important first step to ensure that the insidious scourge of this pollution comes to an end.”
For years, Dominion has proposed to simply cover the top of the 28 million tons of coal ash at the sites with soil, despite acknowledging that this will not stop the ongoing pollution and will require expensive upgrades alongside perpetual operation and maintenance. Coal ash at all four sites threatens local communities as toxins, such as arsenic, lithium, radium and cobalt, jeopardize the groundwater, public parks, and residencies that surround them. Moreover, Dominion’s coal ash ponds, as they stand, leave communities vulnerable to increased risk of rising sea levels, storm surges, hurricanes, and daily tidal erosion.
In recognition of the threat coal ash poses to water, the bill requires that the clean up, over 15 years, is accompanied by water testing and subsequent remediation measures if tests show elevated levels of heavy metals for impacted residencies. Furthermore, the bill, by default, priorities the permanent solution of recycling over landfill disposal of coal ash. Recycling coal ash into cement or concrete changes the chemical makeup of the product, removing its toxicity and is the most permanent solution to coal ash’s legacy pollution. Dominions’ 2018 Recycling Study showed that there is a demand for coal ash for recycling from local manufacturers, which would also create new jobs and support industry.
Due to the previous moratorium on coal ash site closure permitting, which will expire in July, steps on coal ash permitting must be taken by the General Assembly this year. Should legislation not pass, Dominion has an opportunity to file an application to advance its preferred inadequate cap-in-place coal ash strategy. This will leave Dominion ratepayers paying for a closure plan that leaves toxic coal ash in the ground where it will continue being harmful, as federal standards have been significantly weakened by the Trump administration.