2018-02-14 / Front Page

Bill delays closing coal ash ponds


A state Senate committee last week approved bipartisan legislation that would prevent Dominion Energy from closing its Virginia coal ash storage ponds for the next 17 months while it seeks cost estimates for recycling the controversial material.

The Commerce and Labor Committee voted 14-0, with one abstention, to send the bill to the floor for vote. The legislation is co-sponsored by Sens. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield, and Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax.State Sen. Amanda Chase is co-sponsoring legislation that would delay the closing of Dominion's coal ash ponds. Photo by Ash DanielState Sen. Amanda Chase is co-sponsoring legislation that would delay the closing of Dominion's coal ash ponds. Photo by Ash Daniel

“This is progress,” said Dominion spokesman Robert E. Richardson. “Coal ash is a legacy issue from 60 years ago and it’s getting cleaned up and recycled on our watch. Every step of the way our plans are fully protective of the environment and human health. We will fully comply with the law and use our expertise to assist lawmakers studying the matter and considering alternatives.”

Chase, who expects the measure to pass the full Senate, acknowledged it falls short of her ultimate goal: requiring the utility giant to excavate approximately 30 million tons of coal ash from unlined ponds at its Chesterfield power station and three other Virginia facilities.

“It’s the next step in the process,” she said in an interview last Thursday.

According to the James River Association’s Jamie Brunkow, the most significant immediate impact of the legislation is that it prohibits the state Department of Environmental Quality from issuing the permits Dominion needs to begin closing its ash ponds until July 1, 2019.

That will give state legislators a full year to evaluate the potential costs of recycling; the Chase-Surovell bill establishes a July 1, 2018, deadline for Dominion to solicit proposals from companies interested in using coal ash to manufacture bricks, concrete pavers and other construction materials.

Dominion officials initially wanted to cover the ash ponds with an impermeable liner and several layers of soil – a process known as “capping in place” – but citizens and environmental groups insist that will do nothing to prevent heavy metals in the ash, such as arsenic and lead, from continuing to contaminate groundwater.

“We know what the problem is and what to do about it,” Brunkow said.

Recycling has emerged as a serious option because it would get the ash out of the unlined ponds and likely could be done on-site – meaning the ash wouldn’t have to be transported, either by truck or rail, to a lined landfill.

Citizens potentially could be exposed to ash blown out of a truck bed or rail car during transport, Chase noted.

“Scott [Surovell] and I agreed we don’t want to create a second public safety issue,” she added.

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