Industries Energy/Green

Dominion and James River Association settle on plan for discharging treated coal ash wastewater

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Dominion Virginia Power and the James River Association said Wednesday that they have reached a settlement on discharges of treated water from coal ash ponds at the company’s Bremo Power Station in Fluvanna County.

Under the agreement, Dominion has committed to enhanced treatment of the pond water and to fish tissue monitoring during the project.

Meanwhile, the James River Association, represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) will not appeal the wastewater permit issued for Bremo.

The terms of the agreement, however, apply only to the wastewater permit at Bremo and not to other Dominion sites.

The discharges at Bremo are regulated by a permit issued in January by the State Water Control Board and Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), requiring Dominion to build and operate a wastewater treatment system at the facility.

“Through our agreement today, Dominion will install enhanced treatment for the wastewater that is designed to better protect all uses of the James River,” Bill Street, the James River Association’s CEO, said in a statement.

“”We are pleased that this agreement with the James River Association allows us to move ahead with this important environmental project,” said Pam Faggert, chief environmental officer for Dominion. “The James River Association has helped us create a plan that reflects the commitment of both of our organizations to maintain the quality of the James River."

The federal Environmental Protection Agency issued rules in the spring of 2015 calling for the closure of inactive coal ash ponds across the country following major coal ash spills in Tennessee and North Carolina. The rules encourage power companies to eliminate the risk of future spills by closing coal ash ponds by the spring of 2018.

Dominion Virginia Power plans to close 11 ash ponds at four power stations across Virginia at a cost of at least $325 million.  As part of the closings, the company must first remove water accumulated in the ponds. The decharging of the treated water into Virginia’s waterways has prompted demonstrations and an outcry from environmental groups.

Students demonstrated Monday at the Department of Environmental Quality in Richmond, the state regulatory agency overseeing Dominion’s plans, resulting in some arrests. Last month, another group of more than 200 protesters marched through downtown Richmond to show their concern about permits for cleaning up coal ash ponds.Coal-ash wastewater can contain such hazardous metals as arsenic, chromium, lead, and cadmium.

Wednesday’s settlement agreement was the second in two days. On Tuesday, Prince William County and Dominion Virginia Power announced a settlement for the draining of treated coal ash wastewater into Quantico Creek, a tributary of the Potomac River, from ponds at the Possum Point Power Station in Dumfries. 

“After extensive dialogue, we as a board are comfortable that the dewatering of the ponds will be done in a way that provides an additional level of protection, and that addresses concerns raised by our residents,” Corey Stewart, chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors, said in a statement.

Under that agreement, Dominion agreed to go beyond federal and state requirements and add enhanced protections in operating state-of-the-art treatment equipment already planned for the project and to provide additional water treatment if monitoring shows elevated levels of certain constituents.

On Wednesday the Potomac Riverkeeper Network and the SELC weighed in on the settlement agreements. “The recent settlements of coal ash wastewater appeals at Possum Point and Bremo Bluff emphasize flaws in the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality’s permitting process, “ the groups said in a press release “ … The utility readily agreed in both cases it can treat coal ash wastewater to a far higher standard than the DEQ permit required.”

SELC also represents the Potomac Riverkeeper Network. That organization is moving forward with its legal challenge at Possum Point to ensure even stronger protections for the waterway.
“DEQ has failed the communities it is required to protect.  It has failed to write permits that protect the James and Potomac rivers,” Dean Naujoks of Potomac Riverkeeper said in a statement. “At the very least, the multiple appeals from environmentalists, and state and local governments, forced Dominion to come to the table. That by itself speaks volumes about the DEQ lax permit."

The DEQ released a statement Thursday morning in response to the two settlement agreements, defending its record. David K. Paylor, the department's director, said "DEQ is pleased that Dominion has voluntarily
agreed to go beyond federal and state regulatory requirements to further enhance protections for Virginia waters. DEQ has full confidence that its discharge permits fully protect water quality, aquatic
life and human health. The permits issued for Dominion’s Bremo and Possum Point power stations, like thousands of similar permits DEQ has written in the past four decades, meet strict federal and state requirements for water quality.

The people who work at DEQ take their environmental stewardship obligations seriously, and recent accusations against DEQ’s integrity are baseless."

Dominion officials have said that toxins will be removed from the coal ash during the dewatering process and that water discharged into the state's waterways will meet and even exceed state standards.

The environmental groups noted in their statement Wednesday that the settlement agreements only address the treatment of polluted water on top of the coal ash. They don't address management of the underlying coal ash itself.

Dominion plans to leave the coal ash in pits along the banks of the Potomac River, as well as  its other coal ash sites throughout Virginia. Those sites would be capped with a material similar to what is used to cap landfills.

Some utilities in North and South Carolina plan to remove coal ash to dry, modern, lined landfills away from waterways. Dominion is in the process of building one of those landfills at its Dutch Gap power plant in Chesterfield County, but plans to use that facility for future coal ash disposal.

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