Regions

House panel next to consider Senate coal ash legislation

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Print this page By Kirby Farineau, Capital News Service

A Senate bill extending the moratorium on permanently closing coal ash ponds appears to be the only legislation on the issue poised to move forward from this General Assembly session.

Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax, introduced six pieces of legislation on coal ash, and coal ash ponds, where stored ash potentially risks contaminating groundwater.

The lone survivor is SB 807, which passed in the Senate 37-3 last week. Co-sponsored by Sen. Amanda F. Chase, R-Chesterfield, the bill would extend the moratorium on closing ponds where coal ash is stored until after the next legislative session, and would also require that Dominion Energy, the owners of the coal ash ponds, submit reports to the General Assembly and governor on the cost of recycling the material. Coal ash is the toxic byproduct of coal-burning power plants.

The bill’s next step is to go before a subcommittee of the House Commerce and Labor Committee.

Surovell said he has doubts about Dominion Energy estimates that recycling the utility’s ash would cost more than  $4 billion.

“I'm not convinced that Dominion’s numbers are accurate. I’m hopeful that with the new process we put in place, that the cost assessments for recycling will come down.” Surovell said.

According to Surovell, the Dominion utility rate cap bill has dominated the session to the point that other legislation, including his own, suffered.

The moratorium passed with support from environmental groups and Dominion Energy.

Dominion spokesman Robert Richardson said that Dominion has taken several actions to protect the environment since it was ordered in 2015 to resolve the coal ash issue.

Richardson said that Dominion plans to reduce the number of coal ash ponds at the Bremo power station in New Canton to just one within the next six months. The utility has already reduced the number of ponds at Possum Point in Dumfries from five to one. Overall, Richardson said, Dominion will have reduced the number of coal ash ponds under federal regulation from 11 to four.

Richardson also said that Dominion is currently recycling over 700,000 tons of coal ash a year, and is draining water from its Chesterfield power station ponds. He said Dominion stands by “cap in place” practices and that it has followed U.S. Environmental Protection Agency guidelines.   

“What we are hoping first as far as a priority, is closing these ponds in a way that is fully protective of the environment.” Richardson said.

Environmental groups have been skeptical, however, especially after Dominion was found guilty in federal court of violating the Clean Water Act for contaminating Virginia’s Elizabeth River with arsenic in 2017. The judge in the case, however, said the leak was considered small enough that it didn’t pose a threat to public health.

The Virginia branch of the Sierra Club, which filed the Elizabeth River suit, considers “cap in place” unsafe, The organization supports Surovell’s bill.

“Removing the ash or potentially recycling are the only responsible way to deal with toxic waste,” said Kate Addleson, director of the club’s Virginia chapter.  “We feel it’s important to make sure there are ways to evaluate the best way to dispose of the ash properly before moving forward.”


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