Dominion, protesters battle over what to do with coal ash

Image courtesy of Adrienne Eichner

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Representatives from Dominion Energy gave a presentation Monday to the State Water Commission on how they might safely close coal ash ponds and dispose of coal ash residue.

Meanwhile, a group of about 75 people gathered downtown in opposition to Dominion and their plans for closing their existing 11 coal ash ponds.

Image courtesy of Adrienne Eichner

The protesters, led mostly by members of the Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club, said they wanted the toxic residue left over from burning coal to be stored in a way that would not leach into residents’ drinking water.

According to the Dominion presentation, ash has already been removed or is going to be removed from seven of the 11 existing facilities in the Chesapeake Bay watershed to be stored in lined landfills or recycled, as environmental groups would prefer.

Dominion representative Pamela Faggert said at the meeting that while the company was committed to closing the four remaining facilities, they felt that the best way to do this is to put a cap on the existing unlined coal ash ponds.

Image courtesy of AECOM/Dominion Energy

“We often recycle coal ash as it’s generated, sometimes we put it onsite in a landfill, sometimes we take it off-site for disposal [there], and sometimes it’s placed in a pond on site. In that case, there is strict ongoing monitoring and inspections of the ponds,” Faggert said.

One of the major factors the company considered in their presentation was the cost related to the different disposal methods. Dominion representatives said that removing the coal ash from the existing unlined ponds would cost billions and take longer than the state-mandated amount of time to do so.

Mary-Stuart Torbeck, Community Outreach Coordinator with the Sierra Club Virginia Chapter said in a release Monday that the costs associated with such cleanups pale in comparison to the potential health costs.

Image courtesy of Adrienne Eichner

“While Dominion’s report acknowledges that the corporation could move coal ash from leaking pits to existing off-site landfills at multiple sites, the report claims it would cost too much,” Torbeck said. “These costs pale in comparison to the importance of ensuring millions of Virginians clean water free from the contaminants like mercury and arsenic found in coal ash.”

Dominion addressed the question of toxins leaking into the groundwater from the ponds by pointing out that the company exceeds the standards laid out for them by Coal Combustion Residuals requirements.

Image courtesy of AECOM/Dominion Energy

“The groundwater network at each of these facilities meets or goes beyond CCR requirements, providing robust monitoring around all of the ponds,” Faggert said. “Further testing and analysis will be required for each site in order to determine whether groundwater clean up is needed, and if so, exactly what remediation will be required.”

Meanwhile, opponents say the ponds are already leaking, and that putting a cap on will do little to prevent contaminants from leaching into groundwater and eventually into rivers.

“Given that Dominion now admits to substantial groundwater pollution at all of the sites, we cannot simply leave this ash in these leaking pits. We need to get it out of our water and either into a modern landfill or into the hands of Virginia businesses that want to use it safely in roads and other projects,” said Southern Environmental Law Center attorney Nate Benforado.

Now, it’s up to the General Assembly to determine whether to allow Dominion to “cap in place” as they said they prefer or require them to remove the coal ash from the ponds to be placed in lined landfills or recycled as environmental groups are asking.

Stay tuned as the legislative session begins next month, and in the meantime, catch up by reading the full report published by the engineering firm AECOM on behalf of Dominion, or the summary they provided.

PREVIOUS STORY: Report lays out options for way forward on coal ash; critics respond

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