A coal ash storage site just yards from the Southern Branch of the Elizabeth River, and several like it across the state, could be re-examined and the waste possibly recycled under a bill that has passed a state Senate committee. The bill would prohibit the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality from issuing a permit to close the areas until it has fully reviewed other options, like recycling the coal ash for use in cement or moving it to a safer landfill.
Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax County, sponsored the bill, SB1398, which the Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources Committee approved Thursday. The proposal affects only coal ash sites owned by Dominion Virginia Power in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
Dominion has looked at capping the Chesapeake Energy Center site, on the Elizabeth River in Chesapeake, with topsoil and a synthetic cover, but environmentalists worry about leaks into the waterway.
Dominion says the current closure plans are more than sufficient and the entire premise of the legislation calls into question current regulations, which it says are sound. Dominion says if the bill passes, it would add more red tape and further delay closure plans.
Large-scale ash spills in Tennessee in 2008 and North Carolina in 2014 caused widespread environmental and economic damage to waterways and properties. The spills have renewed focus on coal ash storage. The bill requires Dominion to identify any water pollution from the sites and figure out ways to fix any problems.
Surovell said in some places, like the Chesapeake site, officials weren’t sure how much or where all the coal ash was. “When we close them, we got to do it right,” Surovell said. “It’s a 100-year fix.”
Some companies in North Carolina and Georgia are digging out coal ash from sites, drying it in furnaces and selling it to companies that make cement. Surovell said closures are expensive, so you only want to pay for them once. Dominion said on a recent earnings call that it has spent $270 million on coal ash work, Surovell said.
The senator said coal ash closure is a massive problem across the state and his bill allows the safest, best possible resolution. Dominion’s Possum Point facility, in his district, has multiple ash storage ponds spread across 120 acres. One resident, Dan Marrow, testified that his well water was polluted from the ash and it was “poisoning” his children and even burning their hair off when they showered. They’ve switched to bottled water, but Marrow said his wife cries every night because of the situation.
Dominion has plans to reimburse the residents to connect to municipal water, Surovell said. Marrow urged lawmakers to think about what the bill would mean to residents and to vote for it.
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