Environmental groups are uniting behind three key bills in the General Assembly that they say would help align Virginia with clean energy efforts already underway in other states. The bills would mandate the safe storage or recycling of toxic coal ash, put Virginia on a firmer path to slash power plant carbon emissions and ease a host of solar energy restrictions.

The Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club, the Southern Environmental Law Center and the Chesapeake Climate Action Network say they’ve spent months and years laying the groundwork for the passage of such bills. Last week, Gov. Ralph Northam announced full-throated support for the legislation that would require coal ash ponds in the Chesapeake Bay watershed to be excavated and the ash placed in modern, lined landfills or safely recycled.

Dominion spokesman David Botkins said that years ago when the ponds were built there were no rules for lining them. As for any contamination, he said, “We are developing a corrective action plan to resolve those issues. There is no impact to any local communities or drinking water wells at any of the sites.”

Dominion has explored a number of options for closing its ponds in a safe and environmentally responsible manner, he said. In December, at the General Assembly’s request, it presented a report on those options, which include excavation and recycling, and now awaits guidance from lawmakers.

Other options include containment walls or pump-and-treat systems, but Benforado cautioned that such systems would have to be operated and maintained indefinitely and are at risk of equipment failure, human error and storms or hurricanes.

Meanwhile, utilities in North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia are safely and cost-effectively excavating millions of tons of their coal ash and storing it in modern landfills, he said, while recouping much of their costs by selling some of it for use in concrete and cement.“Recycling is an important part of a long-term, permanent solution,” Benforado said. “There is a demand for Dominion’s ash.”

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