Coal ash cleanup legislation heads to governor’s desk

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RICHMOND, Va. — Two bills are headed to the governor’s desk requiring Dominion Energy to clean up millions of tons of coal ash at four Virginia power plants in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

SB 1355, introduced by Republican Sen. Frank Wagner of Virginia Beach, was approved by the House 93-2 on Friday. The bill’s passage comes a day after the Senate approved an identical bill, HB 2786, 38-2.

Both bills require the removal of the more than 28 million tons of coal ash currently stored at Chesterfield Power Station, Chesapeake Energy Center, Possum Point Power Station and Bremo Power Station.

According to the legislation, coal ash waste at these sites must be recycled or moved to lined and permitted landfills, with at least one quarter of the coal ash being recycled. The measure also requires Dominion Energy, which owns all four sites, to offer municipal water hookups or water testing to residents within one-half mile of the coal ash basins.

The cost of the closure and removal of coal ash sites will be at least partly recovered by rate adjustments authorized by the State Corporation Commision, meaning that Dominion Energy won’t have to foot the bill on its own.

Today’s vote is a major victory for environmental organizations that have for years pushed for the cleanup of coal ash.

“For too long, monopoly utilities have gotten away with inadequately dealing with toxic coal ash at the cost of the communities living around the leaking pits. In the future, we must work to strengthen the standards passed today and expand them to the remaining coal ash sites in Virginia,” said Kate Addleson, director of the Sierra Club Virginia Chapter.

Coal ash is defined as the waste product produced by coal-fired power plants and is typically stored in ponds or landfills on the power station’s property. Coal ash contains contaminants like mercury, cadmium and arsenic that can pollute waterways, ground water, drinking water, and the air if not properly managed.

Coal ash spills in Eden, North Carolina in 2014 and Kingston, Tennessee in 2008 caused widespread environmental and economic damage to nearby waterways and properties. As a result, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency began taking measures to help ensure protective coal ash disposal.

“After years of debate and study, lawmakers came up with a final coal ash solution that protects our water from heavy metals and carcinogens and ensures we no longer have to live with a toxic threat on the banks of our rivers,” said Michael Town, executive director of the Virginia League of Conservation Voters.

By Daniel Berti/Capital News Service

Capital News Service is a flagship program of VCU’s Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students participating in the program provide state government coverage for Virginia’s community newspapers and other media outlets, under the supervision of Associate Professor Jeff South.

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