Waterkeepers Oppose Permits Allowing Discharge of Coal Ash Waste into Potomac & James Rivers

Send a letter to Virginia’s Attorney General asking for the revocation of Dominion’s Possum Point coal ash permit and an EPA investigation into the May 2015 27.5 million gallon secret discharge into Quantico Creek.

(3/14/2016 update) WAMU88.5FM News breaks a story on the relationship between DEQ and Dominion: “Activists are concerned about the coziness they say exists between Dominion and Virginia’s environmental regulators. Public documents obtained by WAMU 88.5 show that in 2013, Dominion paid for David Paylor, the head of Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality to attend the Masters golf tournament in Georgia, one of the most sought-after sports tickets in the country. The value of the trip was estimated to be $2,300, according to Paylor’s 2013 financial disclosure statement. Dominion also picked up the tab for a $1,200 outing to O’Toole’s, an Irish pub in Augusta that Paylor patronized along with nine others.”

(3/8/2016 update) The James River Association entered into a settlement agreement with Dominion specific to the dewatering of coal ash ponds at the Bremo Power Station. With legal representation by the Southern Environmental Law Center, they secured a commitment from Dominion to install enhanced treatment of the coal ash wastewater that is design to keep discharges below water quality standards before discharge into the James River, better protecting all uses of the river. Based on a review by an independent engineer, they expect that the actual pollution levels will be even lower and comparable to the lower limits set in North Carolina permits. Importantly, Dominion must submit a report for the enhanced treatment to DEQ for approval, which will make the enhanced treatment enforceable under the permit. Dominion also committed to conducting fish tissue sampling for two years upstream and downstream of the discharge. Strong public involvement was critical to achieving this success. This is only the first step in permanent closure of the coal ash ponds.

(3/2/2016 update) Town of Dumfires votes to request an EPA criminal investigation in to the relationship between Dominion and the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).

(2/26/2016 update) Potomac Riverkeeper with Southern Environmental Law Center file appeal of Dominion’s Possum Point permit and seek revocation of the permit and call for EPA investigation.

(2/15/2016 update) State of Maryland to challenge Dominion’s permits.

(2/10/2016 update) James River Association with Southern Environmental Law Center filed notice of challenge to Dominion’s coal ash permit at Bremo Power Plant on the James River. READ MORE

(2/09/16 update) It is revealed that Dominion dumped 35 million gallons of coal ash waste water directly into Quantico Creek near the Potomac River from its ponds at Possum Point May 2015. In June 2015 Potomac Riverkeeper Network took aerial photographs revealing the unexpected draining of coal ash wastewater from “Pond E”. Potomac Riverkeeper is calling for a full investigation. READ MORE

(2/1/2016 update) Potomac Riverkeeper Network with Southern Environmental Law Center filed notice of challenge to Dominion’s coal ash permit at Possum Point. READ MORE

(1/26/2106 update) James River Association tested water well at Bremo Bluffs. “As part of their investigation into the advisability of Dominion Power’s plan, the JRA contacted the power plant’s neighbors and offered to have their wells tested for contamination with toxins associated with coal ash. Kerr and Tinker took them up on their offer, and had their well tested. The report on the water in their well, indicating the presence of hexavalent chromium, or “chromium six,” alarmed the couple. Although the level of hexavalent chromium did not exceed federal limits for safe drinking water, those levels are now being reassessed by the EPA in the wake of an internal study determining that hexavalent chromium when consumed in drinking water is ‘likely to be carcinogenic to humans.'” READ MORE

On January 14, 2016, the Virginia State Water Control Board approved Dominion Virginia Power’s permits to drain defunct coal ash ponds into nearby waterways at two sites in the state. The Possum Point Power Station is near Quantico and will be drained into a tributary of the Potomac River, and the Bremo Bluff Power Station will be drained into a tributary of the James River near Fork Union — despite opposition from Potomac Riverkeeper, James Riverkeepers, Southern Environmental Law Center, hundreds of public commenters, and almost two dozen state and local agencies.

These draft permits authorize the release of tens of millions of gallons of polluted water into the James River and Quantico Creek, an embayment of the Potomac River. This water is currently contained in ponds full of coal ash. There is considerable uncertainty about how Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (VDEQ) arrived at many of the requirements in the draft permits. The draft permits, as written, do not comply with the Clean Water Act—the law under which they are issued. The Clean Water Act requires the application of the best achievable technologies to treat wastewater before it may be discharged to our rivers and streams. Metals in the wastewater at both facilities include aluminum, antimony, arsenic, barium, boron, chromium, cobalt, iron, magnesium, molybdenum, manganese, nickel, selenium, and zinc.

Yet the draft permits require little to no treatment of this contaminated water. The permits allow Dominion to discharge harmful pollutants at high levels, instead of requiring the application of technologies that currently exist to treat coal ash wastewater to far lower levels of contaminants. The limits are also far higher than those imposed on “dewatering” in other states – for example, the Possum Point draft permit sets the monthly average limit for arsenic at 300 µg/L, 30 times higher than the limit of 10 µg/L proposed for Duke Progress Energy’s L.V. Sutton coal ash facility in North Carolina. VDEQ should require Dominion to meet the same limits that are being used at other coal ash facilities.

Letting Dominion dump coal ash wastewater with high levels of pollutants into our treasured waterways fits a pattern of VDEQ giving Dominion an easy out, instead of ensuring the protection of water quality for human health and the environment. “Dewatering,” in this case, is the first step toward closing the coal ash ponds in place at Possum Point and Bremo, leaving the coal ash inside, and allowing these ponds to continue to pollute groundwater, the James River, Quantico Creek, and the Potomac River. The high limits and failure to apply achievable technology in these draft permits would also establish a bad precedent for “dewatering” of coal ash ponds around the Commonwealth. VDEQ can and should do better.

Waterkeepers Chesapeake does not support Dominion’s plans for “cap-in-place” that allow tons of toxic coal ash to continue to be stored in a pond that will continue to discharge contaminants. This toxic ash must be removed from the sites and taken to a lined solid waste landfill away from rivers and drinking water supplies.  Duke Energy was required to do this at their facilities in the Carolinas; Dominion should be held to the same standard.

After the state board’s approval of the two permits, Potomac Riverkeeper Network and James River Association, along with their attorneys at Southern Environmental Law Center, are considering filing appeals. In addition, Prince William County and the State of Maryland are considering filing for injunctions.

Read Waterkeepers Chesapeake’s comments on the draft permits.

Learn more at:

Potomac Riverkeeper Network

Our River At Risk (James River Association)

Southern Environmental Law Center

Read recent news:

Pressure Mounting on DEQ to Protect Virginians From Dominion’s Coal Ash Pollution, Groups Appeal Permit to Pollute Potomac River with Contaminated Coal Ash Wastewater, February 26, 2016, SELC & PRKN press statement

Virginia allows Dominion to exceed toxic limits for James River dumping, Febraury 25, 2016

More than 200 protesters march against Dominion coal ash plans; eight arrested, Richmond Times Dispatch, Febraury 20, 2016

Maryland takes Virginia to court over coal ash plan on the Potomac, Baltimore Sun, February 16, 2015

Maryland to fight utility’s plan to release treated waste into Va. creek, Washington Post, February 15, 2016

Conservation Groups Plan Court Challenge to Protect the James River from Coal Ash Pollution, James River Association & SELC press statement, February 10, 2016

Conservation groups outraged that Dominion dumped over 30 million gallons of toxic coal ash wastewater into creek near Potomac River, SELC & PRKN statement, February 9, 2016

Dominion released millions of gallons of coal-ash water, InsideNOVA, February 10, 2016

Court fight looms over Dominion plan to flush coal ash water, InsideNOVA.com, February 1, 2016

Dominion’s License to Pollute Potomac River with Contaminated Coal Ash Wastewater To Be Appealed, SELC & PRKN press statement, February 1, 2016

BREMO COUPLE WORRY ABOUT COAL ASH, Fluvanna Review, January 26, 2016

Prince William hiring lawyer to fight Dominion coal-ash plan, InsideNOVA.com, January 21, 2016

LTE: Corey Stewart: Dominion is a ‘horrible corporate citizen’, InsideNOVA, January 15, 2016

Dominion wins permit to discharge treated coal-ash water into Va. creek, The Washington Post, January 14, 2016

Officials consider legal action to stop Dominion coal-ash flushing, InsideNOVA, January 13, 2016

LTE: Va. should set tougher standards on this environmental threat, The Washington Post, January 13, 2016