Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Governor Acts on Coal Ash

Possum Point Coal Ash Ponds - 120 acres
Today, Governor Terry McAuliffe offered his amendments to SB1398 which I introduced to provide better information to the public before we make final decisions on closing four ponds or impoundments holding millions of cubic yards of coal ash located in:
  • Possum Point, Dumfries, VA
  • Bremo Station, Bremo, VA
  • Chesterfield Station, Chesterfield, VA
  • Chesapeake Energy Center, Chesapeake, VA

While Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has been following existing state and federal law, I have remained concern that DEQ needs more tools and more options need to be on the table. 

My original legislation created a one-year moratorium on permitting of coal ash ponds and required Dominion Resources to provide a assessment regarding:
  • The present amount of water pollution and best ways to remediate it;
  • Feasibility of clean closure (digging up and hauling coal ash away to a modern lined landfill);
  • Feasibility of cap in place (storing coal ash in existing partially-lined ponds with a synthetic cap);
  • Feasibility of recycling coal ash into other products; and
  • Protection from natural disasters like flooding and earthquakes.
Coal Ash on Hand
When the legislation went through the House of Delegates it was weakened by removing the moratorium, requiring Dominion to provide a progress report instead of a final reports, and an additional series of assessment regarding landfill locations was removed.

The Governor's amendments do two things:
  • Puts a coal ash permitting moratorium in place through 5/1/18 or the effective date of any future legislation regarding the closure of coal ash ponds; and
  • Requires Dominion to provide a final report instead of a progress report.
I am pleased that the Governor chose to partially restore the legislation.  Dominion has already spent approximately $200 million and plans to spend at least a $1 billion to deal with these issues.  It is important that the public have complete information regarding the present scope of pollution and the cost of solutions before the Virginians and businesses that receive their electricity from Dominion are required to pay for these costs.

Coal Ash Penninsula Built in Elizabeth River
Extensive groundwater pollution has already been documented at ever site in Virginia.  It is also critical that Virginians whose properties and lives have been affected by coal ash pollution have complete information before any final solutions are approved.

Finally, water quality preservation is a bipartisan issue.  All Virginians want to have groundwater they can drink and healthy rivers.  Millions of Virginians rely upon the Potomac, James, and Elizabeth River for drinking water, recreation and employment.  No one likes to have a side of arsenic with their oysters.  People from across the Commonwealth and political spectrums have reached out to me over the last two years urging that we get this right from the beginning.

I look forward to working with Senator Amanda Chase from Chesterfield, organizations, and Virginians to see that this amendment is approved by the Senate of Virginia and the House of Delegates at Reconvened Session on April 5, 2017.

Statement of Governor McAuliffe
“My administration is committed to protecting water quality and drinking water sources for residents throughout the entire Commonwealth of Virginia as we address the closure of coal ash impoundments. While I support the Department of Environmental Quality’s approach to addressing this issue and the agency is currently following the path laid out under state law and federal regulations, there has been tremendous public concern and outreach on this topic. As such, I am proposing amendments to Senate Bill 1398 that will provide the public with more information on the costs and benefits, risks, and recycling options for coal ash before a final decision on the permits is reached. My hope is that this additional process will increase the public’s confidence in the path that Virginia ultimately takes.”

Statement of Lt. Governor Ralph Northam
Richmond, VA - This afternoon, Governor McAuliffe proposed a temporary pause on the state permitting process for coal ash impoundment projects to allow for additional assessment regarding their impact on Virginia’s water quality and environment.

Lieutenant Governor Northam issued the following statement in response to Governor McAuliffe’s proposed amendments to the Coal Ash Bill, Senate Bill 1398:

“I have long believed there must be a full accounting of cost and environmental impact at these sites before any permits should be issued for closure, and I applaud Governor McAuliffe’s proposed amendments to the Coal Ash bill. This will provide Virginia communities with a better understanding of the financial and environmental impact for the various options to recycle coal ash. This is an important step for Virginia, and I am committed to ensuring all stakeholders, most importantly the public, can make an informed decision based on the facts.

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