Friday, December 1, 2017

It's Coal Ash Day in Virginia

Today, Dominion Energy released its long-awaited coal ash assessments mandated by my legislation last session - Senate Bill 1398.  You can read the entire 800+ page report below, or just the executive summary.

Dominion's Possum Point Power Station has about 4 million cubic yards of coal ash stored in 120 acres of coal ash ponds in Dumfries in the 36th District.  Several constituents have polluted groundwater wells. Some are reporting health problems that they attribute to groundwater pollution from these coal ash ponds.

Senate Bill 1398 directed Dominion to:
  • Conduct an assessment of existing groundwater pollution.
  • Evaluate the feasibility of recycling coal ash into other materials such as concrete, cinderblocks or bricks.
  • Evaluate the feasibility of "clean closure" or digging up and hauling coal ash to a landfill that meets modern standards.
  • Evaluate the feasibility of "cap in place" solutions or leaving the ash where it is, capping it with a rubber surface and dirt and storing it in perpetuity on site.
  • Evaluate the risk of natural disaster pose to any of the above options such as hurricanes, floods, or earthquakes.
25 Millions Cubic Yards = 6 Pentagons
The report points out that Virginia currently has 25 million cubic yards of coal ash that need to be removed.  If you lined up each cubic yard in a row, it would extend from Richmond, over the North Pole and come down somewhere near Australia - about 13,000 miles away.  Alternatively, it is enough to fill up the Pentagon six times (I made a picture at the left to demonstrate).  

Dominion's report indicates that there are heavy metals leaking out of the existing ponds at all four sites, but they claim none constitute water quality violations.  That is disputed by several organizations and my constituents.  

The report goes on to create cost estimates to resolve the coal ash problem.  The total estimates range from around $500 million to $8 billion or between $19.32 and $320.84 per cubic yard.  The report also estimates that there is not enough demand to recycle all of the coal ash in the 15 year clean up period allowed by federal law. 

The report does not have any cost estimates for continued pollution for each option and the cost of health problems, deaths, or other environmental damage that could be caused by each options.  Cancer isn't cheap and if drinking or bathing in contaminated water or eating heavy-metal laden fish kills some ospreys and bald eagles or jump starts cancer in a dozen people per year, that costs all of us money.  

Yesterday, The Potomac Riverkeeper Network and the Southern Environmental Law Cener issued a report indicating that coal ash recycling was feasible, has sufficient demand and was working well in other states.  

To make things even more interesting all of these costs could potentially get passed through to rate payers (e.g. you) in different ways depending on whether the temporary prohibition on utility rate review that the General Assembly enacted (I voted no) two years ago survives this session.  Removing the rate cap could actually cost Virginians more money because it would enable Dominion to pass through more of these costs to consumers.

My objectives for resolving this are as follows:
  • Reach permanent resolution so that we are not leaving this for future generations to address.
  • Minimize the long term impact on ground water, surface water, and human health.
  • Minimize long term impacts on surrounding property owners and communities.
  • Use this as an opportunity to create jobs.
This weighs in favor of a recycling focus.  As always, I would appreciate your feedback. 

No comments:

Post a Comment