Dominion Ordered to Revise Plan for Coal Ash at Chesapeake

A spokesman for Dominion Energy said the company will begin working on a new plan for dealing with leaking piles of coal ash at a retired coal plant in Virginia after a federal judge ruled the company’s current remediation at the site is not acceptable.

U.S. District Judge John Gibney Jr. on July 13 ordered that Dominion must collect samples of water and sediment as well as the tissue of species at the site, including blue crabs, softshell clams, and mussels, as soon as late summer or early fall of this year. The judge said the utility must submit a new application for a solid waste permit to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) for removal and disposal of the coal ash at the site of the closed Chesapeake Energy Center, which is on the Elizabeth River at the mouth of Chesapeake Bay.

The Sierra Club filed a federal civil lawsuit against Dominion in early 2015, asking that Dominion be ordered to remove all the coal ash from the Chesapeake site and dispose of it in a lined landfill at a different location. The environmental group said Dominion was in violation of the Clean Water Act because arsenic and other toxic substances were leaking into the Elizabeth River. The Sierra Club did not immediately respond July 18 to a request for comment about the judge’s order.

Gibney in March 2017 ruled that coal ash from the site was sending arsenic into the surrounding water—though not at harmful levels—in violation of the Clean Water Act. His order last week came after he heard arguments from Dominion and the Sierra Club about each group’s proposed remediation for the site.

The Chesapeake Energy Center burned coal from 1953 until December 2014. The site includes a landfill, pond, and pits holding about 2.8 million cubic yards of ash, the byproduct that remains when coal is burned. Dominion had said that putting a cap over the ash was the safest and most environmentally effective way to deal with the byproduct.

Judge Gibney’s order said that Dominion’s plan must include “corrective measures for the discharge of groundwater and shall not include a plan to cap the coal ash in place.”

Dominion spokesman Rob Richardson on July 17 said the company will start collecting the samples ordered by the judge. He told POWER on July 18:

“Dominion Energy is prepared to begin conducting the monitoring that has now been ordered by the court. We will continue working towards submitting a complete solid waste permit application to DEQ in the first quarter of 2018 that will include additional measures to further address groundwater impacts at the site.

“The court was clear in its March ruling that it was not ordering removal of the ash at CEC, but would require more than monitored natural attenuation. Dominion has stated its plan to propose additional corrective measures to address groundwater impacts at the site [and] has stated unequivocally that the final remedy will not be solely capping the ash in place.”

Dominion continues to assess its storage of coal ash at three other sites, as required by a Virginia law passed earlier this year. The law says coal ash units must have a “clean closure,” whether by excavation and removal to a dry, lined landfill, or through recycling, before a solid waste permit will be issued.

Coal ash, often called coal combustion residuals (CCR), is often recycled for use in concrete, bricks, roofing materials, and drywall.

—Darrell Proctor is a POWER associate editor. (@DarrellProctor1, @POWERmagazine)