Dominion, SELC Spin Coal Ash Ruling as Victory

Dominion Virginia Power and the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) are both declaring victory after a ruling by a federal judge regarding Dominion’s disposal of coal ash at its retired Chesapeake Energy Center.

U.S. District Court Judge John A. Gibney ruled today that the coal ash ponds are contaminating the Elizabeth River with arsenic and that the process of “natural attenuation,” or letting nature take its course, is a “completely ineffective solution,” says a press release issued by the SELC, which represented the plaintiff, the Sierra Club.

“The judge agreed with the Sierra Club’s experts, and rejected the testimony of Dominion experts who said arsenic does not reach the Elizabeth River,” said the statement.

But Dominion found much to celebrate in Gibney’s ruling as well. “The court has confirmed that there has been no threat to health or the environment resulting from the coal ash stored at its former Chesapeake Energy Center,” said a Dominion statement. “The court noted there has been ‘no evidence that shows any injury … has occurred to health or the environment.”

Furthermore, the ruling noted that Dominion had abided by all permits and “should not suffer penalties for doing things that it, and the Commonwealth, thought complied with state and federal law.” Accordingly, the court imposed no penalties on Dominion.

That’s the breaking news. I’ll try to have more tomorrow regarding the implications of the ruling for coal ash controversies at Dominion’s Bremo, Possums Point and Chesterfield power stations.

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18 responses to “Dominion, SELC Spin Coal Ash Ruling as Victory

  1. In other related news, Gov McAuliffe (if I got this correct) is planning on putting an amendment in a recent GA bill to require basically a holding period until 2018 in the DEQ permitting process for coal ash permit approvals to allow for consideration of “recycling” and excavation/relocate options that Sen. Scott Surovell and others are proposing. Think I heard this on WTOP ask the Gov which I only caught the tail end of the interview this morning.

  2. I don’t think Govt should tell Dominion what to do with the coal ash. I would leave that up to them to find the most cost-effective way to do it. I’d trust them to do that more than I would government.

    On the other hand – it’s unconscionable that they are clearly contaminating the aquifer and neither the Judge nor DEQ seems concerned about that as long as it does not get into the adjacent waterways … nor do they seem at all concerned that over the longer run – years, decades – that it might… they’re content apparently to leave it in place for now – until or unless later on it actually does escape into adjacent waters – and by that time – Dominion will say ” we complied with all laws and regulations and they said we could leave it in place”.

    There is no honor is this decision. The Judge and DEQ are complicit in doing nothing now – and later when there is a problem – it’s going to be “oh well”.

    that’s exactly how this happened:

    these are Virginia’s superfund sites – that taxpayers are STILL paying for because the folks that created them “complied with all rules and regulations” – at that time.

    • Larry, it’s not relevant to coal ash, but it’s another Dominion issue you and Jim have had a longstanding interest in: the Yorktown load pocket and the best way to fix it, which DOM says is the Surry – Skiffes Creek river crossing — and you’ve asked repeatedly about alternatives. Of course there were some alternatives looked at by the VSCC, but those documents were massive and hard to wade through. Here, however, are some Dominion letters summarizing these alternatives that you might find useful. They were on the CE’s website, which I was just checking for any new information hinting at a forthcoming order — see
      Down at the bottom of the web page there is a list of documents in the CE’s file in the section headed “Alternative Analyses,” and buried in there is this letter from Dominion, a reply to the CE and the National Parks Conservation Association regarding alternative scenarios studied by Dominion — the last part concerns Dominion’s views on putting the lines underwater, and there’s also lots of stuff in here about whether keeping the Yorktown units on line or converting them to gas would be a viable alternative.
      In short, Dominion rejected these options for cost.

      Also, I have mentioned a couple of times that I think DOM could have given more attention to the option of building a 500 kV line east from Richmond and dropping the river crossing at Surry entirely. Here is Dominion’s response to that alternative, which the CE asked about.
      In short, Dominion says it could not get permission to open another right of way across the Chickahominy River without condemning 15-17 homes (it looked at north and south alternative routes for this), and it could not add another line to the existing right-of-way over the Chickahominy River because, under NERC rules, any additional lines in the right of way are not counted for reliability purposes if a single contingency (like a plane crash) could take them all out at once. NERC is the North American Electric Reliability Council, an independent body under FERC oversight, which fixes the reliability standards that every electric utility and system operator in the U.S. must plan and build to meet.

      There’s lots of good stuff on the CE website. I just wish they’d DO SOMETHING with it all.

      • thanks Acbar.. I will read and respond later today… good stuff!

      • Like the other lame excuses – Dom acts like the ONLY way they could route a power line was in the worst possible place – ignoring all the other options.

        just total contempt for the process.. over and over their response is essentially “we don’t want to do that”.. the “only” thing we can do is build it in the direct viewshed of Jamestown… ”

        There’s a lot of river between Surry and downstream to the next set of powerlines that cross the James.. what is wrong with any of those places?

        Dom is so stubborn about this that they would rather offer 80 million in remediation than spend the 80 million additional on an alternative.

  3. AP reports that Poland, India and China are exporting coal ash to the U.S. through the Port of Virginia to concrete makers and others. Funny that Dominion insists that it must keep its ash in place with a minimum of liners.

    And while we’re at it:

    • Good article in the Post. Virginia remains a ridiculous political fiasco.

      1. Severely gerrymanderd districts along with off year elections and unlimited campaign contributions keep the General Assembly members elected for life.
      2. Unlimited campaign contributions and incredibly lax gift / ethic ruls allow those elected for life to profit handsomely from their elected office.
      3. America’s only one term governor is a lame duck on inauguration day and can do little to curb the General assembly.
      4. The state judiciary is elected by the General Assembly with no independent review or recommendation process. Virginia is one of only two states with level of judicial appointment negligence.

      The net result of this hopelessly corrupt political system is arsenic leaching into aquifers with a federal judge as the sole entity willing to challenge the wisdom of such an act.

      However, it is heartening to see Cuccinelli and Petersen working together. also good to see Surrovell working across the aisle. Maybe Virginia is beginning to build a core of responsible politicians who really will put their constituents first. Four down, only 136 more to go.

    • These countries are PAYING to ship 10,000 miles to recycle here and Dom says it’s too expensive to move a couple hundred miles in Virginia! Lord!

    • Peter coal ash imports would be interesting to hear more about, but I bet they are talking about pure fly ash, which has cement value. What’s in the pond is probably a waste slurry mix of fly ash , bottom ash, sulfur/lime recovered sludge. For all I know, Dominion already sold off the fly ash before they put the other byproducts in pond sludge out there. So it does not automatically follow that what is in the ponds is valuable to cement. If we insist however, I suspect just about anything can be thrown in to cement manufacture.

  4. Jim is quick to criticize WMATA’s management (with some very good reason) but slow to take Dominion to task. Was the chemical composition of coal ash miraculously revealed to Dominion executives in the last 18 months? Or, did they store toxic waste in an open air pit next to a key water way for years and years? What kind of half-wits think it’s OK to have arsenic laden toxic waste in pits by rivers leaching into aquifers? The General Assembly ought to order McAuliffe to perform a competence review of Dominion’s board and management?

  5. The report that the US is importing coal ash from elsewhere caught my eye, as well. All things being equal, recycling sounds like a viable option, at least for some of the stockpile. Pass a bill that allows an ROE for the sale of the waste! That’ll do it!

    And I agree with the ruling that coal ash is not the apocalyptic existential threat the hysterics (sounds like Rippert is one of them) would have you believe. Humans have been burning coal in large quantities for centuries, and disposing of the ash, and while there certainly have been health consequences – and we use better fuels now – the choice was often freezing to death. In the winter I create wood ash and in the summer charcoal ash. Be afraid…..

  6. I don’t think coal ash is “apocalyptic” any more than I do …say… superfund sites. I just think it’s a no-brainer that after that ash has sit in an aquifer for 20-30, 50, 100 years that it IS going to leech into adjacent areas… and even that is not a problem as long as Dominion is on the hook to deal with it when/if that happens.

    what I object to is them getting a “you’re no longer responsible” status because someone right now today says it’s not really a problem.

    it needs to be dealt with.. and Dominion needs to take responsibility for it and YES.. us users of electricity need to pay for it to be remediated.

    end of story. all this PR kabuki theater from Dom is just wretched and irresponsible behavior and NOT a good corporate citizen no matter how much DOm tries to PR it.

  7. HEY– I don’t hear very much of any out cry with certain cities in out state using our rivers for toilet relief, nor very much of any real crying about coal ash for years.– only whimpers from a few
    but when I see that we are importing Coal ASH from other countries to use in our own state?— it makes my stomach turn
    where are our so called politicians?–
    out worrying about how to squeeze more taxes from us?–more types of tolls
    but nothing about our rivers being used for toilet waste
    nothing about dangerous toxic waste going into our rivers
    but lots about cleaning up the bay?– where all of the rivers go to?
    WHO ARE THEY KIDDING?–they don’t care– their only concern is money– money for their party, money for their reelections.– and how to get stupid people to continue voting them into the same office that they held for years & years.doing the same thing, they normally do.

    • Actually, there has been a lot of discussion on this blog about Alexandria issuing new construction permits without having first addressed their sewer overflow problems. If Alexandria won’t solve their problem themselves the General Assembly ought to shut down any new development or housing rehabilitation in Alexandria. See how fast the politically connected development community runs to city hall demanding action!

    • Hold that stomach.
      “Fly ash often used as a pozzolan to produce hydraulic cement or hydraulic plaster and a replacement or partial replacement for Portland cement in concrete production. Pozzolans ensure the setting of concrete and plaster and provide concrete with more protection from wet conditions and chemical attack.”

      Although dry fly ash can be used in cement, I leave to another discussion whether that makes good environmental sense to not, or if it just a cheaper expedient.

      The wastes in our ponds is not dry fly ash, it is a waste slurry of wet gunk. A old joke in the waste disposal trade I’ve mentioned before, putting that gunk into cement will give us sh** brickhouses, when what we really want is brick sh**houses .

      The liberal argument here on BR is that Dominion is incompetent for disposing the wet waste slurry into ponds, which is otherwise like “gold” to cement manufacture. I got news, the likely truth is that the wet waste sludge actually is a very low value waste stream. And someone has to convince me importing fly ash is a good eco-practice, which may be the first wrong assumption in this whole argument.

      • TBill, my interviews from a variety of sources (not just Dominion) is that the highest-value coal ash is indeed dry “fly ash” directly from the boiler, not ash from the slurry ponds.

        Ash from the slurry ponds must be dried.

        Also, there are other characteristics of coal ash that sometimes must be modified and processed. I can’t recall offhand what those characteristics are. But not all coal ash is created equal, regarding recycling in cement or other uses. The imported coal from Poland or wherever has different characteristics than Dominion’s coal ash (can’t remember what they are at the moment). And, if I recall correctly, European coal ash may penetrate U.S. markets due to recycling subsidies.

        Bottom line: The AP story was superficial and based largely on environmental sources or business sources that benefit from coal ash recycling.

        On the other hand, I will say this: I was astonished by Dominion’s Rob Richardson saying that (to quote AP’s paraphrase) “Dominion hasn’t fully analyzed the cost.”

        • Jim – a simple Google Search will show a LOT MORE articles than just the “superficial” AP …

          re: “Dominion hasn’t fully analyzed the cost.”

          What the… ?? Hasn’t Dominion been actually citing the costs.. millions of dollars…

          It’s pretty clear – Dom is basically “fingering” anyone who disagrees with them.

        • If Poland and China have the KIND of coal ash than CAN be recycled – shouldn’t Dominion also have some percentage than can be also?

          It’s hard to believe that China or Poland would pay to ship coal ash around the world instead of disposing of it where it is generated. especially China which is not known for protecting it’s own environment so you have to believe there’s money to be made importing it.

          so China/Poland can make money transporting it halfway around the world and Dominion is a dead loss doing that a couple hundred miles in Va? Va has NO coal ash to recycle and China and Poland DO?

          something smells fishy about this but a lot of Doms “explanations” these days don’t really add up either.. anyhow.

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