by James A. Bacon
The Dumfries Town Council is still calling for a criminal investigation into Dominion Virginia Power’s release of untreated coal ash water into Quantico Creek last spring, reports InsideNova.
After a presentation by the Potomac Riverkeeper Network March 1, the council voted unanimously to ask the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to look into the relationship between Dominion and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) concerning the release of water from Possum Point Power Station coal ash ponds about twelve months ago. Cathy Taylor, Dominion’s director of electric environmental service, told the utility’s side of the story March 15. But Town Council took no action to reverse its previous request.
The EPA enacted new regulations late last year governing the disposal of coal ash, the residue from coal combustion which has been shown to leach heavy metals into the water. A DEQ permit granted for Dominion’s Possum Creek operation this year is far stricter than the previous permit, but it has generated controversy over whether it is restrictive enough. In any case, the release of coal ash water that prompted Dumfries’ call for an investigation precedes the current permit. That release was governed by a previous, less restrictive set of regulations.
The utility confirmed in February that it had released 27.5 million gallons of untreated coal-ash water into Quantico Creek eleven months previously, raising fears among environmentalists that the water might have contained potentially toxic levels of heavy metals. Confusion arose from conflicting statements from Dominion and DEQ Director David Paylor regarding that release.
Taylor acknowledged that something might have gone awry in the company’s communication to DEQ, and she also said that its engineers had revised their estimate of the volume of water released in order to be as precise as possible. Her larger point was that Dominion was abiding by the provisions of its 2012 permit. (DEQ officials have confirmed that the release did not “cross the threshold” of what the permit allowed.) Furthermore, said Taylor, the discharge was comparable in volume to many discharges the utility had made legally in the past.
In his March 1 presentation, Dean Naujoks with the Potomac Riverkeeper Network had characterized the conflicting stories as a possible indication of a DEQ coverup of Dominion’s actions, akin to the way he said North Carolina regulators had covered for Duke Energy after a major coal ash spill in 2014. “Something is not adding up to this story,” he told the Town Council. His accusation gained seeming support with recent publicity that DEQ Director David Paylor had been a guest of Dominion three years ago to the Masters golf tournament.
However, Naujoks has not produced evidence disputing Dominion’s assertion that its discharge of surface water last year was allowed by its 2012 permit, so it’s not clear what DEQ might be covering up.
Under the 2012 permit for Possum Point, which meets EPA’s old regulatory standards, Dominion periodically discharged surface rainwater that accumulated atop the coal ash. The regulatory logic was that surface water had not mixed with the coal ash and did not contain contaminants that required treatment.
‘The surface water was tested to see if it met limits established by the DEQ permit,” says Dominion spokesman Dan Genest. “If it did we could discharge it and would have to file reports to DEQ showing the discharge was within limits. No prior DEQ approval was needed nor did we have to tell them we were discharging in advance.”
Naujok has a stronger case with his charge that, whether legal or illegal, coal ash ponds under the old permit were contaminating ground and river water. The surface water sitting on top of the coal ash that Dominion released into the river originated mainly from rainwater. That is very different from the ground water that migrates through the coal ash and picks up contaminants on the way. Potomac Riverkeeper tests have found high concentrations of heavy metals in the groundwater and river water near the lagoons. Earning Dominion’s ire for trespassing on company land, Naujok has taken photos showing seepage of water in puddles on the ground, and has shown how a “toe drain” underneath the coal ash ponds might have released contaminated water into the river. While such evidence supports his contention that the old regulations were inadequate, they do not address whether Dominion discharged surface water in violation of its permit.
The new EPA regulations and DEQ discharge permit will put a halt to the practice of discharging untreated surface water. Any water from the coal ash lagoons, including surface water, now must undergo extensive treatment and testing. Prince William County signed off on the DEQ permit after extracting concessions from Dominion to ensure closer monitoring and testing.
The Potomac Riverkeeper Network has appealed the permit on the grounds that the DEQ should set standards based on “best available technology” as opposed to criteria consistent with maintaining a fishable-swimmable water quality standard, as DEQ maintains. But that issue is unrelated to the release of coal ash lagoon surface water under the 2012 permit.There are currently no comments highlighted.