The Coal Ash Deal: More Proof that Virginia Is Becoming New Jersey

Coal ash at the Chesterfield Power Station. Photo credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch

A deal cooked up between Governor Ralph Northam and legislative leaders, with the support of environmental groups and the acquiescence of Dominion Energy, will require Dominion to excavate coal ash ponds at four of its power plants, recycle at least 6.8 million cubic yards, and move the rest to modern landfills. The requirement, according to the Washington Post, will add about $1 billion to the $1.7 billion cost of Dominion’s preferred approach. The cost to ratepayers is not to exceed $225 million a year (the Richmond Times-Dispatch figure) or $5 per month per typical retail customer (Washington Post).

What I find disturbing is the totally false premise upon which the legislation is based: that landfilling of coal ash is necessary because existing coal ash ponds are leaking heavy metals. This assertion, made endlessly over the past year, provides the justification for the legislation. If you want proof that Virginia politically is becoming New Jersey, now you’ve got it.

Here are just a few recent examples of misleading rhetoric:

Said Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax, a key legislator pushing for the landfilling option: “These ponds that are there right now are leaking, there’s no dispute about that. Getting that stopped is the number one priority and that’s what this bill does.”

Michael Town, executive director of the Virginia League of Conservation Voters, described the existing coal as pits as “lakes full of toxic coal ash. … Can you imagine what the environmental protections were in the 1930s? That is how this stuff is being managed today. And we do not think that’s appropriate, and I think most Virginians would agree.”

Said a Southern Environmental Law Center press release: “After years of seeking to leave its coal ash in leaking pits, Dominion is agreeing to support legislation that will require all four sites in the watershed to be completely excavated. ”

Toxic leaking pits… Toxic leaking pits… Toxic leaking pits… Saying it over and over doesn’t make it true.

Yes, existing coal ash ponds are “leaking” but let’s understand what that means. Under the old system for storing coal combustion residue at power plants, the coal ash particles are saturated with water. Rain water falls upon the ponds, creating hydrostatic pressure on the water mixed with the coal ash. That water is forced into the water table and then slowly migrates toward nearby rivers and streams. Monitoring of groundwater and nearby surface waters has detected traces of heavy metals which, in some instances, exceed Environmental Protection Agency standards.

How dangerous are those traces of heavy metals? Are they “toxic”? In the case of Dominion’s Chesapeake coal-fired plant, a federal judge found that the traces were so minute and diluted by the waters of the Elizabeth River that they posed no threat to human health. There is evidence that “leakage” from the Chesterfield power plant has elevated levels of heavy metals in the Dutch Gap Conservation Area, but the argument that it poses a threat to human health is based on the absurd assumption that fishers, boaters and campers might be exposed to raw river water on a continual basis throughout the year. There also are hints that leakage at Possum Point has contaminated well water of immediate neighbors, but (a) the point remains unproven because the well water is “upstream” from the ash ponds, and (b) Dominion alleviated the fear by hooking up the homeowners to municipal water. In other words, the argument that existing arrangements are dangerous is highly localized in some cases and highly tenuous in others.

As an aside, there is an unstated assumption that drinking water must be “pure” to be safe for human consumption. If a lot of, say, zinc or selenium, is bad for you, then even a small amount cannot be good for you. Wrong. A little bit of zinc and selenium are necessary for human life. Look it up: Zinc deficiency contributes to high blood pressure. Selenium deficiency contributes to Kashin-Beck disease, a weakening of the heart. Moreover, these elements exist naturally in the environment. If minute traces killed us, we’d all be dead.

In any case, the purpose of the new EPA regulations is to replace the existing coal ash ponds with a safer system. The system proposed by Dominion in accord with the EPA regulations would do several things. First, it would de-water the coal ash. With the coal ash no longer be soaked in water, no more leaching of heavy metals would occur. Second, the EPA-approved approach would consolidate multiple coal ponds into a single pond at each site. And third, it would cap that single pond with a synthetic liner (topped with dirt and vegetation) to prevent rain water from seeping through and adding hydraulic pressure. Unlike the legacy regulations, the new regulations are designed to prevent leakage.

The EPA-approved coal ash storage system bears no comparison to the existing system. Declaring that the EPA-approved system constitutes a threat to human health by citing flaws of the old system can most charitably be described as misinformation. The only argument I have seen that suggests “leakage” might conceivably occur is that groundwater might migrate through a small portion of the proposed Chesterfield storage pit, which intersects with the water table, allowing a small amount of heavy-metals leaching might occur. But no evidence has been presented to indicate that such “leakage” would have a measurable impact on nearby surface waters.

In other words, the deal struck by Richmond lawmakers has no rational basis. The politicians have been swayed by totally irrelevant information. I’m surprised that Dominion went along. But with all the other battles it’s fighting — most prominently, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline — I can conclude only that the utility decided to cut its losses and negotiate a deal that held it relatively harmless. Dominion has already written off several hundred millions in coal ash-related costs, and the deal fobs off another $1 billion to rate payers. While the utility undoubtedly will have to eat several hundred million dollars more, it likely can console itself that the losses will be more than offset by the 2018 rate freeze that gives its earnings an ample cushion to absorb setbacks like this.

As usual, rate payers will get the shaft. They’ll pay $1 billion for the dubious benefit of having coal ash placed in pits with synthetic liners on the top and underneath instead of pits with synthetic liners on top. I feel so much better now knowing that I can visit Dutch Gap every day of the year and rinse my dishes with river water without fear of toxic contamination.

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42 responses to “The Coal Ash Deal: More Proof that Virginia Is Becoming New Jersey

  1. One weakness I see is fake news, as usual. Gov Northam makes the point that we simply cannot allow eco-disasters like North Carolina/Duke’s catastrohpic disaster when trillions of gallons of contaminated waste water broke the earthen dam holding it back. OK fine, I agree with that. But we do not have that situation here. The Gov is saying watermelons must be banned, but we just got tobacco here.

    Perhaps a poor choice of crops for my analogy, but you get my point.

  2. From the news reporting:

    “Data released by utilities last year showed widespread evidence of groundwater contamination at coal plants. Heightened levels of pollutants—including arsenic and radium in some cases—were documented at plants in numerous states, including Virginia.”

    So there is no question that there is leakage and contamination – Even Dominion admits it.

    But is the criteria for release that it’s not a danger to humans?

    Isn’t that sort of like saying it’s okay to dump various kinds of garbage or other material in the river as long as it does not threaten humans?

    So that’s the standard? So we can dump tires or crushed glass or other stuff as long as it “does not harm humans”?

    So we really don’t need all those storm ponds because the stuff they hold back really does not harm humans – it’s only “minute” quantities of stuff. People could actually go into those storm ponds and not be harmed, right?

    geeze…. guy…. but it sure sounds like a way to make our municipal waste landfills last longer… just separate out the stuff that does not harm humans and put it in the river… those landfills could last hundreds of years!

    somehow.. I’m not all that surprised to hear that argument from Libertarians!

    serious question – If that IS the standard what keeps others from claiming the storm ponds are no worse?

  3. Don’t forget: they want to take this supposedly dangerous material and make it into concrete and paving stones for you to use around your house, kids, pets, etc. In fact, we will pay them to do that, since it actually is otherwise a revenue-loser.

    If this ash is safe enough to do that with, tell me again why this panic?

    Here’s a wild thought: Since Virginia is also rushing into the RGGI compact, which will also show up on your electric bill as the RGGI tax (to go along with the coal ash tax), why not use the RGGI revenue to cover the coal ash costs? Could there BE a more logical nexus?

    • I actually LIKE your idea but I like the idea of refunding Dominon’s excess profits and tax rebates to this even better!

      And I’m actually wondering if Northam agreed to not pursue the refunds from Dominion if they agreed to this..

    • Well, don’t stop there Steve. The public is here is being told wind nergy is far cheaper than fossil fuels, is why Virginia should go full out on off-shore wind. But the public is not hearing how expensive that technology is. Just a few extra pennies on your electric bill will cover that cost.

  4. “Becoming New Jersey?” What does that mean? It smacks me of arrogance to assume that Virginia is somehow better than New Jersey. Does this have to do with New Jersey’s environmental regulation (read the Pulitzer Prize winning book about leaking industrial dyes into Tom”s River)? The rest of the post is some kind of rightist defense of pollution. Selenium isn’t that dangerous? Even Dominion doesn’t say this anymore. The other arrogant thought is that average people and politicians are incapable of understanding just how non-threatening pollution really is. And a federal judge ruled that leakage from Chesapeake’s coal ash pits is just fine. Are we to assume that a federal judge is an environmental expert? This is all very disappointing. The current proposed legislation is a welcome turn away from the anything-goes, pro-business crap Virginia has put up with for decades.

    • The NJ analogy falls a little short for me too.
      There was no greater NJ critic of coal ash disposal than yours truly, me. My view was neutralized in public meetings, with DEP and EPA present, coal ash was said to be the safest and most valuable contruction material known to mankind.

  5. re: becoming New Jersey – agree… where does that come from?

    So if we don’t want toxic crap in Virginia rivers even if it “doesn’t harm humans” – it makes us New Jersey? Interesting logic…

    😉

    and yes… having a judge say that in his opinion toxic pollution is not a problem… well I’m sure that some folks would want to promote him to rule on even more environmental cases, eh? Don’t laugh – they’re sending folks like this up to Congress to get appointed to the higher courts!

  6. If Dominion followed the applicable EPA rules for handling coal ash and recovered the associated costs from ratepayers, we’ve paid Dominion’s just and reasonable costs in electric rates. We don’t have to pay again. Northam, like most left-wingers, is catering to the enviros on the backs of ordinary people. Either Dominion’s shareowners or the environmental groups should pay for this extra remediation. If I were a state senator or delegate, I’d cut Northam a new one on the floor of the General Assembly. He’s an elitist just like Marie Antoinette and Wilbur Ross.

    • Agree with that. The Dems are just as bad as the RPV at lining their pockets with Dominion money. Northam’s all for the environment so long as his puppet masters at Dominion agree with the approach.

  7. re: ” If Dominion followed the applicable EPA rules for handling coal ash and recovered the associated costs from ratepayers, we’ve paid Dominion’s just and reasonable costs in electric rates. We don’t have to pay again.”

    same logic for CSOs if they followed the laws back then?

  8. “Toxic leaking pits… Toxic leaking pits… Toxic leaking pits… Saying it over and over doesn’t make it true.”

    How dangerous are those traces of heavy metals? Are they “toxic”?

    Here is the list of ‘stuff’ … High Hazard Elements: arsenic, cadmium, chromium, copper, lead, mercury, nickel, selenium, silver, zinc
    Did you know that 1 tbp of mercury can contaminate a whole lake?
    Moderate Hazard Elements: none Low Hazard Elements: none Minimal Hazard Elements: none No Hazard Elements: thallium

    And here is what those labels mean … “The 10 high hazard elements have the potential to cause significant long-term poisoning of fish and wildlife. Direct waterborne toxicity would be the primary route of exposure and effects for all of these pollutants except mercury and selenium, and the relative degree of toxic risk according to concentration has been well documented for all 10 of these in the peer-reviewed scientific literature….
    Coal ash pollutants discharged at these concentrations have serious toxicological implications for aquatic life.” So, discharging coal ash into water is about aquatic life too, not just humans.

    Earthjustice wrote an analysis of the worst coal ash states in 2013 entitled “State of Failure “… VA is number 12. Here is why …
    “Coal ash contamination has generated at least two federal Superfund sites in Virginia (Battle Creek Golf Course), including one on the National Priority List of the nation’s most contaminated Superfund sites (Chrisman Creek), as well as two other sites where coal ash contaminated groundwater (Possum Point), or caused extensive ecological damage, (Clinch River)”

    “In 1967 a dike from a coal ash pond at Clinch River Plant collapsed releasing a caustic ash slurry into the Clinch River. Some 217,000 fish were killed for up to 90 miles downriver and benthic macroinvertebrates, snails and mussels were also wiped out or very negatively affected. Forty years after the spill, aquatic ecosystems downstream remain degraded. High concentrations of copper and aluminum from power plant effluent also contribute to biotic impairment.”

    Despite the history of coal ash contamination, Virginia regulations do not require composite liners, groundwater monitoring and daily cover at every coal ash pond and landfill. “The legacy of mismanagement extends to oversight of the structural integrity of Virginia’s large coal ash ponds, as well. Virginia’s coal ash dams are some of the oldest, having an average age of 40 years. Virginia has 11 ash ponds, including five significant hazard coal ash dams, with an average height of more than five stories. The EPA gave one of Virginia’s significant hazard dams a poor rating and asked the owner, Dominion Virginia Power, to take immediate remedial action at the Chesapeake Energy Center to address the “urgent action items” that “require immediate attention to ensure the structural integrity of the impoundment in the near term.”

    “Serious problems like these may well escape detection in Virginia because the Commonwealth does not require inspection of dams by state regulators and requires only infrequent reporting by owners. Virginia also does not require a bond to ensure safe operation and maintenance or even completion of dam construction.”

    Isn’t it about time to do something? I can list more contaminations …

    • Jane, this is quite an indictment of the existing coal ash ponds. However, I have yet to see any reasoned analysis of the potential risks and tradeoffs of the new regs. All I hear is, “Toxic leaking pits! Toxic leaking pits! Toxic leaking pits!” repeated over and over. Oh, I do hear talk about the risks of hurricanes. But I hear nothing to suggest that the engineering standards of the impoundments Dominion proposes are inadequate.

      Now, maybe a reasoned analysis of the evidence would suggest that Dominion’s proposed impoundments would leak and be vulnerable to hurricanes. Fine. Just show me the evidence! Show me the data! Show me the arguments so we can have reasoned discussion.

      If this is how we make billion-dollar decisions in Virginia today, we have abandoned the need for reason and evidence entirely. Just use a bunch of scary words — toxic chemicals, radiation, global warming catastrophe — and environmentalists win the debate.

      • Isn’t it incumbent on Dominion to describe their mitigation plans if any number of bad things happen. If the toxic material does leak into the groundwater … what then? If a hurricane and resulting flooding does breach the covered ash pit and spills ash (along with the related toxins) into a river … what then?

        Lots of unexpected things happen. Things that most people saw as ridiculously unlikely or perhaps even impossible. Pearl Harbor, the Jonestown flood, Hurricane Katrina’s devastation of New Orleans, 9-11, 3 Mile Island.

        Dominion needs to stop trying to tell everybody how unlikely a problem is and start telling everybody what the hell they’d do if that unlikely event happens. Until then, better safe than sorry.

  9. “I can list more contaminations …’

    Don’t stop, Jane, please, tell us all you know, by all means.

  10. MORE …Just a fuller explanation of the contamination …
    This ‘stuff’ is old and we are still talking about these sites …
    • Glen Lyn Plant: Coal ash releases caused off-site damage to surface water and aquatic ecosystems. Scientific studies in the 1970s and 1980s documented acute toxicity of effluent discharges from a fly ash holding pond to aquatic insects and bacteria in a stream that flows into the New River. High TSS, pH at 9.5 units, and cadmium and selenium exceeding VA Water Quality Standards for acute toxicity by 30 times and 4 times, respectively, in the stream were responsible for the mortality.
    • Chisman Creek coal ash landfill, which served the Yorktown Power Station, was listed on the Superfund’s National Priority List, the list of the most contaminated Superfund sites in the U.S., due to vanadium and selenium pollution of residential wells from coal ash contamination.
    • Possum Point Power Station is listed as a “proven damage case” due to cadmium and nickel contamination of groundwater attributed to oil combustion and coal ash from leaking coal ash ponds.
    • Dominion Virginia Power Chesapeake Energy Center’s leaking 22-acre coal ash landfill has contaminated groundwater with high levels of arsenic for almost a decade. The VA Department of Environmental Quality has measured arsenic at one monitoring well 30 times higher than the safe standard.
    • Battlefield Golf Course in Chesapeake: 1.5 million tons of coal ash from the Chesapeake Energy Center were used to construct a 216-acre golf course in Chesapeake without a liner or adequate separation from shallow groundwater. Groundwater contamination above federal drinking water standards have been found at the edges of the gold course. The concentrations of arsenic, boron, chromium, copper, lead and vanadium detected in groundwater collected from on-site monitoring wells were significantly above background concentrations.

    Deficiencies in Virginia Coal Ash Regulations: Despite the abundant evidence of coal ash contamination in VA, state regulations do not require composite liners, groundwater monitoring and daily cover at all ash landfills andn ponds. For example, daily cover is only imposed at the discretion of the state, expansions of existing landfills are exempted from some regulations that would apply to new landfills, no specific monitoring parameters are required at coal ash ponds, no post-closure monitoring is mandated for coal ash ponds, and post-closure monitoring is only required for 10 years at landfills, which is an insufficient time period to measure toxic releases. Virginia also does not require inspection of coal ash ponds by state regulators and requires only infrequent reporting by owners. “

    And you guys should hate this one … “Virginia also does not require a bond to ensure safe operation and maintenance or even completion of dam construction.”

    Here is the report about the Court and the EPA regs … the rules are not settled yet.
    “The D.C. Circuit in Aug 2018 struck down parts of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Coal Combustion Residuals (CCR) rule for not being sufficiently protective of the environment. Siding with environmental NGOs, the Court struck down several of the provisions relating to unlined, clay-lined, and inactive coal ash impoundments, holding that those provisions were not sufficiently protective of the environment or were inconsistent with the record.” The rules allowed unlined ponds to continue operating if monitored and moved if required testing showed contamination.

    First, the Court found that unlined surface impoundments pose “a substantial present or potential hazard to human health and the environment,” and vacated the relevant provision (at 40 C.F.R. § 257.101) to the extent that it allows for the continued operation of unlined surface impoundments.

    Trump tried to weaken the rules in spite of what the Court required but the new EPA rules will require liners and the agency is working on drawing up the rule the Court ordered.

    VA law will be superseded.

    • OK, Jane, you’ve presented something here that bears looking into — the D.C. District Court ruling striking down parts of the CCRs rule for not being sufficiently protective of the environment. Maybe there is evidence in the trial record that would back you up.

      • Sure … Here is a bit of the 72 page decision …
        USCA Case #15-1219 Document #1746578 Filed: 08/21/2018 Page 1 of 72

        The statutory framework calling for regulation of solid waste generation, storage, and disposal has been in place since 1976, when Congress enacted the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (“RCRA”),
        Nearly four decades after Congress enacted RCRA, the EPA finally promulgated its first Final Rule regulating Coal Residuals in 2015.

        Landfills and surface impoundments both pose threats to human health and the environment. 80 Fed. Reg. at 21,327–21,328. The risks generally stem from the fact that “thousands, if not millions, of tons [of coal ash are] placed in a single concentrated location.” Id. These disposal sites are at risk of structural failure, particularly where they are located in unstable areas such as wetlands or seismic impact zones. The sheer volume of Coal Residuals at these sites, moreover, can force contaminants into the underlying soil and groundwater, threatening sources of drinking water.

        Surface water bodies—i.e., rivers, lakes, and streams, see 75 Fed. Reg. at 35,131—are also at risk of contamination through harmful constituents that migrate through groundwater, or flow into surface waters as run-off or wastewater discharge, any of which can lead to environmental harms such as “wetland vegetative damage, fish kills, amphibian deformities, * * * [and] plant toxicity.”

        The EPA has acknowledged that it “will not always be possible” to restore groundwater or surface water to background conditions after a contamination event

        Based on many years of analysis, the EPA found “a compelling need for a uniform system of requirements to address the[] risks [from Coal Residuals],” and decided to move forward with a Final Rule.

        The EPA found that unlined impoundments are dangerous: It concluded that, among the studied disposal methods, putting Coal Residuals “in unlined surface impoundments and landfills presents the greatest risks to human health and the environment.” 80 Fed. Reg. at 21,451. The Rule accordingly requires that all new surface impoundments be constructed with composite lining that effectively secures against leakage. See 40 C.F.R. § 257.72(a). But it allows existing unlined impoundments to continue to receive Coal Residuals indefinitely, until their operators detect that they are leaking. Id. § 257.101(a). Only once a leak is found must the operator of an unlined impoundment begin either retrofitting the unit with a composite liner, or closing it down—a process that the Rule contemplates may take upwards of fifteen years.

        In view of the record’s limitation of the risk calculus associated with leakage to the subset of toxins and exposures that the EPA deemed to present a substantial risk to human health or the environment, the EPA’s assertion in its brief that, even where it occurs, leakage “will not necessarily result in contamination of groundwater, either above allowable regulatory thresholds, or at all,” is at best a red herring. Resp’t Br. at 85. Every leakage the EPA record treated as material exceeded regulatory thresholds. In defending the Rule here, the EPA looks at too narrow a subset of risk information and applies the wrong legal test.

        The Final Rule’s approach of relying on leak detection followed by closure is arbitrary and contrary to RCRA. This approach does not address the identified health and environmental harms documented in the record, as RCRA requires. Moreover, the EPA has not shown that harmful leaks will be promptly detected; that, once detected, they will be promptly stopped; or that contamination, once it occurs, can be remedied.

        On its own terms, the Rule does not contemplate that contamination will be detected as soon as it appears in groundwater. The EPA and Industry defend the rule as RCRA-compliant principally because, they say, it provides for retrofit with a composite liner or closure of an unlined impoundment “[o]n the first indication that an unlined unit is leaking[.]” Industry Intervenor Br. 6. But the required groundwater sampling need only occur “at least semiannual[ly],” or perhaps less frequently under certain geological conditions. 40 C.F.R. § 257.94(b), (d); id. § 257.95(c). The Rule thus contemplates that leaks will often go undetected for many months.

        For these reasons, we vacate 40 C.F.R. § 257.101, which allows for the continued operation of unlined impoundments, and remand for additional consideration consistent with this opinion.

        On the claims raised by Environmental Petitioners, we hold that the EPA acted arbitrarily and capriciously and contrary to RCRA in failing to require the closure of unlined surface impoundments, in classifying so-called “clay-lined” impoundments as lined, and in exempting inactive surface impoundments at inactive power plants from regulation. We therefore vacate and remand the provisions of the Final Rule that permit unlined impoundments to continue receiving coal ash unless they leak, see id. § 257.101(a), classify “clay-lined” impoundments as lined,

        I thought those were the parts that addressed the arguments I see in VA but of course you could check out the rest too.

  11. Yeah Jane… but Dominion continues to say it’s just a “little bit” and it’s really not contamination a big area just a tiny one and we keep hearing that assessment in this blog as if it were the truth from on high and the enviros are are lying bunch of SOBs…. (sic).

    So… let’s not do anything because it’s too damn costly (by Dominion estimates) and yes, let’s turn this hot mess over to taxpayers and hold Dominion and it’s investors harmless. (sic).

    This attitude is the very same attitude we’ve had over the years from polluters and their apologists and this is just another one in that long line of corporations, politicians and “skeptics” who really don’t care what happens to the rivers – and the Bay because it’s just “overreaction” to the pollution.

    Oh and of course this proves that Northam is now one of those radical leftist in bed with the wacko enviros………..

    Thanks Jane for shining a light…. always helpful here in BR …….

    • Total disinformation. Total disconnect from reality.

      • “Disinformation” ? Sorry, disagree. Not even a good try!

        Dominion, like a lot of polluters, minimizes the impact of their effluent, tries to beat regs back in court and/or foster legislation and when that fails they try to get a bail-out deal by turning responsibility over to taxpayers.

        I don’t think that Dominion has been an honest player in this issue – it is THEY that have basically tried to mislead people on the issue and in my view they have had help.

        But I was serious about the comment about claiming that because something is not proven to be directly harmful or classifed as directly harmful – that then some folks say thats a reason to not prohibit it from being released

        And if we followed that logic – things like storm ponds would not be required because nothing in the storm pond is usually directly harmful. It’s simply runoff not that different than coal sitting on a river bank.

        That’s NOT “disinformation”. It’s a point of view and it’s not an isolated one… it’s at the root of a LOT of laws about what can and cannot be released into a river or the air or for that matter on the ground.

    • “Oh and of course this proves that Northam is now one of those radical leftist in bed with the wacko enviros………..”

      No, but the way this is being funded (100% on ratepayers) certainly demonstrates that Northam is just another typical Virginia politician who has been in bed with Dominion so long he has multiple illegitimate children with that Richmond-elite corporation.

  12. I hear a lot of fire and brimstone above but nothing saying capping in place would not be effective engineering solution for the sites in question.

    I actually think capping could be better, because we are saying what? We outhaul the ash (which has already leached maybe 25%? 50%? 75%? of the contamination already out to the groundwater ). If uncapped the contaminated groundwater is now free to migrate. So the fix really needs to be, in that case, outhaul the ash, put a clay cap the on uncovered ground, and drill water wells to pump out the contaminated graoundwater for some years? I am (obviously) not the engineer on the project but that would be my outside-looking-in assessment of this plan.

    • Check the Court decision …
      “The EPA found that unlined impoundments are dangerous: It concluded that, among the studied disposal methods, putting Coal Residuals “in unlined surface impoundments and landfills presents the greatest risks to human health and the environment.” 80 Fed. Reg. at 21,451.”
      AND “For these reasons, we vacate 40 C.F.R. § 257.101, which allows for the continued operation of unlined impoundments, and remand for additional consideration consistent with this opinion.

      “On the claims raised by Environmental Petitioners, we hold that the EPA acted arbitrarily and capriciously and contrary to RCRA in failing to require the closure of unlined surface impoundments, in classifying so-called “clay-lined” impoundments as lined, and in exempting inactive surface impoundments at inactive power plants from regulation.”

      All agree that the coal ash is toxic. The Court says the pond rules do not match up with toxic waste storage law already in place.Comprehensive analysis is already done and refered to by the Court

  13. I would agree about capping in place except what happens if this is a mega flood? Your own thoughts and questions are ones that should be in any objective analysis.

    According to Jim – it’s no big deal because the contaminants are not believed to be THAT harmful so keeping expenses down is a goal.

    To which I would say then why cap and sequester and wait for the flood – just let rain gradually erode it away into the river a little at a time anyhow?

    If you’re going to cap it and it’s on a river – and you don’t want a major flood to wash it into the river – you’d have to not only cap it but build some kind of flood wall or containment structure high enough to keep the flood water out.

    And what bothers me is that no discussion and analysis with respect to these options and instead it’s depicted as pretty much a binary choice between capping in place for cheap and moving it away for gawd-awful dollars.

    So I think Dominion clearly has some conflicts of interest on truly doing a comprehensive analysis with real options and that role should not be a role they do. We’re simply not going to get a real analysis and instead they want to make it a political argument where they WILL exercise their political influence.

    It’s just a bad way to do things. It’s not only not a good way to do analysis – it undermines trust in the process.

    We need an objective comprehensive analysis done by an entity that has no interest in the outcome and feels unfettered in doing an honest pro/con analysis.

    • Larry I have seen mega-floods in Lousiana thankfully week before house hunting so I could see the high ground. The water was 1-inch think with cow manure – OMG just absolute nightmare smelly mess. Much has been made of the recent side of the wall falling on the North Carolina Ash landfill. First of all that looks like bad design, but second of all I am not expecting catastrophic damage from that. I am expecting catastophic damage from huge earthen dams giving way.

      Just today in the news we have 200 people missing in a mining dam burst in Brazil. This is like what happened to Duke in North Carolina, thankfully slight smaller scale. This is the catastrophe situation. The falling down of the side of a landfill is not a catastrophe. You are sort of making up in your mind that a landfill poses some catastrophic threat like a trillion gallon earthen dam of waste water. If it does, we should fix it ASAP.

      • PS Again … USCA Case #15-1219 Document #1746578 Filed: 08/21/2018

        • You are saying because enviro groups are mounting legal campaign to overturn Obama era regulations, this means what?

          If it eventually becomes EPA rule to relocate all coal ash to lined landfills, then we Virginia and all other states must comply. I am not sure that proposal can be adopted because once the ground is contaminated, the removal of the ash could possibly make the situation worse. We would need the correct guidance.

          In that case Virginia’s mistake is acting too fast to complete the ash removal before we know what the standards and costs are, at the possible risk of wasted money because it may have to be redone.

          • PS- Also maybe EPA/Congress gives us a funding mechanism like Superfund

            By the way, EPA has banned land diposal of other wastes. But they never said the old stuff had to be dug up. If so we probably got a couple million waste sites to dig up im the USA.

          • Jane Twitmyer

            No, I am saying that the environmental groups won the Court case last fall and the Court agreed with the NGOs that EPA’s regulations had to be rewritten and should not exempt ‘not leaking’ or ‘legacy’, ie no longer in use, ponds from the requirement that they be lined.

            And I am saying that is how the Governor got the legislation to require those 4 high hazard ponds to be fixed. When the EPA’s rewrite complies with the Court’s orders all unlined ponds will have to be done over…as the Court decision requires.

      • @TBILL – I see your reasoning but it is subjective. How about a real analysis so that we each don’t use our own subjective views on this?

        that’s the problem right now… in my view.

        We need an objective engineering analysis for these sites , first to assess the risk potential of 100, 500, 1000 year floods then what such levels would do to each site … etc.. that kind of analysis…

    • “According to Jim – it’s no big deal because the contaminants are not believed to be THAT harmful.”

      Your ability to misunderstand and misquote is stupefying.

      I have never said make a blanket statement that contaminants are “not that harmful.” That would be absurd because the harmfulness of a contaminant depends upon its concentration. My concern, explained with clarity to anyone who reads with any care, is that the concentration of heavy metals leaking from the old containment ponds tell us absolutely nothing about the concentration of heavy metals leaking from the EPA-approved ponds.

      What I can’t figure out is whether you genuinely don’t understand, or if you are deliberately obfuscating the issue.

  14. Jim,
    “the concentration of heavy metals leaking from the old containment ponds tell us absolutely nothing about the concentration of heavy metals leaking from the EPA-approved ponds.”

    Again from the Court case … that the EPA lost because the regs were not strict enough .. regarding the OK the EPA gave to unlined and not leaking ponds ….
    “the EPA’s assertion in its brief that, even where it occurs, leakage “will not necessarily result in contamination of groundwater, either above allowable regulatory thresholds, or at all,” is at best a red herring. Resp’t Br. at 85. Every leakage the EPA record treated as material exceeded regulatory thresholds. In defending the Rule here, the EPA looks at too narrow a subset of risk information and applies the wrong legal test.

    The Final Rule’s approach of relying on leak detection followed by closure is arbitrary and contrary to RCRA. This approach does not address the identified health and environmental harms documented in the record, as RCRA requires. Moreover, the EPA has not shown that harmful leaks will be promptly detected; that, once detected, they will be promptly stopped; or that contamination, once it occurs, can be remedied.

    • This sounds like environmental activist group attorney rhetoric. Which has a possible constructive role in helping EPA/Congress/DER to arrive at a solution that meets the needs of the public. But is not something I necessarily agree with.

      • That is COURT rhetoric …copied directly from the Decision as I stated.
        The quotes seem to be missing on the last paragraph … Sorry about that. I like to use italics but they don’t copy onto the Blog.

        The solution is already decided as per the rules, though money was not part of the case. Me, I am just sorry that taking the environmental ‘cheap road’ leaves us here. As Tom said …’best practices’ 30 years ago meant lined ponds and that is what they did in New England. Dominion’s choice for environmental issues was as my Granny used to say …”penny wise and pound foolish”.

  15. re: ” I have never said make a blanket statement that contaminants are “not that harmful.” That would be absurd because the harmfulness of a contaminant depends upon its concentration. My concern, explained with clarity to anyone who reads with any care, is that the concentration of heavy metals leaking from the old containment ponds tell us absolutely nothing about the concentration of heavy metals leaking from the EPA-approved ponds.”

    I don’t know about “blanket” but my impression in reading your comments over quite a few blog posts on this is that you seem to feel that the level of contamination is low and not a threat and you allude to drinking water standards …etc…

    Maybe it would be worth the time to go back and extract the passages that have given me this impression…

    but here’s one that gave me the impression that you felt the contaminants were not harmful: https://www.baconsrebellion.com/wp/less-hysteria-in-the-coal-ash-debate-please/

    you seem to focus on percentage of concentration as a criteria for determining whether it should be in the river or not and you then cite the Chesapeake site and reference the judge who said , in his opinion, that it was not harmful. No science at all.. just an opinion.

    These are subjective views NOT backed by any real scientific analysis nor the actual court actions that Jane is talking about.

    My big problem here is that Dominion is not citing the existing evidence that the EPA utilizes nor the court case – they just are asserting that capping in place is “ok” and cheaper without really addressing the contamination issue in a scientific way – just their opinion.

    And that’s what others like you seem to be doing also… you’re establishing a view that is not really based on real scientific evidence nor the EPA regs for this kind of contamination in other venues – like what they would allow for NPDES permits where they do reference specific measurable metrics for effluents as opposed to some kind of nebulous hand-waving as to what levels of contamination MIGHT come off of a site with coal ash…

    THEN those who hold those views are calling those that disagree – enviros and others – “radicals”, “activists”, etc… those who focus on real evidence instead of opinion are “radicals’… jeeze…

    Of course… some folks think the EPA itself is a bunch of “radicals”, eh and the solution to that is what? don’t advocate for real scientific evidence , just what we each of us or Dominion personally “thinks” or believes?

    • Well said. Let’s not abandon the facts here and embark on another disputation of whose data is the fakiest. “Fake news” is the province of those who don’t want to know the truth because they already suspect how bad it is. And shutting down the fact-finding agencies simply because we don’t like their conclusions shuts off their fact-finding too. We’re “entitled to our own opinions but not to our own facts.”

  16. Well we can be happy that Maryland can no longer complain about Virginia being a deadbeat on Chesapeake Bay clean-up. We are going to excavate our coal ash, just like they always wanted. That was their No. 1 complaint about our lack of Bay stewardship. The Menhaden thing was number two on Maryland’s complaint list.

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