It’s bad enough that Dominion wants to crisscross Virginia with a massive new gas pipeline and undermine federal clean power rules. But flagrantly contaminate our rivers with millions of gallons of toxic coal ash wastewater?
It’s true. News broke last week that, in May 2015, Dominion Power dumped 33.7 million gallons of untreated wastewater from its Possum Point coal plant into Quantico Creek, a tributary of the Potomac River.1
This happened eight months before Dominion received two highly controversial state permits that actually do allow the company to dump that much — plus half a billion more gallons — of coal ash wastewater into the Potomac and James Rivers.
This much is clear: Neither Dominion nor regulators at the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) are doing their job to protect our waters. Coal ash is a toxic byproduct of burning coal that contains arsenic, mercury, lead and other heavy metals — the last things we need in our rivers.
Last month, despite an outpouring of public opposition, DEQ and the State Water Control Board signed off on permits allowing Dominion to dump 215 million gallons of coal ash wastewater into Quantico Creek and 350 million gallons into the James River. Those permits have raised so many alarm bells that our neighboring state of Maryland, led by Republican Governor Larry Hogan, is planning a legal challenge.2
Meanwhile, for months, Dominion and the director of DEQ, David Paylor, had denied that any waste had already been drained into Quantico Creek. Thanks to the tireless efforts of the Potomac Riverkeeper Network, the truth is finally coming to light. Dominion and DEQ are now admitting that water was dumped last spring. Now they’re just saying it was all legal.3
Our friends at Potomac Riverkeeper aren’t buying it. They’ve asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to launch a criminal investigation. Concerned Virginians aren’t buying it either — over 500 of us marched this weekend to “#DumpDominion,” from Dominion’s Richmond headquarters to the General Assembly building.
It’s time for Governor McAuliffe to step in. Especially on the heels of the disaster we’ve seen unfolding in Flint, Michigan, our Governor needs to do everything within his power to protect our access to clean, safe drinking water. As a testament to the threat this coal ash poses, the Virginia Tech professor credited with uncovering the disaster in Flint has agreed to help monitor potential coal ash leakage near another one of Dominion’s coal-burning power plants, in Dutch Gap.4
Pending an EPA investigation, potential legal challenges, and so many unanswered questions, Dominion has no business dumping more coal ash waste into the rivers Virginians rely on for our drinking water, recreation, and livelihoods.
Governor McAuliffe is responsible for protecting Virginians. Let’s make sure we remind him.
1. InsideNova: “EXCLUSIVE: Dominion released millions of gallons of coal-ash water.” Feb. 8, 2016.
2. Washington Post: “Maryland to fight utility’s plan to release treated waste into Va. creek.” Feb. 15, 2016.
3. Think Progress: “Utility dumps over 30 million gallons of coal waste water into Va. creek.” Feb. 12, 2016.
4. Chesterfield Observer: “Local group taps renowned professor in coal ash fight.” Feb. 17, 2016.
If you want more information, here’s what we know happened at Quantico Creek so far:
On June 18th, 2015, the Potomac Riverkeepers Network conducted a flyover of Dominion’s Possum Point Power Plant coal ash ponds to find one completely drained, with a “pumping mechanism, pipes, and lighting [presumably to do their dumping at night],” adjacent to the empty pond. The group immediately contacted DEQ to alert them to the issue. A day later, DEQ Director David Paylor responded: “No water from Pond E was discharged into state waters,” said Director Paylor.
In October 2015, Dominion submitted additional information to DEQ regarding the ponds. Contained within this information was a document from GAI Consulting, a Dominion subcontractor, which indicated that “water stored in Pond E [the drained storage pond] was discharged into Quantico Creek in May of 2015.”
At a State Water Control Board meeting in January of 2016 — the same meeting at which Dominion received controversial permits to drain ponds at Possum Point and another facility — the Potomac Riverkeepers Network again asked DEQ to go on record about the issue, and to acknowledge whether the agency knew about the draining of the pond. The Riverkeepers didn’t get a response, and the chairman of the Water Board did not demand an answer.
But on February 8th, InsideNOVA published an exclusive story confirming the rumors, reporting that a representative for the utility had confirmed that the dump happened last May. DEQ and Dominion are now claiming that the discharge, which was supposed to have never happened, was in fact legal.