I believe that everyone should have clean drinking water.
So, I was deeply disturbed when I found out that homeowners surrounding Dominion Energy’s Possum Point power plant had found elevated levels of toxic chemicals in their wells. I was shocked to also find out that Dominion stores a byproduct of burning coal — toxic coal ash — in onsite man-made ponds with less protection beneath them than would be required for any household waste landfill.
I found out these facts when I attended one of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality’s hearings on the Possum Point plant a few weeks ago, and since then I’ve grown more concerned about our water. These holding ponds were built in 1988, haven’t been tested since, and wouldn’t meet current Environmental Protection Agency standards to prevent leaks if built today.
What’s more, coal ash ponds in Tennessee and North Carolina have had catastrophic failures, causing hundreds of millions of dollars in damages. Dominion Power is proposing to transfer all its ash to one pond, put a layer of soil and impermeable cover over it, and be done with the matter. I am not convinced this is safe for our community or its water, as this proposal does not address leakage from the bottom and walls of the pond.
If Dominion’s proposal is approved, four million tons of coal ash will be here forever. So, we need to get this right. Dominion needs a permit for their plan to move forward and the Department of Environmental Quality should do as the Prince William County Board of Supervisors is requesting before granting that permit.
This means requiring Dominion to:
- Release the test results from its existing groundwater monitoring wells to determine the extent of groundwater contamination from its ponds.
- Release the test results from its surface water sampling plan to determine if surface water has been contaminated as well.
- Conduct an “alternatives analysis” to investigate potentially safer alternatives, such as recycling the ash into concrete or removing and disposing of it in a lined landfill. A new law passed by the House and Senate this year requires Virginia power plants near the Chesapeake to evaluate these alternatives for future coal ash pond closures – it would be prudent for Dominion to do so as well if the Governor signs the bill.
- Provide documentation of all steps taken to prevent catastrophic failures.
- Expand financial assurances to include costs of catastrophic failures, including cleanup, coal ash removal, and reimbursements for damages. I am running for Virginia’s House of Delegates this year in District 2, and if I’m elected, I will work with the County and the State Legislature to ensure our water is protected and our kids are safe.
I have submitted this op-ed to the DEQ as a comment, and if Dominion and the Department of Environmental Quality do not take the proper actions this year, I will fight to pass legislation that requires an alternatives analysis for Possum Point and support the County if it takes Dominion to court.
It may very well cost Dominion more in the short term to take these actions, but the health of our kids and future generations is worth it.