Dominion sued over coal ash pits at Chesapeake power plant in Virginia

The Southern Environmental Law Center said March 19 that a lawsuit has been filed over alleged water pollution caused by coal ash pits at Virginia Electric and Power‘s Chesapeake power plant.

The Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), representing the Sierra Club, filed the lawsuit under the Clean Water Act to stop the pollution from leaking coal ash pits. Virginia Electric and Power d/b/a Dominion Virginia Power, is a unit of Dominion Resources (NYSE: D). 

Last December, SELC and the Sierra Club provided Dominion with a notice of intent to sue, a requirement under the Clean Water Act that provides the utility time to address the problems and alerts the state environmental agency to the alleged violations. Neither Dominion nor the Viginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has attempted to remedy the problem over the past three month, SELC said.

For over a decade, both Dominion and DEQ have known that the more than one million cubic yards of coal ash stored at the Chesapeake site are illegally leaking high levels of arsenic, cobalt, sulfide, and other dangerous pollutants into the groundwater and two waterways popular for recreational activities—the Southern Branch of the Elizabeth River and Deep Creek, said the environmental group.

The Chesapeake power plant’s coal-burning units were shut in late 2014 as Dominion gets ready to comply with the federal Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS). But the facility still stores over sixty years of coal ash waste onsite in unlined, leaking pits and a landfill built on top of the old pits, said the environmental group. Dominion has submitted to the state environmental agency its closure plan for the ash storage facilities at the site, which proposes to leave all coal ash in place and cover it with plastic and dirt, the group said.

“While other utilities in the South are leading the way by responsibly moving their coal ash into lined, dry storage away from waterways, Dominion has made no plans to stop this documented coal ash pollution.” said Deborah Murray, Senior Attorney at Southern Environmental Law Center.

Concerns about water contamination caused by coal ash coming from Dominion’s Chesapeake Energy Center are not new to this community, the group noted. Since 2007, citizens in Chesapeake, Va. have been questioning the safety of groundwater near the Battlefield Golf Club, a golf course built using 1.5 million tons of coal ash from the Chesapeake plant.

The shut Chesapeake Units 1 and 2 are each 111 MW in size, while Unit 3 is 147 MW and Unit 4 is 207 MW. Other, non-coal generating capacity at the site remains in operation.

Dominion said in a March 20 statement: “Dominion disagrees with the allegations and has worked closely with all federal and state environmental compliance agencies over the years, and intends to vigorously defend itself against the lawsuit. We ended coal operations at Chesapeake in December 2014 and are in the process of decommissioning. Our closure plans are in full compliance with current environmental regulations and with EPA’s recently announced coal ash regulations. As a result, these claims have no merit.” 

Following lawsuits by SELC, South Carolina Electric & Gas and Santee Cooper are moving all wet coal ash stored in South Carolina to safer, dry, lined storage facilities away from rivers and lakes. In North Carolina, SELC represents various groups in ten different state and federal lawsuits against Duke Energy (NYSE: DUK), which is currently facing state and federal charges and has recently agreed to clean up four of its leaking coal ash sites in the state. In addition, the Tennessee environmental agency filed a lawsuit against the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) in response to a notice filed by SELC against TVA for contamination of drinking of water sources upstream from Nashville and nearby towns.

Founded in 1986, SELC’s team of about 60 legal and policy experts represent more than 100 partner groups on issues of climate change and energy, air and water quality, forests, the coast and wetlands, transportation, and land use.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.