Power generating utilities in the James River watershed have coal ash ponds containing 26.2 million tons of coal ash. These are unlined earthen ponds, and they are leaking arsenic, lead and chromium among other toxins. Monitoring data collected by James River Association suggests that coal ash ponds at Chesterfield Power Station have been leaking for some time, with arsenic levels in soil measured at 400 times the level considered safe, according to EPA risk assessment criteria.

During the 2017 session, the Virginia General Assembly passed Senate Bill 1398, which responded to public concerns over coal ash pollution. The bill placed a hold on the coal ash closure process and required full assessments of coal ash ponds in Virginia.

In December 2017, Dominion Energy released its coal ash assessment which continues to propose closing the ponds in place and without liners. While the assessments acknowledge ongoing groundwater and surface water contamination at each facility, they lack thorough plans to address these existing pollution issues, to restore groundwater quality, or to factor in long-term risks like increased precipitation, flooding events, or rising sea levels. Additionally, independent hydrogeologists have confirmed that closure in place would result in continued discharge of severely contaminated groundwater to the James River.

In an effort to pick up where Dominion’s assessments left off, three bills (SB 708, SB 765, SB 767) have been drafted that would help ensure responsible and safe closure of coal ash ponds in Virginia. On February 7, the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee will consider these bills, which together, would require a combination of recycling and excavation of coal ash ponds, testing of drinking water wells surrounding coal ash sites, and will provide state regulators with enforcement authority to require cleanup and strong closure practices at problematic coals ash ponds.

The James River needs your help! Contact the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee and ask them to support SB 708, 765 and 767. You can also sign up for our Action Network so you can stay engaged on this and other important issues related to the river.