Riverkeeper pleased with coal ash settlement

Wastewater will be discharged from the Bremo Power Plant in Fluvanna County.  Photo by Robert Llewellyn Wastewater will be discharged from the Bremo Power Plant in Fluvanna County. Photo by Robert Llewellyn

Charlottesville’s Southern Environmental Law Center, representing the James River Association, reached a settlement with Dominion on the utility’s plans to dump coal ash wastewater from the Bremo Power Station in Fluvanna. A local riverkeeper says new standards will protect human and aquatic life.

The deal between the groups, which will be enforceable by law, requires Dominion to go beyond the Department of Environmental Quality’s expectations, enhance the treatment of the pond water and to monitor the river’s fish. The SELC, in turn, will not appeal the wastewater permit issued to the Bremo Power Station.

“We had to act,” says Pat Calvert, a James River Association riverkeeper who is trained to monitor river water for pollution. The DEQ had already issued Dominion a permit to dump the wastewater and a crew is currently setting up the required systems at the power plant. “It was coming down to the wire for us.”

While Dominion’s permit allows a high concentration of metals in coal ash—arsenic, chromium, lead and cadmium—to be dumped, Calvert says the SELC was able to create a plan that wouldn’t require changing the permit, but would obligate the power company to follow guidelines set in an engineering plan and install better technology.

According to the Clean Water Act, companies treating water must use the best available technology.

“It’s DEQ’s responsibility to ensure protective permits and that didn’t happen,” Calvert says, adding that the Potomac Riverkeeper Network, which is also represented by the SELC, is still working to reach a similar settlement with Dominion for the power plant at Possum Point.

“DEQ’s weak permits compel us to fight for strong, enforceable limits that require Dominion to treat its coal ash waste with the best available technology,” SELC senior attorney Greg Buppert said in a statement. “We cannot only rely on Dominion to police itself at Possum Point. That means seeking a court order for the Potomac River to require the removal of enough arsenic and toxic metals to protect the river ecology and public health.”

The written statement says Dominion’s own records show that coal ash pits at Possum Point have leaked toxins into the groundwater and public waterways for over 30 years.

But at the James, Calvert says locals can rest easy knowing that “people who fish, swim and play in the water are going to be protected.”

“We are pleased that this agreement with the James River Association allows us to move ahead with this important environmental project,” said Pam Faggert, chief environmental officer for Dominion in a joint statement between both groups that was released after the settlement. “The James River Association has helped us create a plan that reflects the commitment of both of our organizations to maintain the quality of the James River.”