RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Dominion Virginia Power is seeking state approval to daily dump millions of gallons of treated coal ash wastewater from ponds at two power plants into the James River and into a creek feeding the Potomac River.
However, environmental and river protection groups, as well as some legislators, oppose the plan. They say a draft permit issued by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality is deeply flawed and the releases will harm the rivers. Among other things, they want more stringent limits on toxic metals and pollutants.
The so-called dewatering should be studied further "to do this right from the outset to set a strong, protective precedent for our state," three legislators said in a letter to the DEQ. They want an extension in the public review period.
The department is evaluating the request, DEQ spokesman William Hayden wrote in an email Monday.
The second of two hearings on the proposal is scheduled Tuesday in Woodbridge before the State Water Control Board, which has final say on the discharges.
In response, Dominion defended its dewatering plans and said it would follow new rules established by the DEQ. It also said it prefers no delays.
"This process is all about getting these ponds closed ... so we certainly would rather do that sooner than later," said Cathy Taylor, Dominion's director of electric environmental services.
The proposed release of waste- and storm-water is among the steps Dominion is taking to close 11 coal ash impoundments at current and former coal-fired energy plants. The company is seeking permits at Bremo Power Station along the James River in Fluvanna County and Possum Point Power Station in Dumfries, near the Potomac River.
Dominion plans to cap its 11 coal ash ponds, which is expected to take four years.
Coal ash is the potentially toxic waste left when coal is burned. While the Environmental Protection Agency says coal ash is not a hazardous waste, a catastrophic breach of a North Carolina impoundment into the Dan River in February 2014 heightened awareness of coal ash, its storage, and disposal.
The EPA approved rules on coal ash impoundments one year ago, and Virginia approved its own rules Friday, Hayden said in an interview.
A Dec. 1 letter from the Southern Environmental Law Center to DEQ cited some of its concerns regarding the Bremo water discharge permit, among them:
— It does not contain information on the quantity of wastes store at the site, the rates at which the waste water would be discharged into the James and for how long.
— It would allow discharges at concentrations exceeding standards to protect humans and the environment.
— It fails to place limits on the volume of water to be discharged into the river.
The law center, which submitted the comments on behalf of the James River Association and itself, wants the permit revised to address its concerns.
"We've seen enough to know that the permit doesn't comply with the Clean Water Act," SELC attorney Bradford T. McLane said in an interview.
Hayden said he had not seen the letter and could not respond directly to the specific complaints.
Many of the same issues are raised by the Potomac Riverkeeper Network, and it too is seeking to extend the public comment period.
Taylor said Dominion has worked to meet state and federal requirements and for the long term "to ensure that protecting the river resource as well as the environment."
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