Business / Health / Local / Science / Virginia

Governor signs coal ash clean up legislation

~ Newly-approved bills will protect water quality by removing over 27 million cubic yards of coal ash from unlined ponds in Chesapeake Bay Watershed ~

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam has signed legislation to clean up more than 27 million cubic yards of coal ash from unlined ponds in Virginia, after a historic bipartisan agreement that was supported by Democratic and Republican members of both the House and Senate.

Senate Bill 1355, sponsored by Senator Frank Wagner, and House Bill 2786, sponsored by Delegate Riley Ingram, require the closure and removal of any coal combustion residuals (CCR) units, defined in the bills to include coal ash ponds or landfills, within the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The legislation will clean up four sites in Chesapeake City and the counties of Prince William, Chesterfield, and Fluvanna by moving coal ash to lined landfills on site or recycled in a safe manner.

The bills signed by Governor Northam include the major components of legislation introduced on his behalf by Senator Scott Surovell and Delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy, such as a ban on so-called “cap-in-place” closure of the unlined ponds and a requirement to recycle at least 25 percent of the ash into encapsulated beneficial uses. Concerns about using “cap-in place,” an approved, but potentially inadequate closure method led the General Assembly to impose a moratorium on closure the last two years while alternatives were explored.

“The potential risks to public health and water quality posed by unlined coal ash ponds in the Commonwealth are far too great for us to continue with business as usual,” said Governor Northam. “This historic, bipartisan effort sets a standard for what we can achieve when we work together, across party lines, in the best interest of all Virginians. I am proud to sign this legislation into law.”

“Throughout last year we worked hard in a bipartisan manner to develop legislation that you see today to once and for good resolve the issue of coal ash and its permanent disposal,” said Senator Frank Wagner. “I’m glad to see that all this work has resulted in a permanent solution to Virginia’s coal ash issues.”

“I was pleased to see that the General Assembly, the Governor, House, Senate and Dominion were able to all come together and come up with a great solution for the coal ash ponds, and in my opinion for the betterment of everyone,” said Delegate Riley Ingram.

“I am proud of what we have achieved by bringing together the many stakeholders facing serious threats from unlined coal ash ponds,” said Secretary of Natural Resources Matthew J. Strickler. “Clean closure of these sites will reduce the likelihood of a massive spill that could devastate tributaries to the Chesapeake Bay, and remove the possibility of contaminated groundwater.”

“This bipartisan agreement will guarantee the safety of our environment and waterways while responsibly cleaning up the coal ash,” said House Speaker Kirk Cox. “The most important thing for the Chesterfield community was to minimize truck traffic, and I’m pleased at the strong measures included in this legislation to keep trucks off roads in and around nearby neighborhoods.”

“I am pleased that the Governor worked with the environmental community, the industry and key legislators to reach a solution that best addresses the need to keep our air, soil and water safe and protects the residents who live near these coal ash ponds,” said Senator Rosalyn R. Dance.

“At town halls and meetings with my constituents, I promised that I would fight for legislation to recycle coal ash into concrete and other materials and to excavate and remove the remainder of coal ash to lined landfills because it was the most effective way to protect public health and the environment,” said Delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy. “I am proud that all of our bipartisan hard work has fulfilled this promise and resulted in comprehensive, impactful legislation to clean up toxic coal ash throughout Virginia.”

“I think this represents the first time Virginia has adopted environmental regulations that are more protective of the environment than federal law,” said Senator Scott Surovell. “This represents an important step forward for environmental protections in Virginia.”

“I’m excited that the Governor is signing what I’ve worked tirelessly on for four years with Senator Surovell; legislation for the people of Virginia, my constituents of Chesterfield, holding Dominion Energy responsible for the coal-ash piles affecting our environment, our water supply and health,” said Senator Amanda Chase.