Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Judge Orders Additional Arsenic Testing at Elizabeth River Power Plant

Virginia’s largest utility must submit a revised plan for dealing with its leaking piles of coal ash at a retired power plant in Chesapeake and conduct at least two years of environmental testing at the site, a federal judge ordered.

U.S. District Judge John Gibney Jr.’s order last week came after he ruled earlier this year in a lawsuit filed by the Sierra Club that the coal ash at Dominion Energy Virginia’s Chesapeake plant was polluting surrounding waters with arsenic. After hearing arguments on each party’s proposed remediation measures, Gibney ruled Thursday on what he would require.

Dominion burned coal for decades at the plant, which sits on the Elizabeth River near the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. A landfill, pond and pits at the site hold around 2.8 million cubic yards of ash, the heavy metal-laden byproduct that’s left behind when coal is burned.

Gibney ruled in March that arsenic was flowing from the Chesapeake Energy Center in violation of the federal Clean Water Act but not at a level harmful to health or the environment.

In his Thursday order, he wrote that the utility must conduct sampling of water, sediment and the tissue of species including blue crabs, softshell clams and mussels beginning in the late summer or early fall of this year.

He also ordered Dominion to submit a new solid waste permit application to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality for disposal of the ash that includes “corrective measures for the discharge of groundwater and shall not include a plan to cap the coal ash in place.”

Dominion had initially proposed leaving the ash in place but covering it with a waterproof, synthetic layer, plus two additional feet of soil and vegetation. The Sierra Club wanted the site fully excavated and the ash moved to a synthetically lined landfill, though Gibney said in his March ruling that “draconian” request wouldn’t serve the public’s interest.
I hereby predict that the studies will find no enrichment of arsenic in the animal tissues, and that any concentrations in the water and sediment will be essentially indistinguishable from the already otherwise polluted Elizabeth River. It will turn out to be a gargantuan waste time and money.   And that was the point.

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