Tuesday, December 8, 2015


On Tuesday, December 1, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (VDEQ) hosted a public hearing at Central Elementary School in Fluvanna County to permit the “dewatering” of coal ash ponds at the Bremo Bluff Power Plant on the banks of the James River, not far from Fork Union. The proposed permit would allow Dominion to discharge arsenic, hexavalent chromium, selenium, and several other metals into the river with little or no prior treatment.

    Previously Virginia’s oldest coal-fueled power plant, the Bremo Bluff operation was converted to a natural gas-powered facility in June of 2014, which brought an improvement to the Commonwealth’s overall air quality.

    Now, just over a year later, the proposed wastewater treatment practice promises to harm the water quality of our nation’s river.

    The process of “dewatering,” simply, is the process of removing liquid from solid substances in wastewater mixtures. As it stands, Dominion’s draft permit is a reissuance of a previously-existing permit that now proposes to release cooling water and treated industrial wastewater associated with the fallow coal ash ponds from the plant’s coal-burning years into the James River at Bremo Bluff.

    In a press release by the James River Association (JRA) advertising the results of the hearing, a few concerns were voiced.

    First, the draft permit is in violation of the Clean Water Act. JRA brings further attention to the fact that the permitting limits established by the VDEQ are significantly higher than those set in other states, and are inefficient in preserving the aquatic ecosystem and public health. The James River supports nearly a third of Virginia residents living in 39 counties and 19 towns and cities, who depend upon its water for drinking.

    Second, there is no mention of endangered species considerations in the draft plan. The Endangered Species Act, as it has the power to influence regulations for land- and water-use practices that even slightly impact the vitality of a struggling species, is a major player in many environmental protections cases, and will likely be a popular arguing point for commenters on this issue.

    It is worthy of note that the James River, in the most recent State of theJames report, was given a B- rating for overall ecosystem health, pooling several contributing factors. Furthermore, wastewater pollution control, specifically, was given a rating of over 100 percent, citing facility upgrades and the resulting improvements in nitrogen and phosphorus pollution reductions, which places the James well ahead of schedule for goals set as part of the Chesapeake Bay Cleanup.

    Still, in its most recent State of theBay assessment, the Chesapeake was rated a D+ for overall health, with a slow pattern of improvement.

    Though, according to these popularized reports, the James is a relatively healthy environment from a water quality perspective, as always, it is important that we think progressively. The James River scores higher than the Bay, but far from perfect. There is still work to be done, and setting beneficial, responsible precedents in environmental policy is an important first step.

    The public comment period on this draft permit will remain open until December 14, 2015. Written comments may be submitted to Beverley Carver at Beverley.carver@deq.virginia.gov. Letters may be mailed to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, company of Beverley Caver.

*Originally published in the Rural Virginian


Edward Knight said...

I attended the hearing in Woodbridge Monday. To me it appeared as if the DEQ did everything in its power to hide this issue from the public. They admitted doing the very minimum that is required to publicize the hearing. I did not attend the hearing in Palmyra because I didn't know about it. DEQ is rushing the permitting process to get it done before public outrage becomes such a major factor that this permit modification permit would have to be denied. DEQ is supposed to be a protector of the environment of Virginia, not a protector of Dominions bottom line. We need to stop this permit request, and then we need to clean house at DEQ.

Matthew Reilly said...

Couldn't agree more, Ed, though I try not to voice my opinion too much in fact-relating columns, and when I don't know everything about the issue. However, it does seem as if Dominion is trading in a favor after converting the plant to natural gas fuel in 2014. I only wish the DEQ would uphold higher standards and demonstrate a bit more governmental integrity. Particularly given the current state of the Chesapeake, I would really like to see an environmental collaboration between the Bay states, which might pressure our DEQ into some apparently much-needed reforms, given surrounding states uphold higher quality standards.

Thanks for the comment, and thanks for reading.

All the best,

Matt Reilly