Coal ash at Bremo to be cleaned up under new state laws

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RICHMOND, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) -- New state laws will remove millions of cubic yards of coal ash from unlined ponds in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.

Governor Ralph Northam signed the bill on Wednesday, which aims to clean up more than 27 million cubic yards of the ash.

"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 Northam. "This historic, bipartisan effort sets a standard for what we can achieve when we work together, cross party lines, in the best interest of all Virginians."

Senate Bill 1355, which as sponsored by Senator Frank Wagner, and House Bill 27 86, which was sponsored by Delegate Riley Ingram, requires the closure and removal of any coal combustion residuals.

The definition of this in the bills includes coal ash ponds or landfills.

"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 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."

According to a release, this law will clean up four sites in Chesapeake City and the counties of Prince William, Chesterfield and Fluvanna.

In Fluvanna County, this will affect the Bremo Power Station, which is operated by Dominion Energy.

The coal ash will be moved to lined landfills on site or recycled in a safe manner.

“We applaud bipartisan legislation signed by the Governor that will help ensure the long-term health and sustainability of our natural resources," said a Dominion Energy spokesperson in a statement. "We will continue investing in clean, renewable energy going forward, and look forward to working with local communities and the State Corporation Commission to safely dispose of ash.”

The Southern Environmental Law Center also reacted to the signing of the bills, praising the various people and groups that have worked toward this goal for years.

According to the SELC, the law will require Dominion to excavate all of the coal ash at the four facilities and wither recycle it into products like cement or concrete or put in modern, lined landfills.

The organization also says the law emphasizes protecting and improving communities that have been directly affected by coal ash.

Under the law, Dominion will have to pay for public water connections for any residents using well water within a half-mile of a coal ash pond or regular well testing is no public service is available; develop a transportation plan on where any coal ash needs to be moved offsite using community feedback; and prioritizing the hiring of local workers throughout the process.

These bills also ban cap-in-place closures of unlined ponds and require at least 25 percent of the ash be recycled into encapsulated beneficial uses.

This General Assembly took action to impose a moratorium on this type of closure in the last two years due to its potential inadequacy regarding protecting local water quality.

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