EPA Plan to Relax Coal Ash Regulation Affects Potomac River

Comments At EPA Coal Ash Hearing on April 24, 2018.

I stand in opposition to proposed amendments to EPA’s coal ash regulation not as an expert but as a citizen and an avid kayaker. I’ve been kayaking on the Potomac since 1997, and I’m concerned about the hazardous impact on water quality, wildlife, and water sports of dumping contaminated coal ash into the Potomac River from the site of a retired coal fired plant at Possum Point on Quantico Creek south of Alexandria.

According to Potomac Riverkeeper Dean Naujoks, Dominion Resources has been dumping contaminated coal ash from ponds at Possum Point into the Potomac via Quantico Creek since at least May, 2015. In January, 2016 instead of banning this practice, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) issued a wastewater discharge permit authorizing more Coal Combustion Residue (CCR) dumping over the objections of citizens of Prince William County and their state senator Scott Surovell.

In response the Potomac Riverkeeper Network (PRKN) sued to revoke the permit and asked EPA to initiate a criminal investigation into the collusive relationship between Dominion and DEQ. According to PRKN, “[p]ublic documents obtained by WAMU 88.5 show that in 2013, Dominion paid for David Paylor, the head of Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality to attend the Masters golf tournament in Georgia, one of the most sought-after sports tickets in the country. The value of the trip was estimated to be $2,300, according to Paylor’s 2013 financial disclosure statement.”

In May, 2016 Dominion resumed dumping contaminated wastewater from its coal ash ponds into Quantico Creek. But PRKN was concerned about something more immediate—contamination of the groundwater near Possum Point. According to PRKN, Dominion and DEQ refused Senator Surovell’s request to resume tapping some monitoring wells near the site, adding that:

“Dominion’s ground water monitoring wells allegedly collapsed and have provided no data ground water data for approximately 20 years, despite being required under their current permit to provide critical ground water monitoring data to see if flow of contaminated ground water is moving toward residential properties and drinking water supplies.”

In December, 2016 Dominion announced that it was installing water lines to residences located near Possum Point, tacit proof that the ground water wells on these properties were contaminated by CCR.

In January, 2017 DEQ announced a draft permit to allow Dominion to cap-in-place CCR at Possum Point, a move that was opposed by Prince William County residents and the Board of Supervisors, which called for legislation imposing a temporary moratorium on solid waste permits at Possum Point and three other Dominion plants located on Virginia rivers. That call bore fruit in April, 2017 when then Governor McAuliffe restored a provision to a coal ash bill that imposed a moratorium on coal ash permits, which was upheld by the Virginia General Assembly.

Nevertheless it is evident that but for the intervention of the Governor, DEQ would have authorized continued dumping of CCR contaminated wastewater into Quantico Creek. But for the persistence of PRKN and Senator Scott Surovell, Dominion Resources would have continued to ignore the contamination of groundwater wells near Possum Point. Under these circumstances alternative performance standards that would:

(2) modify the corrective action remedy in certain cases;
(3) suspend groundwater monitoring requirements if a no migration demonstration can be made;
(4) establish an alternate period of time to demonstrate compliance with the corrective action remedy;
(5) modify the post-closure care period;

are ill advised. In states like Virginia where a body of evidence points to collusion between the leading environmental agency and its principal power utility, allowing the state EPA Director to determine on a case by case basis the circumstances under which monitoring, remediation, and compliance testing are needed is simply a license to pollute.

The current EPA CCR regulation is a minimum standard unenforceable except by state or citizen action. Weakening an already weak regulation amounts to deregulation, and deregulating coal ash is a prescription for despoiled waterways and diseased populations.