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Virginia and coal

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This article is part of the Coal Issues portal on SourceWatch, a project of CoalSwarm and the Center for Media and Democracy. See here for help on adding material to CoalSwarm.

Contents

Introduction

Coal-fired power plants produce about 47 percent of the electricity generated in Virginia. Virginia’s average retail price of electricity is 6.86 cents per kilowatt hour, the 12th lowest rate in the nation.[1] Coal production is an important part of Virginia’s economy, with an estimated 30 to 40 million tons produced each year. Virginia's coal mines are located in the Appalachian mountains in the southwestern part of the state, predominantly in Buchanan, Dickenson, and Wise Counties. Relative to coal mined in other parts of the U.S., Virginia coal has high energy content and low sulfur content, making it well suited to electricity generation.[2]

Virginia coal is used to supply about half of the state’s energy needs. The state also imports coal for power generation, mainly from Kentucky and West Virginia.[3] Virginia-based Dominion recently began importing low-sulfur coal from Indonesia and Columbia.[4] Virginia also exports coal to electric utilities in the southeastern states, and sells between one-third and one-half of its in-state coal output for steel production, an industry that requires high-quality coal and tends to pay higher prices than electrical markets.[2]

From 1990 to 2004, carbon dioxide emissions in Virginia increased approximately 34 percent, nearly twice the national average.[5] In 2007, Virginia Governor Timothy Kaine announced a 25-year energy plan for the state. The new plan aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent by 2025, in part through the use of carbon capture and storage; increase in-state energy production by 20 percent with expanded production of traditional and renewable energy sources; and reduce the growth rate in energy use by 40 percent through increased conservation and efficiency.[6]

Citizen activism

Video from Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards

Citizen activism in Virginia focuses predominantly on two main issues:

  • Mountaintop removal mining: There is widespread activism in Virginia and across the Appalachian region to stop mountaintop removal mining, a controversial method that uses explosives to blast off the top of mountains to reach the coal seams below, dumping the overburden into adjacent valleys. The practice wreaks havoc on local ecosystems and has devastated hundreds of square miles of the Appalachian Mountain regions in West Virginia, Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee. Because the thickest and most accessible coal seams have already been mined, mountaintop removal techniques are increasingly being used in Virginia to reach the deeper, less accessible coal seams.[7] 29 mountains have already been damaged by this type of coal mining in southwestern Virginia.[8]
  • Proposed Wise County plant: Dominion is proposing a $1.6 billion 585MW coal-fired power plant to be built in Wise County, Virginia. The plant is expected to emit up to 5.4 million tons of greenhouse gases each year, which would raise Virginia's entire output of carbon dioxide by 15 percent.[9] The new plant would also emit 7,719 tons of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide per year.[10] The plant is strongly opposed by environmental groups. A number of citizen groups including the Sierra Club, Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards, Southern Environmental Law Center, Appalachian Voices, and Chesapeake Climate Action Network formed an initiative called Wise Energy for Virginia campaign, aimed at stopping construction of the plant. In May 2008, activists delivered a petition to block the power plant to Dominion's annual shareholder meeting. The document contained 42,400 signatures and stretched a mile long.[11] Permits for the plant are still pending.
WV citizens arrested on June 30, 2005 after refusing to leave Massey's Richmond VA headquarters until their demands heard.

June 30, 2005: WV citizens occupy Massey headquarters in Richmond, VA

On June 30, 2005, Concerned parents, grandparents and other citizens of Coal River Valley, West Virginia, with support from Mountain Justice Summer participants, delivered a list of demands to Massey Energy's headquarters in Richmond, Virginia, insisting that Massey respond. Two were arrested for trespassing when they refused to leave the premises until Massey responded to their demands. The citizens demanded that Massey shut down its preparation plant, coal silo, 1,849-acre mountaintop removal coal mine and 2.8 billion-gallon coal sludge dam - a toxic waste storage facility — located feet from an elementary school, Marsh Fork Elementary, in Sundail, WV. [12][13]


Earth First! and Rising Tide activists blockade a bridge leading to the Clinch River power plant on July 10, 2006.

July 10, 2006: Earth First!/Rising Tide blockade of Clinch River Power Plant

On July 10, 2006, 75 Earth First! and Rising Tide North America activists blockaded an access bridge leading to American Electric Power's coal-fired Clinch River Power Plant near Carbo, Virginia. Several people stretched a rope across the bridge and suspended themselves off the bridge's edge; others waved a coal truck onto the bridge, blockaded it, deflated its tires, and locked themselves to the truck. The protestors demanded that Clinch River and other outdated coal plants be shut down, and that mountaintop removal coal mining be ended. After several hours in which coal trucks were unable to get into the plant, police agreed to make no arrests if the activists would dismantle their blockades.[14][15]

Blue Ridge Earth First! and Mountain Justice blockades Dominion's headquarters to protest planned coal-fired power plant in SW Virginia. June 30, 2008.

June 30, 2008: Activists Blockade Dominion Headquarters

On June 30, 2008, 20 Activists with Blue Ridge Earth First! and Mountain Justice Summer blockaded the entrance to Dominion Resources' corporate headquarters to protest the company's plan for a new coal-fired power plant in Southwest Virginia. Four protesters formed a human chain with their hands encased in containers of hardened cement and a fifth dangled by a climber's harness from the Lee Bridge footbridge. After several hours police made there way through the miles of backed up traffic to cut the activists out of the lockboxes and barrels. The climber came down on his own. Police also detained eight others standing on the sidewalks supporting the lockdown team. 13 in total were arrested.[16].

On September 15, 2008, protesters locked their bodies to steel drums at the construction site of Dominion Virginia's new coal-fired power plant in Wise County, VA.

September 15, 2008: 20 Protesters lock-down at Dominion coal plant construction site, Wise County, VA

Early morning on September 15, 2008 around 50 peaceful protesters entered the construction site of Dominion Virginia's coal-fired Wise County Plant. Twenty protesters locked their bodies to eight large steel drums, two of which have operational solar panels affixed to the top that illuminated a banner reading "renewable jobs to renew Appalachia." In addition to those locked to the construction site, over 25 protesters from across the country convened in front of the plant singing and holding a 10'x30' banner, which said "we demand a clean energy future." Eleven were arrested. This action was organized by Mountain Justice, Blue Ridge Earth First!, Rainforest Action Network, Asheville Rising Tide, and Students for Democratic Society.[17]

Wise Energy Tour: September through November 2008

The Wise Energy for Virginia Coalition launched the Wise Energy Tour in September 2008 to meet with engaged citizens across Virginia. They aim to help equip Virginians with the tools they need to address their elected officials about clean energy and how Virginia can work towards a clean energy economy. The tour will visit all areas of Virginia.[18]

According to co-director Kayti Wingfield of the Sierra Club, the tour will transform the fight against the Wise County plant into "the largest grassroots effort Virginia's ever seen to work on clean energy."[19]

February 7, 2009: Billionaires for Coal visit Dominion headquarters: Richmond, VA

About two dozen people identifying themselves "Billionaires for Coal" gathered outside the headquarters of Dominion to lampoon the coal industry. The activists wore formal dress and sipped from wine glasses, while shouting pro-coal, anti-environment slogans including "Up with sea levels, up with profits." A bluegrass band also performed, calling themselves "The We Love Money String Band". Although the group's signs and chants stayed on message with the billionaire façade, the activists distributed leaflets revealing that the demonstration was organized by Blue Ridge Earth First.[20]

February 1, 2010: Residents voice objections to proposed power station, Denden, Virginia

On February 1, 2010, residents of Denden, Virginia and others attended a town meeting to voice their opinions about the proposed 1,500 megawatt Cypress Creek Power Station. The plant would be the largest in Virginia and Dominion plans to build it in the tiny town of Dendron. The town of Dendron has a population of 300 and is 3.6 square miles large. Some locals during the meeting, in order to shed the rumor that only outsiders opposed the plant, sported "Surry County Local - NO COAL" stickers.

Opponents of the plant stated that Cypress Creek would emit more than "20,000 tons of air pollutants each year, as well as 116 pounds of toxic mercury." The plant is also estimated to emit 14.6 million tons of the heat-trapping greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. During the meeting a tie-breaking vote by the City Mayor moved the project forward but opponents vowed to fight on.[21]

May 2011: Protest against MTR permit

On May 27, 2011, 50 Virginia residents and Mountain Justice activists marched through through downtown Appalachia to celebrate Ison Rock Ridge - a mountain in southwest Virginia targeted for mountaintop removal by coal companies - and protest its pending demise. They called on the Environmental Protection Agency to deny the proposed surface mine permit for Ison Rock Ridge and keep the ridge standing. People marched with puppets of King Coal holding Governor McDonnell and Representative Morgan Griffith, with signs saying “Keep Ison Rock Ridge Standing” and “Friends of Mountains and Miners."

Since 2007, the Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards and the Sierra Club have been fighting the proposed 1,200-acre surface mine that, if approved, would impact over 1,800 residents with increased blasting, noise, coal dust and water pollution. The EPA has objected to the permit for violating the Clean Water Act and the concerned groups are supporting the EPA’s efforts. The Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards were joined by allied organizations, Mountain Justice, Heartwood, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth and the Sierra Club. Members of these groups came from as far away as Indiana and even Australia to support local organizing efforts that have been rooted in the immediate community.[22]

August 2011: Road to Clean Energy Tour

Wise Energy for Virginia Coalition brought its 18-foot asthma inhaler to three locations in August 2011 -- Hampton Roads, Richmond, and Alexandria. [23] [24]

October 2011: Virginia Conference on Energy protests

Virginia environmentalists staged a mock funeral for more than 60 Virginia mountains lost to mountaintop removal mining at the Governor's Conference on Energy in Richmond, Va. Oct. 17, 2011. [25] [26] The conference gave top billing to the CEOs of Dominion Resources and Alpha Natural Resources.

History

January 2009: Dominion raises rates to cover costs of Wise County Plant

On January 1, 2009, Dominion implemented a rate increase for its Virginia customers to help pay for its Wise County Plant. The rate adjustment will raise bills by $1.53 for every 1,000 kilowatt hours of electricity customers use, which translates to an increase of $1.84 per month for the average customer. The increase will subsidize $83 million in financing costs for the plant during 2009.[27] Dominion made no announcement about the rate change.[28]

March 2009: Residents file $1 billion suit against Dominion over fly ash site

In March 2009, attorneys representing almost 400 residents who live near Battlefield Golf Club filed a lawsuit in Chesapeake Circuit Court, seeking over $1 billion in damages. The suit claims that Dominion Virginia Power sent fly ash to the site, ignoring a consultant's determination that the ash would leach harmful elements into the local drinking water supply. The lawsuit names as defendants Dominion, course developer CPM Virginia LLC, and VFL Technology Corp., Dominion's coal-ash management consultant. The suit accuses the companies of committing conspiracy and fraud, battery, negligence, infliction of emotional distress, and the creation of a nuisance. The resident's attorneys are demanding the removal of all fly ash from the site; the cleaning of the aquifer and installation of public water and sewer service; compensation for personal injury and decreased property values; and the creation of a fund for treatment costs and health monitoring.[29]

April 2009: Virginia officials order air quality tests in Wise County

On April 21, 2009, the Virginia Air Pollution Control Board ordered air quality tests for communities in southwest Virginia after a study showed dust from coal trucks was causing a health hazard in the region. The study, done in Wise County by a North Carolina State University professor for Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards and Sierra Club, found that airborne dust particles in the area were as much as three times the federal standard. The measurements were taken during two weeks in August 2008 in the community of Roda, which gets traffic from nine mining operations.[30]

The official study is here.[31]

Budget cuts hit FY2009 environmental protections

Gov. Timothy Kaine is looking to cut about $12 million in the 2009 fiscal year from the $420 million budget of the state secretary of natural resources, which includes state parks, Chesapeake Bay restoration and anti-pollution measures. The state has already has eliminated more than 20 percent of its air-pollution inspectors in an attempt to make up for an estimated $3 billion budget shortfall. The air inspectors oversee about 5,000 sites statewide, including power plants, and are charged with checking the emissions from smokestacks and exhaust. Jerome Brooks, who heads the air compliance division, said that although in previous years inspectors could check 1,400 sites a year, they will only be able to check about 800 in 2009 because of the cuts. State officials contend that Virginia's largest air polluters, about 500 power plants and factories, will still be monitored as often as the U.S. EPA requires.[32]

April 2010: Restored funding for mine safety after Upper Big Branch Mine disaster

In April 2010, Gov. Bob McDonnell proposed restoring state funding for mine safety inspections in Virginia. McDonnell said the deadly blast at Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch mine in Montcoal, W.Va., was a wake up call. Massey is based in Richmond. The blast killed 29 coal miners.[33]

McDonnell's amendment to the state's budget puts back $1.5 million for safety work over the next two years for the Department of Mines, Minerals, and Energy, which legislators had trimmed in unexplained "executive management savings" to the $32.7 million budget former Gov. Timothy M. Kaine had submitted in December. The restored funding will be used to hire inspectors and buy specialized equipment to check mines for dangers that threaten the safety of miners.[33]

February, 2010: Group Proposes Coal Gasification Research Facility in Virginia

Elkton Energy Research Quadrangle is planning to establish a research facility for clean coal technology. The facility is to be located between four universities in Virginia: University of Vermont, Virginia Tech University, George Mason University and James Mason University.[34]

May, 2011: Coalfield property owners advance class-action suit against gas companies

A motion filed May 5, 2011 by the Virginia Gas Owners Litigation Group alleges that CNX Gas is misinforming coalfield property owners who have leased coal mineral rights about gas company rights to methane. The VGOLG, an entourage of attorneys representing Virginia landowners in the five pending class actions against natural gas companies, filed a motion in Abingdon, VA, asking the court to forbid the company from contacting their clients and, according to the motion, deceiving them into signing away half of what they’re owed. [35]

May, 2011: Virginia DEQ fines Potomac River Generating Station $275,000 for improper emissions controls

The GenOn (formerly Mirant) coal-burning power plant in Alexandria, VA, will pay $275,500 in civil penalties to the state for numerous permit violations, including excessive visible emissions. [36] According to the Alexandria Times, DEQ officials paid a surprise visit to the Royal Street plant last September and found that the coal being used contained more ash than the Virginia Air Pollution Control Law allows. The more ash coal contains, the higher the potential for harmful, microscopic matter to escape the power plant.[37]

A campaign to shut down the Potomac River Generating Station was backed by Alexandria and District of Columbia officials in the summer of 2011. One idea is to convert the plant to a clean energy park. [38]

June, 2011: Dominion Power gets rate increase for fuel costs, conversion of three coal plants to biomass

The State Corporation Commission approved Dominion's fuel rate increase of $8.17 per 1,000 kilowatt hours per month to take effect in stages by July 2012. The rate covers Dominion's expenses for coal, natural gas and uranium. [39] A small component, 14 cents per 1,000 kilowatts, will cover the projected $165 million cost to convert power stations in Altavista, Hopewell and Southampton County to biomass. [40]

Mountaintop removal

February 2009: Federal appeals court in Richmond reverses limits on mountaintop removal

On February 13, 2009, a federal appeals court overturned a lower court ruling that limited mountaintop removal coal mining. Delivering a win for the coal industry, a panel of the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 to reverse U.S. District Judge Robert Chambers' decision in March 2007 that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had violated the Clean Water Act by issuing permits to four mountaintop removal operations. The 2007 ruling mandated full consideration of the environmental effects of mountaintop removal and slowed the issuing of new permits.[41]

The case was first filed by the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, Coal River Mountain Watch, and the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy against Aracoma Coal Company (a subsidiary of Massey Energy) and four other companies, as well as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Environmental groups responded that the appeals court decision will lead to the destruction of 90 more mountain peaks.[41]

March 2009: Obama EPA begins to crack down on mountaintop removal

On March 23, 2009, the Obama administration began making moves to block or stall mountaintop removal mining permits. The EPA issued letters meant to halt or slow two mining permits proposed by the federal Army Corps of Engineers in West Virginia and Kentucky. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson made an official announcement on March 24, saying, "The two letters reflect EPA's considerable concern regarding the environmental impacts these projects would have on fragile habitats and streams. I have directed the agency to review other mining permits requests. EPA will use the best science and follow the letter of the law in ensuring we are protecting our environment."[42]

The decision to delay and review the two permits calls into question more than 100 pending valley fill permits in the Appalachian region.[43] In response to widespread industry dissent warning EPA not to block mining permits, as well as praise from environmentalists for the decision to deny permits, the organization issued the following clarification of its intentions:[44]

The Environmental Protection Agency is not halting, holding or placing a moratorium on any of the mining permit applications. Plain and simple. EPA has issued comments on two pending permit applications to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers expressing serious concerns about the need to reduce the potential harmful impacts on water quality. EPA will take a close look at other permits that have been held back because of the 4th Circuit litigation. We fully anticipate that the bulk of these pending permit applications will not raise environmental concerns. In cases where a permit does raise environmental concerns, we will work expeditiously with the Army Corps of Engineers to determine how these concerns can be addressed. EPA’s submission of comments to the Corps on draft permits is a well-established procedure under the Clean Water Act to assure that environmental considerations are addressed in the permitting process.

In April 2009, EPA issued objections to three more mountaintop removal mining permits pending issue from the Army Corps of Engineers. The specific mines are Massey Energy's Republic No. 1 Surface Mine in Kanawha County, West Virginia; Frasure Creek Mining’s Spring Fork No. 2 Mine in Mingo County, West Virginia; and A&G Coal Corp.’s Ison Rock Ridge Surface Mine in Wise County, Virginia. According to the EPA letters, the three mining operations would bury about eight miles of streams.[45]

May 2009: Army Corps of Engineers suspends MTR permit for A&G Coal

On May 7, 2009, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers suspended its approval of A&G Coal Corp.’s Ison Rock Ridge Surface Mine in Wise County, Virginia. The decision follows on the heels of a lawsuit filed by the Sierra Club and Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards to block the permit. The Corps stated that the suspension provides officials "an opportunity to fully evaluate concerns" raised by EPA in April 2009.[46]

Legislative issues

Coal waste storage

House Bill 1918, introduced by Del. Ann Crockett-Stark, R_Wytheville, would require a solid waste permit for the storage of coal combustion waste in a 100-year flood plain. Crockett-Stark introduced the bill in response to concerns raised over Cumberland Park in Giles County, where a 7-acre site is being filled with 254,000 cubic yards of coal ash. In January 2009, the House Committee on Agriculture, Natural Resources and the Chesapeake endorsed the legislation. If passed, the bill would not affect Cumberland Park, but the permitting requirement would give the public an opportunity to comment on future proposals.[47]

Water monitoring

In January and February 2011, after the EPA vetoed the water permit for the Spruce 1 Mine, SB 1025 was introduced by Senator Puckett and HB 2123 by Delegate Poindexter. The House BIll states that it "[c]larifies that the authority to issue pollutant discharge elimination system permits for coal surface mining operations has been delegated by the State Water Control Board to the Director of the Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy. The Director shall examine all available and relevant data to determine whether a discharge may cause or contribute to an in-stream excursion above the narrative or numeric criteria of a water quality standard. Any total maximum daily load (TMDL) that has been established for the receiving body of water shall control the determination. If no TMDL has been established, the Director may consider biological monitoring, chemical monitoring, and whole effluent toxicity testing."

According to the Sierra Club, the bill restricts the ability of Virginia officials to use effluent testing and water quality monitoring to protect Virginia's waterways though the Clean Water Act, and "would also repeal the State Water Control Board's authority over an important category of pollution discharge permits."[48] The bill was passed and signed by the Governor on March 18, 2011.

On April 29, state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli challenged the US Office of Surface Mining's authority to overrule state surface mining regulations. Cucinelli claimed the OSM had set itself up as a "Super Regulatory Authority" to review and potentially overrule or veto state permit decisions. Cucinelli threatened a lawsuit if the OSM did not clarify its role in the regulatory process.[49]

Proposed coal plants

Active

Cancelled

Citizen groups

Coal lobbying groups

Power companies

Existing coal plants

Virginia has 55 operating coal-fired power units at 21 locations totaling 6,208 megawatts (MW).[50]

16 of these units are larger than 500MW.[51][52]

Plant Name County Owner Year(s) Built Capacity 2006 CO2 Emissions 2006 SO2 Emissions SO2/MW Rank
Chesterfield Chesterfield Dominion 1952, 1960, 1964, 1969 1354 MW 7,766,728 tons 64,863 tons  ?
Clover Halifax Dominion 1995, 1996 848 MW 7,668,938 tons 1,854 tons  ?
Clinch River Russell American Electric Power 1958, 1961 714 MW 3,794,172 tons 27,134 tons  ?
Chesapeake Chesapeake Dominion 1953, 1954, 1959, 1962 650 MW 4,183,816 tons  ? tons  ?
Wise County Wise Dominion 2012 585 MW 0 tons 0 tons  ?
Potomac River Alexandria GenOn Energy 1949, 1950, 1954, 1956, 1957 514 MW 1,776,053 tons  ? tons  ?
Yorktown York Dominion 1957, 1959 376 MW 2,160,713 tons 21,685 tons  ?
Glen Lyn Giles American Electric Power 1944, 1957 338 MW 1,654,470 tons  ? tons  ?
Birchwood King George Birchwood Power Partners 1996 258 MW 0 tons  ? tons  ?
Bremo Bluff Fluvanna Dominion 1950, 1958 250 MW 1,534,214 tons  ? tons  ?
Cogentrix of Richmond Richmond Cogentrix 1992 230 MW 2,336,209 tons  ? tons  ?
Mecklenburg Mecklenburg Dominion 1992 140 MW 914,092 tons  ? tons  ?
James River Prince George Cogentrix 1988 115 MW 1,141,000 tons  ? tons  ?

For a map of existing coal plants in the state, see the bottom of this page.

Proposed coal plant closures

Glen Lyn Plant and Clinch River Plant

On June 9, 2011, AEP announced that, based on impending EPA regulations as proposed, AEP’s compliance plan would retire nearly 6,000 megawatts (MW) of coal-fueled power generation; upgrade or install new advanced emissions reduction equipment on another 10,100 MW; refuel 1,070 MW of coal generation as 932 MW of natural gas capacity; and build 1,220 MW of natural gas-fueled generation. The cost of AEP’s compliance plan could range from $6 billion to $8 billion in capital investment through the end of the decade.[53]

AEP’s current plan for compliance with the rules as proposed includes permanently retiring the following coal-fueled power plants:[53]

  • Glen Lyn Plant, Glen Lyn, Va. – 335 MW (retired by Dec. 31, 2014).

In addition, six other plants would reduce their power output, including:[54]

  • Clinch River Plant, Cleveland, Va. - Unit 3 (235 MW) retired by Dec. 31, 2014; Units 1 and 2 (470 MW total) would be refueled with natural gas with a capacity of 422 MW by Dec. 31, 2014.

Coal Waste

The 2011 report, "State of Failure: How
 States
 Fail 
to 
Protect 
Our
 Health
 and 
Drinking
 Water
 from 
Toxic
 Coal
 Ash" by Earthjustice and Appalachian Mountain Advocates, looked at EPA data and found that state regulations are often inadequate for protecting public health. Virginia coal ash regulations do not require protective composite liners, groundwater monitoring, or daily cover at its coal ash ponds and landfills.[55]

August 2010: Study finds significant water contamination from coal ash

In August 2010 a study released by the Environmental Integrity Project, the Sierra Club and Earthjustice reported that Virginia, along with 34 states, had significant groundwater contamination from coal ash that was not regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The report, in an attempt to pressure the EPA to regulate coal ash, noted that most states do not monitor drinking water contamination levels near waste disposal sites.[56] The report mentioned Virginia's Clinch River Plant and Glen Lyn Plant as two sites that have groundwater contamination due to coal ash waste.[57]

VA OKs golf course made with coal ash

In 2008, worries and complaints about water contamination from Chesapeake's Battlefield Golf Club at Centerville surfaced. Officials at the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) allowed developers to build the golf course with coal ash. Upon hearing of the complaints, a former employee said the DEQ attempted to limit the paper trail related to the project so the agency couldn't be blamed. The employee - Allen Brockman, a DEQ groundwater expert from 2001 to 2009 - said he saved e-mails that support his contentions. Brockman said the presence of any groundwater contamination on the golf course, which has been established, is enough for DEQ to declare the property an open dump site and to order all the ash removed, but that hasn't happened.[58]

The golf course involved the transfer of 1.5 million tons of ash from an overloaded coal waste landfill, the Chesapeake Energy Center Bottom Ash / Sedimentation Pond at Dominion Virginia Power's Chesapeake Energy Center to a marshy, 217-acre site near scores of residential drinking-water wells. Brockman said DEQ allowed the golf course to be built against the backdrop of a chronic arsenic leaching problem at Dominion's coal-ash landfill, treated only with a binding agent to make the course. A "corrective action plan" to remediate the leaching arsenic at the landfill, along the Elizabeth River, had been in development for years. "So the idea of taking this same coal ash, from a landfill site, and placing it in the middle of a community would have been not only unacceptable, but frankly unconscionable," Brockman stated in his affidavit. Even with the use of a binding agent, which Brockman said was ineffective, no groundwater expert would have let the project move forward under any circumstances. Yet he said the early meetings between Dominion and DEQ did not include groundwater experts.[58]

Brockman quit his job in Fall 2009 and in October 2010 released a six-page affidavit to The Virginian-Pilot in which he traces what he calls "the cozy, corporate-friendly culture" that led to his decision. He is a geologist with degrees from Duke, Indiana University and the University of Richmond Law School. Roy Mason and Ted Yoakam, the attorneys representing hundreds of plaintiffs in a $1 billion lawsuit against Dominion and several other parties over the golf course project, also represent Brockman, who said he retained the attorneys because he felt he needed legal protection as he challenged the state. He may testify on behalf of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, but Brockman said he would get no part of any settlement. Among the exhibits in the suit are handwritten minutes taken by a developer at a meeting of representatives from Dominion and DEQ in February 2002 that Brockman said show how DEQ found a way for the project to move forward. The golf course project should have been regulated as a landfill, with a liner and groundwater monitoring, but instead it was considered exempt from such requirements because the fly ash was deemed a "beneficial use."[58]

The EPA reported earlier this year that tests show contaminants such as arsenic are not migrating from the fly ash on the golf course to nearby residential wells. Dominion, meanwhile, is moving forward with a $6 million plan to extend city water to affected homes nearby. Brockman, however, argues it is likely just a matter of time before other residents with wells farther downstream are affected. The golf course site, Brockman concluded, "will likely contaminate both the Yorktown and Columbia aquifers, endangering the health and safety of the men, women and children of the surrounding community." Dominion and Bill Hayden, a DEQ spokesman in Richmond, declined to respond specifically to Brockman's allegations.[58]

On May 10, 2011, following heated debate, the City of Chesapeake decided to leave the golf course open.[59][60]

On July 13, 2011, a Virginia judge dismissed portions of a lawsuit brought by homeowners near the golf course. [61]

Study finds dangerous level of hexavalent chromium at Virginia coal waste sites

The study "EPA’s Blind Spot: Hexavalent Chromium in Coal Ash," released by EarthJustice and the Sierra Club in early February 2011, reported elevated levels of hexavalent chromium, a highly potent cancer-causing chemical, at several coal ash sites in Virginia.[62] In all, the study cited 29 sites in 17 states where hexavalent chromium contamination was found. The information was gathered from existing EPA data on coal ash as well as from studies by EarthJustice, the Environmental Integrity Project, and the Sierra Club.[63][64][65][66] It included locations in Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Massachusetts, North Carolina, North Dakota, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virgina and Wisconsin.[62]

According to the report, hexavalent chromium (Cr(VI)) was found at elevated levels at the following sites:[62]

A press release about the report read:

Hexavalent chromium first made headlines after Erin Brockovich sued Pacific Gas & Electric because of poisoned drinking water from hexavalent chromium. Now new information indicates that the chemical has readily leaked from coal ash sites across the U.S. This is likely the tip of the iceberg because most coal ash dump sites are not adequately monitored.[67]

According to the report, the electric power industry is the leading source of chromium and chromium compounds released into the environment, representing 24 percent of releases by all industries in 2009.[62]

SPSA will bury coal ash in regular Suffolk landfill

The Southeast Public Service Authority, a regional waste authority for Virginia Beach, Norfolk and Suffolk, decided in July 2011 to bury about 200,000 tons of incinerator ash a year at its landfill in Suffolk instead of at a specially built facility in Virginia Beach, saving $150,000 and $175,000 a year. [68]

Coal mines

Click here for a list of coal mines in Virginia. As of 2010 there were approximately 106 active coal mines in Virginia with production of approximately 22,385 short tons per year.[69]

Reports and Studies

Economic impact

A 2012 Downstream Strategies analysis of the costs and benefits of the coal industry for the state of Virginia, "The Impact of Coal on the Virginia State Budget," concludes that, "Overall, when taking all revenues and expenditures into account, we estimate that the total net impact of the coal industry on the Virginia state budget in Fiscal Year 2009 amounted to a net cost to the Commonwealth of $21.9 million."[70]

Increased birth defects in MTR areas

In a 2011 Environmental Research journal study, "The association between mountaintop mining and birth defects among live births in central Appalachia, 1996–2003" investigators reported that children born in counties home to mountaintop coal mines had a 26% higher risk of suffering birth defects, compared to ones born in non-mining regions. (Nationwide, about 1 in 33 babies suffer a birth defect, the leading cause of infant deaths.)

A number of studies had found health risks associated with coal mining regions including low birth weight. Lead researcher Melissa Ahern, a health economist at Washington State University, and colleagues decided to look for health effects on infants across four states (West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia) where mountaintop removal mining occurs. Looking at the 1,889,071 births in those states from 1996 to 2003, the researchers first found birth defects were higher in six of seven categories (including heart, lung and gastrointestinal birth defects) in mountaintop mining counties compared to elsewhere. According to the study: "Rates for any anomaly were approximately 235 per 10,000 live births in the mountaintop mining area versus 144 per 10,000 live births in the non-mining area."

Since poverty has also been linked to birth defects, the researchers controlled for social factors, such as smoking, drinking, mother's education, race and other poverty-related factors, and the team found the effect was still statistically significant, leading to the 26% higher risk of birth defects in the mountaintop mining counties.

According to Ahern: "Circulatory and respiratory effects really stood out." The study stated that birth defect rate seemed to increase over time and in regions with more mountaintop removal.[71]

Carbon Capture in Coal Bed Methane

An $11.5 million research effort at Virginia Tech will examine coal bed methane formations as potential repositories for Carbon Capture and Storage, the university announced July 11, 2011.[72]

Resources

References

  1. The Facts, America’s Power, accessed May 2008.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Virginia Coal, Virginia Energy Patterns and Trends, accessed May 2008.
  3. Origin of US Coal Shipments to Virginia Electric Utility Plants, Virginia Energy Patterns and Trends, accessed May 2008
  4. Dominion Chooses Coal Imports Over Scrubbers for Chesapeake Plant, Power Engineering, December 8, 2006.
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