Evidence mounts against Dominion’s proposed “cap-in-place” method for Possum Point coal ash pond closures
Just in time for the holidays, the people of Prince William County received a gift from the Virginia General Assembly, in the form of an 800-page report analyzing the options for Dominion Energy’s disposal of the hazardous coal ash stored in ponds at the Possum Point facility in Dumfries. The findings validate the environmental concerns surrounding the controversial cap-in-place method proposed by Dominion, and demonstrates that there are feasible alternatives with less environmental impact, including one that could generate economic growth.
This report marked the latest step in a multi-year odyssey of community members, local and state officials and nonprofit groups working together to ensure that the coal ash dewatering and removal process is done in the most effective, environmentally sensitive and safe manner possible.
To me, cost should not be the primary consideration in disposing of the coal ash. Rather, it should be protecting the residents who live on and around Possum Point Road, followed by ensuring that Dominion’s removal of the coal ash – a highly toxic, cancer-causing byproduct of burning coal for fuel – occurs in the least intrusive manner while simultaneously protecting the environment, to include keeping pollutants out of Quantico Creek, the Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay.
While there hasn’t been time to fully digest the entirety of the report, there were several immediate takeaways that provide clarity and direction moving forward:
First, we’ve learned that contaminants are leaking into the ground around the coal ash ponds. While Dominion contends that the contaminants haven’t breached the ground wells of surrounding homes, these findings prove that cap-in-place is no longer a viable option. We cannot risk the possibility of contaminants further leaching into the ground and poisoning water sources.
Second, the analyzed “alternative options” can be fully achieved within the 15-year window that the Environmental Protection Agency has set forth for coal ash pond closures. These findings dilute arguments that the alternative closure options are all infeasible or impractical. In fact, the report makes the alternatives more attractive.
Third, several promising alternatives are financially viable. This stands in direct contradiction to Dominion’s assertion that alternatives to cap-in-place—such as moving coal ash to a fully lined landfill, removing and transporting it off-site or selling the ash to be repurposed in products such as bricks—are either infeasible or cost-prohibitive. This report definitively proves that this simply isn’t the case.
Dominion estimates that its proposed cap-in-place option will take 3 to 5 years to complete and cost up to $418 million dollars. Comparatively, relocating the coal ash to a lined landfill, which would dramatically reduce the possibility of leaching, would cost $380 million dollars and take 8 years.
The prospect of environmental contamination makes both of these options unsatisfactory in my opinion. Comparatively, the joint concept of removal, which on its own is the most expensive alternative, combined with reuse (fly ash, a coal ash byproduct, can be used to strengthen concrete and bricks) would take 8 to 17 years and cost approximately $899 million dollars. However, the cost could be offset by the construction of a new production facility that would bring with it the creation of dozens of new, high-paying jobs. Dominion is likely to make a profit from reuse.
We are now equipped with a clearer picture of what can and should be done to protect people living near Possum Point, along with the surrounding land and waterways. I look forward to a continued dialogue with area residents, my colleagues on the Board of County Supervisors, the Prince William delegation in Richmond and Dominion officials to find an environmentally sound solution for closing the coal ash ponds in Prince William County.