Richmond Times Dispatch: March 14, 2020

Dominion agrees to pay $1.4 million in settlement for alleged environmental violations

By Mel Leanor, Richmond Times Dispatch

Dominion Energy on Friday agreed to pay $1.4 million as part of a settlement over alleged environmental violations at its power plants in Chesterfield County and Possum Point.

Most of the violations are connected to coal ash ponds near the two sites operated by Dominion, which regulators and environmental groups say may have contaminated nearby water sources. Coal ash, a by-product of burning coal, contains heavy metals including arsenic and mercury.

State and federal officials say that on two separate occasions in 2017 and 2018, seepage from coal ash ponds near the Chesterfield power plant was observed along the shoreline of the James River, near the utility’s Chesterfield power plant, which sits on the edge of the river.

Dominion was also cited for the 2015 discharge of 27.5 million gallons of water from a coal ash pond at its Possum Point plant into the nearby Quantico Creek, a tributary of the Potomac River.

The discharge came without advance notice and alarmed nearby residents and local environmental groups. Dominion defended the discharge, arguing it had the necessary permitting.

Sen. Scott Surovell, D–Fairfax, who represents the district that includes Possum Point, said that the 2015 discharge helped kick start a statewide conversation around the closure of the ponds.

State lawmakers last year required Dominion to excavate ash ponds at four sites across the state, calling for the ash to be recycled or moved to a lined landfill.

“I know Dominion takes the position that it was within the spirit of their permit. I know my constituents don’t feel that way,” Surovell said. “No one knows for sure what was in that water when it came out.”

Still, Surovell said he is pleased with the settlement.

“Our environmental rules are still being enforced. If there were no consequences, that’s a green light to violators,” Surovell said. “I’m glad to see the Attorney General [Mark Herring] and EPA got this done, though I wish it had been quicker.”

In total, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Virginia Department of Environmental Quality cited Dominion for violating seven federal and state environmental rules.

As part of the settlement, Dominion does not admit to any of the alleged violations, and doesn’t assume any liability, according to a federal filing.

“Protecting our environment and keeping our communities safe is a responsibility that we take very seriously,” Dominion spokesman Jeremy Slayton said. “In response to the issues identified in this decree, we performed a wholesale evaluation of the program that we use to ensure environmental compliance and awareness across our entire footprint.”

Dominion will pay $990,000 to the state and $410,000 to the federal government, and will pay penalties for any future violations.

Dominion also agreed to boost its oversight over environmental quality by contracting with third-party auditors, conducting monthly inspections of shorelines near its coal ash ponds, and increasing employee training related to environmental management.

The public will have 30 days to comment on the proposed settlement agreement before it is finalized in federal court.

“I hope a settlement like this sends a strong message to other energy companies that noncompliance with both state and federal environmental protections will not be tolerated in Virginia,” Herring said.