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Saturday, May 18, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Sierra Club Sues Utility Over Arsenic Concerns

(CN) - Dominion Virginia Power's offline Chesapeake power plant is leaching poisonous pollutants into the groundwater around the facility, the Sierra Club claims in a lawsuit.

Dominion, the commonwealth's largest power utility, operated the Chesapeake Energy for nearly 60 years. According to the complaint the Sierra Club filed in the Norfolk, Va. Federal Court, coal ash stored at the site is leaching arsenic into the groundwater and the nearby southern branch of the Elizabeth River at 30 times greater than acceptable levels.

In addition to high arsenic levels, the nonprofit cites high levels of many other toxic chemicals including cobalt and sulfide.

Between 1956 and 1980, Dominion Virginia Power buried more than 50 acres of coal combustion waste generated by its Chesapeake power plant in a series of unlined pits bordered by the river, the Sierra Club says.

In 1985, the utility built an additional lined landfill on top of the southernmost pit to dump more waste, the complaint says.

At present, the coal ash landfill contains about 937,000 cubic yards of coal ash waste, the Sierra Club says, citing figures from Dominion. The environmentalists claim the utility is well aware of the pollution problem, but "has taken no active remedial steps to halt the ongoing contamination at the ... power plant."

They say the utility's permit does not authorize the leaching of coal ash contaminants into groundwater or surrounding surface waters, and that these discharges violate the federal Clean Water Act.

The Sierra Club is asking the court to declare Dominion is violating the Act, and to enjoin it from continuing to do so. The group is also asking the court to assess civil penalties against the utility.

In a statement, Dominion Virginia Power said it has worked closely with federal and state environmental compliance agencies and disagrees with the Sierra Club's allegations and "intends to vigorously defend itself against the lawsuit."

"We ended coal operations at Chesapeake in December 2014 and are in the process of decommissioning. Out closure plans are in full compliance with current environmental regulations and with EPA's recently announced coal ash regulations," the statement said, adding, "These claims have no merit."

The lawsuit was on behalf of the Sierra Club by the Southern Environmental Law Center in Charlottesville, Va.

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