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Northam Puts Forward Proposals to Clean Up Chesapeake, Coal Ash

Governor Ralph Northam unveiled legislative proposals on Thursday that he says will help improve the health of the Chesapeake Bay, including the removal or recycling of coal ash.

The Water Quality and Safety Act would require energy companies such as Dominion to remove coal ash from unlined pits in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed for either recycling or removal to a lined pit. Environmentalists say coal ash ponds are unsafe and cause toxic leakage into local water supplies.

Dominion said in a November report that recycling the ash could  cost somewhere between $2.8 billion and $5.6 billion depending on how many companies are hired for the project.

The bill, which has yet to be introduced, is sponsored by Democratic Senator Scott Surovell and Delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy. The party has come under increasing pressure by its left-leaning base to distance itself from Dominion.

“Dominion’s original proposal to permanently store coal ash in ponds has been proven unwise,” Surovell said in a statement. “The time has come to resolve the coal ash issue once and for all and to ensure clean rivers and drinking water for everyone.”

Dominion spokesman Dan Genest said its willingness to recycle the ash showed that the company and the governor “share some common ground.” He said the company would review proposals once they were filed.

The details of the other bills also remain unclear since they have yet to be filed.

But Northam and other backers say the package would help reduce runoff from agriculture and development that damages the health of the bay.

Northam said that one provision would give rural localities better access to a state program that provides matching grants for programs that reduce runoff through stream and wetland restoration.

“Obviously the rural areas are very important, because a lot of their runoff is going into our rivers and our estuaries and our bay,” he said.

Another plan would direct an estimated $50 million in revenue generated by the sale of carbon pollution credits towards coastal resilience projects designed to reduce flooding and improve drainage.

Rebecca Tomazin, Virginia executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, tentatively backed the measures.

“[We] hope to see that legislation, which we haven’t seen yet,” she said. “In concept, it seems like something we’d very much support.”

Bills relating to the health of the Chesapeake Bay are one of a dwindling number of causes that typically find bipartisan support in the legislature.


Ben Paviour covers courts and criminal justice for VPM News with a focus on accountability.
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