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Va. governor announces legislation to protect coast, clean up coal ash

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Va. governor announces legislation to protect coast, clean up coal ash

Virginia would end its moratorium on permitting for coal ash pond closures and earmark $50 million in new revenue for coastal protection projects under a package of bills Gov. Ralph Northam announced in a Jan. 3 news release.

Northam unveiled the Coastal Protection Act, the Water Quality and Safety Act and the Stormwater Local Assistance Fund Amendments Act. The governor also announced two bills aimed at resolving conflicts among shellfish farmers and other users of tidal waters for recreational and commercial purposes.

The Coastal Protection Act, sponsored by Sen. Lynwood Lewis, is designed to allow Virginia to use about $50 million in revenue that would be generated by the sale of carbon emissions credits for coastal resilience projects. A significant portion of the funds generated by the auction of carbon allowances through the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, or RGGI, would be earmarked for low-income energy efficiency programs and to support economic development in coalfield regions.

"As the legislature seeks creative ways to fund critical priorities every year, we have an opportunity through RGGI to instead establish a reliable revenue stream while simultaneously lowering utility bills and bringing new jobs to the state. It's a win-win-win," Lewis said in the news release.

Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe signed an executive order in May 2017 directing the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and the secretary of natural resources to develop proposed regulations that will control or limit carbon dioxide emissions. The Virginia Air Pollution Control Board in late October 2018 updated its proposed plan to link with the RGGI, a nine-state cap-and-trade program in the northeastern U.S.

The Water Quality and Safety Act, which will be introduced and sponsored by state Sen. Scott Surovell and Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy, aims to lift Virginia's moratorium on the permitting process for coal ash pond closures in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The legislation, if enacted, will require that all coal ash be removed from unlined impoundments at four Dominion Energy Virginia coal plants and either recycled or moved to lined landfills.

"Dominion's original proposal to permanently store coal ash in ponds has been proven unwise — the time has come to resolve the coal ash issue once and for all and to ensure clean rivers and drinking water for everyone," Surovell said in the news release.

The moratorium was enacted in April 2017 in response to the "tremendous public concern" in the permitting process. The Virginia General Assembly extended the moratorium this year, and the DEQ officially launched a review of its permitting, monitoring and enforcement activities in May 2018 as directed by Northam.

During the permit ban, Dominion Energy Virginia was required to evaluate the "clean closure" for coal ash impoundments at its Possum Point, Bremo Bluff, Chesterfield and Chesapeake power stations. Dominion Energy Virginia, known legally as Virginia Electric and Power Co., stores nearly 27.3 million cubic yards of ash at these sites and said in a November 2018 report that it would cost between $2 billion and $6 billion to recycle the ash.

The Dominion Energy Inc. subsidiary released an initial assessment in December 2017 that showed closing ash ponds in place at three of the coal plants is the least-cost and lowest-risk option.

The Stormwater Local Assistance Fund Amendments Act, which will be carried by state Sen. Emmett Hanger and Del. Margaret Ransone, is expected to make it easier for rural communities to access funds available to reduce polluted runoff from impervious surfaces such as roads and parking lots.