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Coal Ash Bill Passed

Possum Point Power Station, Dumfries, VA. Wednesday, June 5th, 2019, 3pm. A private group of mostly Dominion Energy executives and elected officials surrounded Governor Northam above a coal ash waste site at the Possum Point Station and watched as he ceremonially signed the coal ash removal bill. The Governor’s signature comes 3 years after we submitted the coal ash petition that was signed by over 4,000 individuals, and demanded Dominion Energy to remove coal ash waste from the James and Elizabeth Rivers. After years of protests and work from many organizations, legislation was introduced by Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax, and Delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy D-Woodbridge, who have led efforts to force Dominion to dig up the ash, and Sens. Frank Wagner, R-Virginia Beach, and Amanda Chase, R Chesterfield.

The bill will force Dominion Energy to dig up and remove all coal ash from unlined coal ash pits and lagoons that impact the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Although this bill will not reverse the years our waterways were impacted by the toxicity of Dominion Energy’s coal ash waste sites and their neglect to deal with leaching arsenic, today will mark a victory for the future security of our rivers and water.

The bill marks the start of a transition of over 27 million cubic yards of toxic coal ash waste (30 million tons) in the state of Virginia. With any transition we must ask whether the transition is just. Although this is a victory for our rivers and water security many injustices still exist with this current legislation. Work is needed to hold Dominion Energy fully accountable for the years of harm they caused to our rivers and the water insecurity they brought to their neighboring communities and their water wells. The current bill places most of the financial responsibility on ratepayers. The legislation allows Dominion to recover the full cost of the project from ratepayers, the full project is estimated at $2.4 billion to $5.7 billion dollars, and the public (ratepayers) will cover Dominion’s clean up costs over a 20 year period. We have proposed and will continue to push the need for this remediated land to become public property once the project is completed and site analysis shows that it is safe. The financial burden of cleaning these legacy waste sites have been placed on the public and therefore Dominion Energy should not have the right to site future infrastructure projects on these lands when clean up is completed.

In a project hosted at 1708 Gallery we worked with various community members to see how the remediation of these coal ash waste legacy sites could decolonize Dominion Energy’s particular geographies and deal with their history of exploiting waterways and neighboring communities. Community members drew up proposals for how post remedial sites could best serve their public needs and the health of the river. The land use proposals ranged from remediating the land to riparian wetlands and forested ecosystems, creating public parks and river access trails, and building disaster relief shelters. What was also mentioned was the responsibility to create a land trust so Dominion’s waterfront property could be managed by the indigenous communities once violently displaced from the many riverbanks of so called Virginia. We ask that you continue to support these post remedial and decolonial efforts and make sure all sites become a public common to serve the health of the community and river habitat.

Our work to remove coal ash from these sites started in a climate and public understanding of climate change that was significantly different than what we face today. Legacy waste sites then were seen as a mark of the anthropocene, but today we understand that these waste sites and our systems of energy production are part of the capitalocene and are literally killing people every day through accelerating catastrophes of climate change and environmental toxicity.

We ask that you continue to educate your community regarding the issues of coal ash and work for a clean energy transition. Your demand to shift away from coal energy was heard and caused state officials to look at other means of energy. Governor Northam has championed fracked gas as a clean alternative energy to coal. Yet it is know that fracked gas and pipelines such as the Mountain Valley Pipeline and Atlantic Coast Pipelines cause severe damage to freshwater sources and aquifers and specifically target low income and minority communities. Local examples of such environmental justice communities are Union Hill, Charles City County, Cumberland, and many in Appalachia. We ask that you let Governor Northam and Attorney General Herring know that you do not support the extraction of fracked gas and the environmental injustices of these pipeline projects. What is needed to slow the severe harm of climate change is net zero carbon dioxide and methane emissions. The capitalocene can not be solved with more capitalism and extraction. Neither coal or fracked gas are a part of climate change solutions and elected officials must utilize every capacity to achieve net zero carbon and methane emissions by 2025.

We want to thank all of you who were a part of this work, the community members that let us in to their houses, and organizations like the Potomac River Keepers, Sierra Club, and delegates like Jennifer Carroll Foy that worked tirelessly on this bill and continue to hold Dominion Energy accountable.

We also want to thank the many institutions who shared their space and platform for community engagement on this issue. Special thanks to 1708 Gallery, Sediment Gallery, and the VCU Institute of Contemporary Art.

An acknowledgment and thanks is deserved to all those currently fighting the Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast Pipelines. Your direct actions and focused attention on environmental justice and targeting of Governor Northam helped provide the pressure to pass this legislation. Your work and research has shown Governor Northam and state legislators that fracked gas and pipelines are just as threatening to the homeostasis of our planet and just as violent to the communities that continue to face fossil fuel extraction. No fracking! No pipelines!

Freshman Delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy speaking at yesterday’s ceremonial signing of the coal ash bill. Carroll Foy ran on the platform of removing coal ash from our rivers and won their 2017 democratic primary by two votes. They went on to write the legislation with state senator Scott Surovell. Possum Point Station, June 5, 2019

Yard sign posted in the lawn of a Dumfries, VA resident next to Dominion Energy's Possum Point coal ash waste site. June 2019.

Dan Morrow of Dumfries, VA, an impacted resident of Dominion's Possum Point coal ash landfill protesting during the three day hold down at Governor McAuliffe's office. October 2016

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