Category Archives: Coal and Water

Items on the various connections between water resources and the mining and use of coal.

Final Version of “Clean Power Plan” Announced by President Obama and the U.S. EPA on August 3, 2015; Carbon Emissions from Existing Power Plants to be Reduced by 32% Nationwide; States Have Individually Set Reduction Targets

On August 3, 2015, President Obama announced the final version of U.S. EPA’s Clean Power plan, the agency’s regulation to require existing power plants to reduce their emission of carbon dioxide and other carbon compounds (often referred to as “greenhouse gases”) that contribute to global warming and climate change.

The regulation was first announced by the EPA on June 2, 2014, and was published in the June 18, 2014, Federal Register, starting  on page 34829; the Web site for searching the Federal Register is https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/search.  From that publication date, the proposed regulation had an initial 120-day public-comment period, until October 16, 2014, but the agency extended the public-comment deadline until December 1, 2014.

The final version differs from the proposed rule in several ways, including setting an overall nationwide carbon-emissions reduction target (compared to 2005 levels) of 32 percent by 2030, compared to the proposed rule’s 30 percent; changing some individual state emissions-reduction percentages that were in the 2014 proposal (Virginia’s reduction target was lower in the final version than it had been in the proposed version); allowing two additional years for states to submit implementation plans (2018 instead of 2016) and for the compliance period to start (2022 instead of 2020); increasing the 2030 target for electricity generated nationwide by renewable sources from 22 percent to 28 percent; and offering incentives to states that achieve accomplish renewable-energy or low-income energy-efficiency actions before the deadline.  States will be allowed to choose from a mix of emissions-reductions options, including using different fuels, energy efficiency, reducing demand, and trading carbon-reduction credits with other states.  EPA asserts that practices to reduce carbon emissions will have “co-benefit” of reducing missions of particles, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur dioxide, substances that have impacts on human health (such as asthma) and on water resources when they are deposited into water bodies.

The regulation on existing power plants follows EPA’s release in September 2013 (January 2014 publication in the Federal Register) of a proposed rule on carbon emissions from new power-generating sources; the public-comment period for that proposal ended May 9, 2014 (extended from the original deadline of January 8, 2014).  According to the EPA’s Web site, “2013 Proposed Carbon Pollution Standard for New Power Plants” (online at http://www2.epa.gov/cleanpowerplan/2013-proposed-carbon-pollution-standard-new-power-plants), the agency also expects to issue the final version of the new-source rule in summer 2015.

The regulatory actions on new and existing plants both come under Section 111 of the federal Clean Air Act.  Information from the EPA on the agency’s overall program on carbon emissions is available online at http://www2.epa.gov/carbon-pollution-standards/what-epa-doing#overview.  The EPA actions are part of the federal government’s response to President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, announced on June 25, 2013.  White House information on that plan is available online at http://www.whitehouse.gov/share/climate-action-plan.

On August 13, 2015, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) announced an informal comment period on how the Commonwealth should respond to the Clean Power Plan, to run from August 13 through October 13, 2015.   According to the DEQ’s 8/13/15 news release on the comment period (available online at http://www.deq.virginia.gov/ConnectWithDEQ/NewsReleases.aspx), the “new EPA rules may have a significant impact on the Commonwealth.  Therefore, prior to taking any formal action, DEQ is gathering general input from the public to help inform the Commonwealth’s review and implementation of EPA’s final rules for existing power plants…. In addition to receiving general input from the public, the Commonwealth is also interested in identifying and collecting input from vulnerable and overburdened communities. These communities include low-income communities, communities of color, areas where people are most vulnerable to climate change, and communities where economies may be affected by changes in the utility power and related sectors.”  Comments may be emailed to ghg@deq.virginia.gov, faxed to (804) 698-4510, or mailed DEQ Air Division, P.O. Box 1105, Richmond, VA  23218.  DEQ notes that because there is no formal DEQ proposal available for comment at this time, and the agency will not provide a response to comments.

SOURCES FOR MORE INFORMATION 

A 37-minute video of the 8/3/15 announcement is available online at https://youtu.be/RQ6N8zN3RCA; skip to about 3 min/42 seconds to see EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy; the president’s remarks start at about 7 min/45 seconds.

U.S. EPA’s 8/3/15 news release on the final rule: Fact Sheet: President Obama to Announce Historic Carbon Pollution Standards for Power Plants.

U.S. EPA’s 6/2/14 news release on proposed  Clean Power Plan rule: EPA Proposes First Guidelines to Cut Carbon Pollution from Existing Power Plants.

U.S. EPA’s Web site on the Clean Power  Plan: http://www2.epa.gov/cleanpowerplan.

U.S. EPA state-by-state information for the final version, as of 8/3/15: http://www2.epa.gov/cleanpowerplantoolbox/clean-power-plan-state-specific-fact-sheets.

E&E Publishing’s “Clean Power Plan Hub,” available online at http://www.eenews.net/interactive/clean_power_plan.  At that site, users can click on any U.S. state to access information about that state’s requirements.

An interactive map of power-generating plants in the mid-Atlantic region (including Virginia)—allowing users to click on a location to see emissions of carbon dioxide and gases—available from the EPA at http://www.epa.gov/reg3artd/globclimate/r3pplants.html.

A July 2014 report assessing what large electric-utility companies were already doing (at that time) in the areas of energy efficiency and use of renewable energy sources is available online at http://www.ceres.org/resources/reports/benchmarking-utility-clean-energy-deployment-2014.

Commonwealth of Virginia comments submitted 11/14/14 to EPA on the draft regulation: http://www.deq.virginia.gov/Portals/0/DEQ/Air/Planning/vacommentstoepa.pdf (16 pages).

RELATED MEDIA ARTICLES
(Items are listed from most recent to oldest; hyperlinks were functional when they were added to this post, but they may not necessarily always be.)

Prior to 8/3/15 final rule:

Energy rules have Virginia weighing new nuclear reactor at North Anna, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 7/5/15.

Virginia, Coal Country for Centuries, Now Embraces Carbon Regulations, Inside Climate News, 6/16/15.

Virginia weighs joining [regional] carbon market under EPA rules, Washington Examiner, 5/12/15.

Since 8/3/15 final rule:

Climate change: Obama unveils Clean Power Plan, BBC News, 8/3/15.

U.S. Unveils Strengthened Clean Power Plan to Combat Climate Change, Climate Wire, as published by Scientific American, 8/3/15.

Obama unveils major climate change proposal, CNN, 8/3/15.

Virginia reacts to EPA’s Clean Power Plan, [Newport News] Daily Press, 8/3/15.

U.S. plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions eases the requirement for Virginia, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 8/3/15.

Obama Announces Rule to Cut Carbon Emissions From Power Plants; Final regulation calls for 32% cut in emissions by 2030 from 2005 levels, Wall Street Journal, 8/3/15.

Will new clean power regulations stand up to challenges?, (15 min./44 sec. video, with online transcript), PBS NewsHour, 8/3/15.

Proposed Rule on Stream Impacts from Coal Mining Announced by U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement on July 16, 2015; Public Comment Period Ends September 25, 2015.

On July 16, 2015, the U.S. Department of Interior’s Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) announced the “Stream Protection Rule,” a proposed regulation governing what coal-mining operations must do to reduce impacts on streams from surface mining and from underground mining that has surface impacts.  OSMRE’s Web site on the proposed rule is at http://www.osmre.gov/programs/rcm/streamprotectionrule.shtm; a link to the text of the proposed rule is available there.

The proposed rule, along with OSMRE’s draft environmental impact statement and draft regulatory impact analysis, was published in the Federal Register on July 27, 2015, pages 44436 through 44698; the section is available online (as a PDF) at http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2015-07-27/pdf/2015-17308.pdfFederal Register publication started a 60-day public comment period, ending September 25, 2015.   Starting in September 2015, OSMRE will hold public hearings on the proposed rule in Charleston, W. Va.; Denver; Lexington, Ky.; Pittsburgh; and St. Louis.

The proposed rule is the latest in a series of regulatory and litigation developments since the 1977 passage of the federal Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act.  Some of those developments that led to the current proposal were the following:
*1983 OSMRE rule requiring a 100-foot buffer zone along streams;
*2008 OSMRE Stream Buffer Zone Rule allowing deposition of mining materials within the 100-foot zone, with certain requirements for reducing impacts;
*2009 Memorandum of Understanding among the Interior Department, U.S. EPA, and Army Corps of Engineers on reducing stream impacts of coal mining, simultaneously starting OSMRE’s process to develop the current proposed regulation; and
*February 2014 ruling by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia vacating OSMRE’s 2008 Stream Buffer Zone Rule and reinstating the 1983 buffer zone.

According to the OSMRE Web site (as of 7/21/15), the newly proposed rule, running to 1238 pages in its pre-publication form, is intended to do the following:
*“Define ‘material damage to the hydrologic balance outside the permit area,’ and require that each permit specify the point at which adverse mining-related impacts on groundwater and surface water would reach that level of damage.” *“Require mine operators to collect adequate pre-mining data about the site of the proposed mining operation and adjacent areas to establish an adequate baseline for evaluation of the impacts of mining and the effectiveness of reclamation.”
*“Adjust monitoring requirements to enable timely detection and correction of any adverse trends in the quality or quantity of surface water and groundwater or the biological condition of streams.”
*“Ensure protection or restoration of perennial and intermittent streams and related resources, ensure that mine operators and regulatory authorities make use of the most current science and technology, and ensure that land disturbed by mining operations is restored to a condition capable of supporting the uses that it was capable of supporting prior to mining.”

The proposal also addresses bonding on mining companies to set aside money for required restoration activities.  According to the draft rule (p. 446), the proposal would “[add] provisions for the use of financial assurances to guarantee treatment of long-term discharges, [modify] the provisions governing alternative bonding systems, and [add] more specific criteria and procedures to the provisions governing bond release.”

The proposed rule’s announcement raised immediate objections from the National Mining Association, some elected officials from mining states like West Virginia, and others about its potential economic impacts.  On the other hand, some environmental organizations criticized the proposal for allowing some variance, under certain conditions, from the 100-foot buffer requirement established in 1983; those conditions are described in the proposed rule on p.364 (part of the section entitled, “What additional requirements apply to proposed activities in, through, or adjacent to streams?”).

Additional sources for this post and for more information:
Interior Department Unveils Proposed Stream Protection Rule to Safeguard Communities from Coal Mining Operations, U.S. Department of Interior News Release, 7/16/15.

National Mining Association Calls on Congress to Block OSM’s Costly, Unnecessary Stream Rule
, National Mining Association News Release, 7/16/15.

Interior unveils rule aimed at protecting streams from mining
, and Industry vows to fight ‘needless and conflicting’ stream rule, both from Greenwire, E&E Publishing, 7/16/15 (subscription required for access).

Draft Dan River Coal Ash Spill Damage Assessment Plan Available for Public Comment Through July 17, 2015

On June 16, 2015, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, and the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources released the draft Draft Dan River Coal Ash Spill Natural Resource Damage Assessment PlanA 30-day public-comment period on the draft document runs until July 17, 2015.

According to the USFWS news release on the draft plan, the document “outlines the procedures to be used to evaluate potential injuries to natural resources and the services they provide to the public.  The geographic scope of the plan includes the point of discharge from the facility’s storm sewer management pipe in Eden, N.C., and extends about 77 river miles to include Buggs Island Lake on the John H. Kerr Reservoir in Virginia and North Carolina.  The trustees may pursue compensation to restore, replace or acquire the equivalent of the injured natural resources and their services.”

The draft assessment plan and more information about the restoration process for the Dan River coal ash spill are available online http://www.cerc.usgs.gov/orda_docs/DamageCase.aspx?DamageCaseId=389 (select the Draft Assessment Plan link).  Requests for paper copies of the plan, and written comments regarding the plan, should be addressed to the following:
Sara Ward
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
P.O. Box 33726
Raleigh, NC  27636-3726
Phone: (919) 856-4520 ext. 30
E-mail: Sara_Ward@fws.gov

OR

Susan Lingenfelser
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
6669 Short Lane
Gloucester VA 23061
Phone (804) 824-2415
E-mail: Susan_Lingenfelser@fws.gov.

Coal Ash Storage Regulation Published by U.S. EPA in Federal Register on Apr. 17, 2015; Dominion to Close Ash Ponds at Four Virginia Power Stations Within Three Years

On April 17, 2015, the U.S. EPA published in the Federal Register the final version of its regulation (“final rule”) on disposal of coal combustion residuals (also called “coal ash”) from electric utilities, under the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).  The U.S. EPA administrator had signed the final rule on December 19, 2014.  According to the EPA’s Web site on the rule, the rule aims to address three areas of risk from coal ash disposal: leaking of contaminants into groundwater, blowing of contaminants into the air as dust, and the catastrophic failure of coal ash surface ponds.

Also on April 17, Dominion Virginia Power announced that it will comply with the new regulation by closing—within three years—coal-ash ponds at four Virginia electric-power stations: Bremo Power Station in Fluvanna County, Chesapeake Energy Center in the City of Chesapeake, Chesterfield Power Station in Chesterfield County, and Possum Point Power Station in Prince William County. The process Dominion will follow includes—at minimum—draining the ponds, covering them with an impermeable liner, then covering the liner with 24 inches of soil planted with grass seed or sod. Final details of the closure process—including whether or not any of the ash will be removed—are to be determined by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.

Sources:
“Final Rule: Disposal of Coal Combustion Residuals from Electric Utilities,” U.S. EPA, online at http://www2.epa.gov/coalash/coal-ash-rule, accessed 4/22/15.

Dominion Virginia Power to close coal ash ponds in state, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 4/17/15.

Earlier news accounts on the regulations, published at the time the draft rules were released in December 2014:
Coal-ash dumps to face restrictions six years after billion-gallon spill in Tennessee, Washington Post, 12/19/14.
EPA sets national coal ash standards, Associated Press, as published by Richmond Times-Dispatch, 12/20/14.
Watchdog: New EPA rules fall short of protecting James River, Williamsburg Yorktown Daily, 1/7/15.

USED Sep07 Dominion Chesterfield Power Station near plant Dutch Gap Conservation Area Jun22 2007

Dominion Virginia Power’s Chesterfield Power Station on the James River in Chesterfield County, Va., shown here in June 2007.

Consent Order for Duke Energy’s Feb. 2014 Coal Ash Spill into Dan River Announced Apr. 3, 2015, by Va. DEQ

On April 3, 2015, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) announced a proposed $2.5 million consent order for Duke Energy Carolinas as a result of the February 2, 2014, coal ash spill into the Dan River. The order is available on the DEQ website at www.deq.virginia.gov. For more information, contact Bill Hayden at (804) 698-4447 or william.hayden@deq.virginia.gov.

Following is an excerpt from the DEQ’s April 3 news release on the proposed consent order, “Proposed consent order imposes $2.5 million settlement on Duke Energy Carolinas for Dan River coal ash spill,” available online at http://www.deq.virginia.gov/info/newsreleases.php?show=2495.

“The settlement, part of a consent order to which Duke has agreed, is one of the largest ever proposed by DEQ. It includes $2.25 million in environmental projects that Duke must perform to benefit Virginia localities affected by the spill. The remaining $250,000 will be placed in the fund DEQ uses to respond to environmental emergencies. … “A public comment period on the proposed order will be open through May 20, 2015. Afterward, the State Water Control Board must give final approval for the order to take effect.

“The spill occurred February 2, 2014, when a stormwater pipe beneath a coal ash storage pond collapsed at a Duke facility in Eden, N.C., sending up to 39,000 tons of coal ash and about 25 million gallons of ash impoundment water into the Dan River. The material moved downriver and settled out in varying amounts for about 80 miles, reaching the Kerr Reservoir in Virginia.

“DEQ and several state and federal agencies have been monitoring the Dan River since the spill. Though no immediate environmental concerns have been identified, analysis of data collected during the past year is ongoing and will form a “baseline” for detailing potential problems in the future. DEQ will continue long-term evaluation of the river, including monitoring and assessment of water quality, sediments and fish populations for at least the next two to four years.

“In addition to proposing the consent order, DEQ is participating in a multi-part enforcement strategy involving Duke. These actions include [the following]:

• Cost reimbursement – DEQ negotiated terms with Duke immediately after the spill for full reimbursement of all costs associated with spill response on behalf of Halifax County, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, the Virginia Department of Health, and DEQ. Cost recovery to date totals $237,000 and will continue until work on the Dan River is complete.

• Order for coal ash removal – DEQ coordinated with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources, and other state and federal agencies in the development of EPA’s consent order requiring Duke to conduct ash removal from the Dan River. This included dredging at Abreu-Grogan Park in Danville, where crews removed more than 2,000 tons of coal ash and river sediment. Duke also removed contaminated solids from settling basins at the Danville and South Boston water treatment plants.

• Natural Resource Damage Trustee Council – DEQ is representing the Commonwealth and local communities on the Dan River Natural Resource Damage Trustee Council. Along with the North Carolina DENR and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, DEQ is working with Duke on the assessment and compensation for harm to Virginia’s natural resources. Identification of opportunities for “early restoration” projects is under way with the trustee council’s review of proposals solicited from the localities and general public in late 2014.

• Department of Justice criminal action – DEQ has assisted the U.S. Department of Justice in the development of its criminal case against Duke in North Carolina. DEQ will continue to coordinate with DOJ to advocate for Virginia’s interests in any plea agreement between the United States and Duke, including the requirement of community service projects benefiting affected local communities and the Dan River watershed.”

Following are hyperlinked headlines of three media accounts about the proposed consent order:
Duke Energy, Virginia agree to $2.5 million coal ash settlement, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 4/3/15.
Duke, Virginia agree to $2.5 million coal ash settlement, Associated Press, as published by Roanoke Times, 4/3/15.
Duke Energy to pay Virginia $2.5 million for Dan River spill, Charlotte (N.C.) Observer, 4/3/15.

Lawsuit Filed by Sierra Club in March 2015 Against Dominion Virginia Power Over Coal Ash at Chesapeake Energy Center in Chesapeake, Va.

On March 19, 2015, the Sierra Club, represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center, filed a federal lawsuit alleging “ongoing contamination of groundwater and surrounding surface waters” from Dominion Virginia Power’s coal-fired Chesapeake Energy Center power plant in Chesapeake, Va.

Filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, located in Norfolk, the suit alleges that the plant’s disposal of coal ash (the solid material remaining after combustion of coal to generate electric power) in storage ponds between the Southern Branch of the Elizabeth River and Deep Creek (Dominion’s practice since 1953, according to the suit), have “for at least two decades” resulted in discharges to groundwater of arsenic and other heavy metals and pollutants at levels above Virginia standards, that the groundwater contaminants also reach surface waters, and that the plant’s Virginia Pollutant Elimination Discharge System (VPDES) permit does not permit such levels of discharge.

According to the WAVY-TV/Norfolk report of the lawsuit filing, Dominion stated that it stopped operation of the plant in December 2014 and is decommissioning the plant in compliance with federal and state regulations.

The plant is under a Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) groundwater corrective action plan that aims to diminish the level of groundwater contaminants over time. Information on DEQ’s groundwater-monitoring program for solid-waste facilities (including coal-ash storage) is available online at http://www.deq.virginia.gov/Programs/LandProtectionRevitalization/SolidHazardousWasteRegulatoryPrograms/SolidWaste/GroundwaterMonitoring.aspx.

Sources: Dominion sued over Chesapeake power plant, WAVY-TV Norfolk, 3/19/15 (a PDF link to the lawsuit document filed by the SELC on March 19 was available at this site, as of 3/20/15); and Group sues Dominion over Chesapeake coal ash, Virginian-Pilot, 3/20/15.

Dan River Coal Ash Spill of February 2, 2014, One Year Later

February 2, 2015, marked the one-year anniversary of the Dan River coal-ash spill that resulted from the collapse of a stormwater pipe under a coal-ash storage basin at the Duke Energy’s Dan River Station in Eden, North Carolina.  The break spilled an estimated 39,000 tons of coal ash from the ash-storage basin into the Dan River.

After the initial emergency phase, the impacts of the spill continued to be closely watched and reported, particularly in Danville, Va., and Greensboro, N.C.  A year later, the environmental impacts seemed to have been limited to certain areas, and signs of recovery had been observed by scientists, but longer-term impacts were still possible and continued to be monitored.  The spill also had financial, political, legal/regulatory consequences, particularly in North Carolina, and as of February 2015, a grand jury was still investigating possible civil or criminal charges.

A comprehensive account of the incident, its background, and its consequences over the past year is available in The Day the River Turned Gray—The Dan River Coal Ash Disaster, Greensboro News-Record, 2/1/15.

An  extensive Water Central News Grouper post on the incident, including a compilation of news articles between February 2014 and February 2015, is available at this link.