Category Archives: Coal and Water

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

Mercury Emissions from Human Sources Declined 30 Percent from 1990-2010, according to Research Released in January 2016

Worldwide human-caused mercury emissions decreased 30 percent from 1990 to 2010, according to research published in January 2016 by Harvard University, Peking University (Beijing, China), the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry (Mainz, Germany), and the University of Alberta (Edmonton, Canada).

Mercury is transported globally when released into the atmosphere through coal combustion, mining, manufacturing, commercial products, and volcanic activity. Once deposited into ecosystems, including aquatic systems, it can be converted to methylmercury and pose health risks to wildlife and humans.

According to the a January 13, 2016, USGS news release on the research, the large decreasing trends in human-generated mercury observed in North America and Europe reflect the phase-out of mercury from commercial products, sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxide emission controls on coal-fired utilities, and the increasing transition to natural gas in power plants. The study’s authors noted that the observed decreases offset increasing emission trends in Asia. “This is important for policy and decision-makers, as well as natural resource managers, because, as our results show, their actions can have tangible effects on mercury emissions, even at the local level,” said study co-author Vincent St. Louis of the University of Alberta in the USGS news release.

The study is entitled “Observed decrease in atmospheric mercury explained by global decline in anthropogenic emissions,” published in January 2016 in the online Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. For more information about the study, follow the link below.

Source: U.S. Geological Survey, “Science Feature: North American and European Atmospheric Mercury Declines Explained by Local and Regional Emission Reductions,” online at, accessed 1/25/16.

For more information on mercury in the environment:

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Mercury in Your Environment, online at

U.S. Geological Survey, “Mercury in Aquatic Ecosystems,” online at

This post was written by Taylor Richmond, a Virginia Tech student doing an internship in Spring 2016 with the Virginia Water Resources Research Center.

Closure of Coal Ash Ponds at Dominion’s Possum Point Power and Bremo Bluff Stations; State Water Control Board on Jan. 14, 2016, Approves Proposal for Drainage into Quantico Creek and James River; Board Decision to be Challenged in Court

Dominion Virginia Power’s application for permits to discharge coal-ash pond water into Quantico Creek in Prince William County and into the James River in Fluvanna County was approved by the Virginia State Water Control Board (SWCB) on January 14, 2016.  The proposed action had generated a large number of public comments, and a number of opposing citizens or groups were present at the Jan. 14 SWCB meeting.

On February 1, the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) announced that, acting on behalf of the Potomac Riverkeeper Network, it will challenge in Richmond Circuit Court the SWCB decision on Quantico Creek.  The James River Association has stated that they are also considering challenging the agency decision in court.

This permit application is one aspect of the water and solid waste permitting processes associated with the closure of the Dominion’s coal ash ponds at Possum Point, Bremo Bluff, the Chesterfield Power Station in Chesterfield County, and the Chesapeake Energy Center in the City of Chesapeake.  According to the Virginia Regulatory Town Hall notice for a November 18, 2015, Va. Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) public meeting on Dominion’s closure plans (online at, the closure of the coal ash ponds is “pursuant to a 2015 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) final Rule that regulates the disposal of coal-combustion residuals.”

EPA information on the coal-ash regulation, which was published in the Federal Register on April 17, 2015, is available online at  On the day that the regulation was published, Dominion announced that it would comply with the new regulation by closing—within three years—coal-ash ponds at the four Virginia electric-power stations.

For more information from the DEQ on the permit process for Dominion’s closure plans, contact the following Va. DEQ staff members:
For water permitting – Susan Mackert, 13901 Crown Court, Woodbridge, VA 22193, phone: (703) 583-3853, e-mail:;
For solid waste permitting – Justin Williams, P.O. Box 1105, Richmond, Virginia 23218, phone: (804) 698-4185, e-mail:

News articles related to the proposed work at the Possum Point Station, Bremo Bluff Station, and related matters (list started 11/24/15):

Dominion released millions of gallons of coal-ash water, Inside NoVa, 2/8/16 [Virginia Dominion Power 33.7 million gallons of untreated coal-ash water into Quantico Creek in spring 2015].

Community Meeting [on Feb. 6, 2016, in Fluvanna County, Va.] on Bremo Coal Ash Pond Dewatering Project, Newsplex, 2/5/16.

Dominion Prepares to Shut Down Coal Ash Ponds, Newsplex, 2/2/16.

Dominion under fire for coal ash disposal in county, state, Chesterfield Observer, 2/3/16.

Dominion coal ash plan to be challenged in court, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 2/2/16.

Court fight looms over Dominion plan to flush coal ash water, Inside NoVa, 2/1/16.

River-protection group legally challenging wastewater vote, Associated Press, as published by WTOP-Radio-Washington, 2/1/16.

Possum Point Power Station: [Prince William County, Va.] Board budgets for appeal, Prince William Times, 1/29/16.

Prince William [County] hiring lawyer to fight Dominion coal-ash plan, Inside NoVa, 1/21/16 [regarding plan to discharge coal-ash pond water from Possum Point Station into Quantico Creek].

“Months not weeks” before Dominion drains coal ash ponds, and lawsuits likely, Bay Journal, 1/21/16 [“environmental groups and agencies that opposed the two permits granted by the State Water Control Board are planning to appeal within 30 days”].

Dominion wants to drain coal ash ponds into local waterways, Bay Journal, 1/11/16.

Battle over Dominion coal-ash ponds heads to state water board this week, Washington Post, 1/10/16.

Swimmers, river advocates concerned over Dominion’s proposed dumping permit in James, WTVR TV, Richmond, 1/9/16.

Concern raised over Dominion’s proposal to release treated toxic coal ash in Quantico Creek, Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star, 12/13/15.

Dominion wants to drain coal ash ponds into local waterways, Bay Journal, 12/11/15.

Toxic chemicals from power plant leak into Quantico Creek, Inside NoVa, 12/10/15.

Dominion seeks Virginia OK to dump water from coal ash sites, Associated Press, as published by Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star, 12/9/15.

Residents on Potomac River Coal Ash Plan: We weren’t notified, Potomac Local, 12/8/15.

River advocates wary of plan to dump water from coal ash ponds in James, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 12/7/15.

Palmyra Hosting Public Hearing on James River Coal Ash Dumping, WVIR TV-Charlottesville, 12/1/15.

Treat and release: What Dominion wants to do with toxic water at Possum Point, Potomac Local, 11/29/15.

Lawmakers: Give the public more time to study coal-ash pond plan, Washington Post, 11/24/15.

For a related Water Central News Grouper post, please see
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.

The Dan River Coal Ash Spill of February 2014: Science during a Rapid Response — Public Lecture and Hands-on Learning Session in Blacksburg on Oct. 15, 2015

On Thursday, October 15, 2015, 7 p.m–8:30 p.m., Dr. Madeline Schreiber of the Virginia Tech Department of Geosciences will present a public lecture and learning session, “The Dan River Coal Ash Spill of February 2014: Science during a Rapid Response.”

Following the February 2014 coal ash spill into the Dan River from a slurry pond in Eden, N.C., Dr. Schreiber and colleagues at Virginia Tech and Cornell University (Ithaca, N.Y.) obtained a National Science Foundation (NSF) “Rapid Response” grant to study the impact of this spill on the water quality and sediments of the river system.  (More information on the NSF Rapid Response Research Program is available online at  The public lecture will cover the timeline of the coal ash spill, efforts to remove ash from the river, physical and chemical characterization of the ash, and water quality impacts in the Dan River.

The event will be held in Derring Hall on the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg.  The public lecture will be held in 4069 Derring.  That will be followed by a hands-on, meet-the-scientists session in the Museum of Geosciences, 2062 Derring.  In the Museum portion, attendees will be able to talk with the scientists, see coal and coal ash under different magnification, and visit the Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) Lab to see images of coal ash.  Groups will be accompanied to the SEM lab.

The event is free and is appropriate for science-interested adults, students, and especially K-12 teachers and other educators who would like to gain a better understanding of environmental impacts of the coal-ash spill.  Free parking is available in the West Campus Drive lots and Perry St. garage (north of the construction site).  Handicap parking spaces are located adjacent to Derring on the back (south) side of the building.

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  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, 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  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

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, 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, 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.


A 37-minute video of the 8/3/15 announcement is available online at; 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:

U.S. EPA state-by-state information for the final version, as of 8/3/15:

E&E Publishing’s “Clean Power Plan Hub,” available online at  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

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

Commonwealth of Virginia comments submitted 11/14/14 to EPA on the draft regulation: (16 pages).

(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.)

Since 8/3/15 final rule:

Carbon Trading Program Could Yield Significant Rewards for Virginia, Union of Concerned Scientists, 1/14/16 [regarding Union of Concerned Scientists’ report released on 1/14/16; report available online at]. 

Virginia Joins Multi-State Coalition Supporting Economic, Environmental, and Health Benefits of Clean Air, Virginia Attorney General’s Office News Release, 11/4/15.

Activists urge DEQ to turn to renewable energy; Solar power was the most-suggested alternative to using more natural gas and building pipelines, Roanoke Times, 9/22/15 [account of 9/22/15 listening session by Va. DEQ, one of six sessions held around the state in Sept.-Oct. 2015 to gather citizen comments on how Virginia should respond to the Clean Power Plan].

DEQ to hear comments on new EPA rules, Lynchburg News & Advance, 9/21/15.

[Virginia General Assembly] House Republicans push legislation to challenge EPA’s Clean Power rules, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 8/10/15.

Virginia voices react to final Clean Power Plan rules, Associated Press, as published by Loudoun Times-Mirror, 8/4/15.

Governor McAuliffe Statement on Environmental Protection Agency’s Final Clean Power Plan Rule, Virginia Governor’s Office News Release, 8/3/15.

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

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

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.

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.

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; 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 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 (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


Susan Lingenfelser
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
6669 Short Lane
Gloucester VA 23061
Phone (804) 824-2415

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; Lawsuit over Dominion Ash Ponds in Chesapeake Proceeds in Federal Court, as of November 2015

For a related item, please see Closure of Coal Ash Ponds at Dominion’s Possum Point Power Station is Subject of Nov. 18, 2015, Informational Meeting by Va. DEQ – posted 11/9/15.

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.

November 2015 update: On November 6, 2015, U.S. District Judge Raymond Jackson denied Dominion’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed in March 2015 in U.S. District Court by the Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of the Sierra Club, alleging that coal-ash ponds at Dominion’s closed power station in Chesapeake (the Chesapeake Energy Center) are contaminating groundwater connected to the Southern Branch of the Elizabeth River.

“Final Rule: Disposal of Coal Combustion Residuals from Electric Utilities,” U.S. EPA, online at, accessed 4/22/15.

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

Judge denies Dominion’s request to dismiss coal ash lawsuit, Associated Press, as published by Richmond Times-Dispatch, 11/10/15.

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.