Category Archives: Coal and Water

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

Proposed Rule on Stream Impacts from Coal Mining Announced by U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement on July 16, 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—running to 1238 pages in its pre-publication form and accompanied by an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) of similar length—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?”).

The proposed rule will be open for public comment for 60 days after the proposal is published in the Federal Register. Starting in September 2015, OSMRE will hold public hearings on the proposed rule in Charleston, W. Va.; Denver; Lexington, Ky.; Pittsburgh; and St. Louis.

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

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.

“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.

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 For more information, contact Bill Hayden at (804) 698-4447 or

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

“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

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.

Water-and-Energy Items in Virginia-area Water News Headlines Sampler for June 3—June 21, 2014

Following are headlines and notes for a selection of news items published between June 3 and June 21, 2014, on water-and-energy developments that took place in Virginia or that are otherwise relevant to Virginia.  The headlines are grouped from newest to oldest.  As of 6/27/14, all headlines listed below had working hyperlinks to take you to the full article, but those links may or may not be working at later dates.

Power Company Clashes With US History in Virginia, Associated Press, as published by ABC News, 6/21/14.  As of mid-June 2014, Dominion Virginia Power was in the process of seeking U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ permits for an eight-mile, 500-kilovolt transmission line from its power station in Surry County across the James River to a switching station (proposed) in James City County.  The line, known as the Surry-Skiffes Creek line, would require 17 towers of up to about 300 feet high.  Various groups, including the National Trust for Historic Preservation, have raised objections about the proposed line’s potential impact on Jamestown and other historic sites in the area.  Details from Dominion about the proposal area available online at

Energy company wants to build natural gas power plant in Salem Township [Pennsylvania], Scranton Times-Tribune, 6/20/14.  As of mid-June, 2014, Moxie Energy, LLC, headquartered in Vienna, Va., (Fairfax County), was proposing to build a 900-megawatt, natural-gas-fired power plant in Salem Township, in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, according to a spokesperson with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).  The company is also building natural-gas-fired plants in the Pennsylvania counties of Bradford and Lycoming.  These areas of Pennsylvania are underlain by the Marcellus shale formation that has been the basis of a large increase in natural gas production in recent years.  A Pennsylvania DEP map showing that state’s counties in the Marcellus shale formation is available online at

Environmentalist group[s] sues Red River Coal Co., Bristol Herald Courier, 6/5/14.  On June 5, 2014, in the Big Stone Gap office of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia, Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards, the Sierra Club, and Appalachian Voices filed a lawsuit over alleged Clean Water Act violations by Red River Coal Company in its coal-mining operations in Wise County, Virginia (in the Pound River/Big Sandy River basin).

Governor McAuliffe Signs Executive Order to Establish the Virginia Energy Council, Virginia Governor’s Office News Release, 6/4/14.  On June 4, 2014, Virginia Gov. Terry McCauliffe announced formation of the Virginia Energy Council and the beginning of a process to develop the 2014 Virginia Energy Plan.   This comprehensive strategy for Virginia’s energy industries will be an update to the 2010 plan (available online at  The 2014 plan is to be submitted to the Virginia General Assembly by October 1, 2014.

Warner pushes to make oil transportation safer, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 6/5/14.  At a June 2, 2014, forum at the Virginia Department of Transportation in Richmond, U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) called for increased federal regulatory scrutiny of shipments by rail of crude oil, for investments by oil and rail companies into safer fuel tanker cars, and for such companies to provide financial aid for state and local responders to rail accidents.  Sen. Warner’s comments and the forum were in response to the April 30, 2014, derailment in Lynchburg and other recent incidents with fuels being transported by rail.  (For more on the Lynchburg derailment, including many related news articles published since then, please the Grouper item Oil-train Derailment on April 30, 2014, along James River in Lynchburg, Va.; News Updates Through June 18, 2014.)