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BREAKING: Thirty Five Students Refuse to Leave DEQ HQ Without Answers on Coal Ash

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From the Virginia Student Environmental Coalition (VSEC):

Students demand answers from David Paylor on illegal dumping of coal ash wastewater before further dumping is allowed in Virginia waterways.

Richmond, VA — Monday, March, 7: 35 activists from the Virginia Student Environmental Coalition (VSEC) refuse to leave the DEQ lobby until Director of the DEQ, David Paylor, complies with their demands regarding Dominion Resources’ dumping of coal ash wastewater into the James River and Quantico Creek. This action is taking place in light of information that Dominion illegally dumped 33.7 million gallons of untreated wastewater into Quantico Creek over the past summer. The demands are as follows:

  1. That the DEQ repeals the permits issued to Dominion to begin dumping coal ash wastewater from their Bremo and Possum Point power plants.

  2. That the current permits are re-issued only after an investigation into the 2015 dumping of untreated wastewater into Quantico Creek.

  3. That the permits for coal ash wastewater release are rewritten to comply with the best available technology standards, in accordance with the Clean Water Act, and that a mechanism for independent third party monitoring is implemented.

Students from The University of Virginia, The University of Mary Washington, The College of William & Mary, Virginia Tech, and Virginia Commonwealth University entered the headquarters, located at 629 E Main St, Richmond VA, at 10:00 am and presented their intentions and demands, requesting to speak with Paylor immediately. A rally is also taking place outside of the building.

“David Paylor can’t keep his story straight regarding the wastewater dumping that took place last summer. If this is because he is covering for Dominion’s illegal activities, then how can we trust him to make future decisions regarding our environmental safety? If this is not the case, then why is he failing to address the issue now?” – Sarah Kinzer, Sophomore, University of Mary Washington.

“If David Paylor cannot adequately meet the health and safety needs of Virginia residents, then he is not fulfilling his role as DEQ Director, and we are prepared to demand his resignation.”- Kendall King, VSEC Coalition Chair.

“These incidents of environmental injustice are not isolated. In Flint, Michigan, we’ve recently seen what devastating effects that water containing concentrations of heavy metals can have on communities. This national pattern of water safety violations is indicative of widespread systemic issues.”- Jong Chin, Senior, James Madson University.

“The coal ash wastewater dumping is only one example of Dominion’s tendency to value profit over the safety of Virginians. This corporation continually endangers our health and safety by burning fossil fuels and building fracked gas pipelines. This is why, as students, we fight for fossil fuel divestment while simultaneously working to prevent Dominion from further endangering our safety. We need to cut all ties with fossil fuel companies.”- Aaron Tabb, Junior, Virginia Commonwealth University.

The Virginia Student Environmental Coalition (VSEC) is a statewide organization dedicated to unifying Virginia students and creating a network for education, advocacy, and action.

Background: On June 18th, 2015, the Southern Environmental Law Center contacted Department of Environmental Quality Director David Paylor to report that a coal ash pond at Dominion’s Possum Point Power Plant may have been illegally drained. One day later, on June 19th, Director Paylor responded that, “our best information is that no water was discharged to state waters.” On Monday, February 8th 2016, InsideNova released a story in which Dominion spokesman Dan Genest confirmed that 33.7 million gallons of untreated wastewater had been dumped into Quantico Creek last May. One day later, Department of Environmental Quality officials presenting at the Prince William County Board of Supervisors meeting stated that they were aware of Dominion’s untreated discharge in May of 2015.

  • New statement:

    URGENT: 17 STUDENTS ARRESTED

    Friends,

    We are writing this email to you with urgent information – today, at the Headquarters of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, 17 students were arrested for standing up for their rights to clean water in Virginia.

    On January 14th, the Department of Environmental Quality approved permits that allow Dominion Power to dump untreated coal ash wastewater into the James and Potomac River. These permits go live in two days. When our government prioritizes a corporation’s profits over public health and safety, it’s time to act.

    The Virginia Student Environmental Coalition saw a clear wrong and took action. We stood up for our right to clean water and our politicians ignored us. This is not an isolated incident. We see it in North Carolina. We see it in Flint. And, soon, we’ll see it in Virginia. The difference between these places and our home is that we still have time to prevent crisis from occurring!

    But we need your help. In the course of today’s action, 17 members of our coalition were arrested for standing up against a stark injustice. We need your help – we can get through this, but we can’t get through it alone. We’re urging our supporters to donate to our legal fund.

    It’s important that the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and Dominion Power see that these scare tactics won’t work against us. We demonstrated that people will stand up when corporations take advantage of our communities, and we need your support to keep the momentum up.

    We hope to see you while we continue the fight!

    In solidarity,

    The Virginia Student Environmental Coalition.

  • Seventeen Students Arrested in the DEQ Headquarters for Protesting Coal Ash Permits Given to Dominion

    Virginia students stand against destruction of our waterways

    Richmond, VA – Monday, March 7, 2:30 PM – After 35 students occupied the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) lobby for three hours, 17 were arrested by Richmond Police. The students entered the building at 10:00 AM this morning, and were forcibly removed by police at 1:00 PM. A rally of students and community members took place outside the building as well. This was in protest of permits given to Dominion Resources to dump toxic coal ash wastewater in the James River and Quantico Creek, as well as in protest of an illegal dump of 33 million tons of coal ash wastewater in the Quantico Creek. The demands were as follows:

    That the DEQ repeals the permits issued to Dominion to begin dumping coal ash wastewater from their Bremo and Possum Point power plants.

    That the current permits are re-issued only after an investigation into the 2015 dumping of untreated wastewater into Quantico Creek.

    That the permits for coal ash wastewater release are rewritten to comply with the best available technology standards, in accordance with the Clean Water Act, and that a mechanism for independent third party monitoring is implemented.

    David Paylor, who was in the building upstairs, refused to meet with Virginia students that are concerned about the future of this state – and concerned about the failure of their government to protect them. The DEQ has failed to ensure the safety of Virginians and their environment. In refusing to meet with students, David Paylor has shown where his priorities lie.

    “I was arrested today because I was willing to stay until David Paylor spoke to us – the department of environmental quality has failed to protect Virginia residents and our rivers. The state of Maryland is suing the DEQ and there is a federal investigation by the EPA underway. Dominion is allowed to start dumping wastewater wednesday, and they’re not going to be able to do it without a fight” – Laura Cross, Sophomore, University of Virginia

    “My blood is deeply connected to communities that directly depend on the health of the environment around them for survival. The actions of Dominion, under the incompetent regulation of the DEQ, has lead to poisoning of VA waters. The dumping of 33.7 million gallons of untreated coal ash waste water was a violation of the bond that we all have with the elements around us. Departments and agencies like the DEQ are meant to protect us. If they can’t value people over profit- then the people WILL hold them accountable.” – Camille Ashley Spencer, Junior, Virginia Commonwealth University

    “Our goal was to stay until our demands were met, and David Paylor refused to even speak with us. I was arrested because I believe that politicians should be accountable to people, not corporations. Today, Director Paylor demonstrated that the DEQ prioritizes Dominion’s profit over the public’s health.” – Kendall King, VSEC Coalition Chair

  • From the Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN):

    Dominion coal ash plans show failure of DEQ to enforce health-protective standards; Virginians deserve better

    In response to reports of a closed-door media briefing held by Dominion Power today, Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, released the following statement:

    “From everything we know, Dominion Power’s plan to go forward with the dumping of toxic coal ash wastewater into the James and Potomac Rivers still fails to adequately protect the health of our rivers and local citizens. Instead of holding Dominion to the highest standards, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, led by David Paylor, issued lax permits that fail to require the use of ‘best available technology’ and allow Dominion to discharge toxins like arsenic at levels that exceed limits set by neighboring North Carolina. Dominion is now clearly trying to save face in response to deep public concern and calls for a federal investigation of its secretive dumping of coal ash wastewater into Quantico Creek in May of 2015.

    “Instead of assurances from Dominion, Virginians need regulators setting and enforcing strict standards that safeguard human health. Neither Dominion nor Director Paylor have addressed the real root problem. Dominion wants to simply ‘de-water’ the state’s coal ash ponds and then cap the ponds in place. This allows not only for toxic liquids to be poured into the James, Potomac and other rivers, but leaves the capped pond bottoms with no protective lining, thus allowing toxic leaching to continue into surrounding groundwater for decades. This falls short of the standard being enforced in North Carolina and South Carolina.

    “We believe Governor McAuliffe and Attorney General Herring must step in to halt these permits, and to hold Dominion to the highest standards under the law. The real solution is to require Dominion to use the best available technology to treat the hazardous liquid, and then to remove the remaining toxic pond solids to modern, lined landfills that are properly equipped to protect against drinking water contamination. Time and again, Dominion has shown that it will do the easiest, cheapest, quickest thing it can get away with. Virginia’s rivers and people deserve better.”

    The statement is available online at: http://chesapeakeclimate.org/press-releases/dominion-coal-ash-plan-fails-to-protect-virginia-waterways-and-citizens/