(ANNAPOLIS, MD)—The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) has filed comments opposing the issuance of a special exception ground-water withdrawal permit for the proposed Chickahominy Power Station, which proposes to withdraw up to 30 million gallons of water per year from the Potomac Aquifer. CBF contends that the draft special exception issued by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is flawed and the State Water Control Board should deny the permit.
The Potomac Aquifer is the main source of drinking water for the predominantly African American residents of Charles City County, where the proposed plant would be built. DEQ’s draft permit relies almost entirely on Potomac Aquifer tests conducted in 2002 to determine if the proposed withdrawal would affect drinking water.
“The Virginia Administrative Code directs the Board to prioritize groundwater use for human consumption above all other uses,” said Taylor Lilley, CBF Environmental Justice Staff Attorney. “DEQ’s decision to rely on 18-year-old data is extremely disappointing. In addition, while the Commonwealth’s regulations include “climate cycles” as a factor in making decisions, DEQ and the Board said that consideration of climate change was beyond their purview.”
Without recent tests, data, or projections that consider not only the unique character of the aquifer but also the near certainty of continued sea-level rise and unreliable weather patterns, an informed and rational decision on the reasonableness of the draft special exception cannot be reached.
In addition, there is no public benefit from the construction and operation of this plant. Charles City County has no need for an additional plant. Charles City County is currently home to two other electric-generating facilities, and the proposed plant’s operator has stated its intention to sell the power it generates to the regional grid.
Earlier this year, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its decision in Friends of Buckingham v. State Air Pollution Control Board. The decision, among other things, established the incontrovertible role of environmental justice in determinations of site suitability. Although site suitability is not required for the evaluation of a groundwater withdrawal permit, the inclusion of “other factors” by the Virginia Administrative Code creates an opportunity for the Board to introduce environmental justice into its calculus. As the last phase in the regulatory review process before the construction of the Chickahominy Power Station, the Board should take this opportunity to engage in a thorough and complete analysis of the community that will bear the burden of this proposed facility.
“DEQ has failed to provide the Board with a thorough technical evaluation that provides the Board with reliable information on which to base its decision. Absent that, the Board should reject the special exception,” Lilley said.