• 59°

Environmental official got gifts from Dominion

By Grant Smith

Capital News Service

The water might drain from Dominion Virginia Power’s coal ash ponds, but the plot has thickened. Documents brought to light recently show that the director of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, David Paylor, accepted gifts from Dominion in 2013, including a trip to the Masters golf tournament in Georgia.

WAMU, a public radio station in Washington, reported recently that Dominion paid for Paylor to attend the Masters Tournament on April 13-14, 2013, in Augusta, Ga. On his financial disclosure statement filed with the secretary of the commonwealth, Paylor estimated the trip’s value at $2,370.

Dominion also paid for a $1,200 dinner for Paylor and nine other people at O’Tooles Irish Pub in Augusta on April 13, 2013, WAMU reported.

Data from the nonpartisan Virginia Public Access Project confirmed that Dominion reported providing gifts to Paylor in 2013. Dominion reported spending $4,492 for Paylor and Del. Barry Knight, R-Virginia Beach, to attend the Masters. Both men also were at the dinner at O’Tooles. The cost of the dinner was $1,236, Dominion’s gift disclosure said.

Armed with this new information, environmental activists are demanding action against what they perceive as a problematic relationship between Dominion and Virginia government.

The activists want the state to revoke permits that Paylor’s agency granted to Dominion to drain treated wastewater from the utility’s coal ash pits in Fluvanna and Prince William counties into the James and Potomac rivers. Environmental groups also are calling for an investigation into the release of untreated coal ash water into Quantico Creek last spring.

“For months, Paylor misinformed the public about Dominion’s secretive and potentially illegal dumping of nearly 30 million gallons of untreated coal ash wastewater into Quantico Creek, a tributary of the Potomac River, in May 2015,” the Chesapeake Climate Action Network alleged.

Coal ash is the residue left over from burning coal. It is commonly stored in retaining ponds on site of coal-fueled power plants. Potentially toxic concentrations of heavy metals inherent to coal ash include arsenic and mercury.

“Dominion’s influence over Virginia’s General Assembly has been apparent for years, but now it appears to extend to the same regulators entrusted to police the company’s pollution,” said Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. “David Paylor vacationed on Dominion’s dime while he was simultaneously entrusted with protecting the public from Dominion’s pollution. This is a stunning conflict of interest.”

Paylor and the DEQ have declined to comment specifically on the WAMU story. However, the agency referred Capital News Service to a statement DEQ released after two lawsuits challenging the management of coal ash wastewater in Virginia were settled.

“The people who work at DEQ take their environmental stewardship obligations seriously, and recent accusations against DEQ’s integrity are baseless,” Paylor said in the statement.

DEQ and Dominion officials maintain that the company’s plan for treating and releasing the water in the coal ash ponds is environmentally sound.

“DEQ is pleased that Dominion has voluntarily agreed to go beyond federal and state regulatory requirements to further enhance protections for Virginia waters,” Paylor said in last week’s statement.

“DEQ has full confidence that its discharge permits fully protect water quality, aquatic life and human health. The permits issued for Dominion’s Bremo and Possum Point power stations, like thousands of similar permits DEQ has written in the past four decades, meet strict federal and state requirements for water quality.”

Dominion officials defended the company’s practices.

“Politics is not a spectator sport,” David Botkins, a spokesman for Dominion, told WAMU, which is based at American University. “Our employees and our company participate in (it) just like every other industry, business, nonprofit and organization out there. That’s how democracy works.”