While protesting the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality’s recent approvals of wastewater permits to Dominion Virginia Power, 17 students were charged with trespassing on state property.
On March 7 around 10 a.m. student activists from the Virginia Student Environmental Coalition staged a sit-in at the VDEQ headquarters in Richmond. Members of the Coalition came from several Virginia colleges, including The University of Virginia, The University of Mary Washington, The College of William & Mary, Virginia Tech and Virginia Commonwealth University.
The Richmond Police Department gave the protesters an ultimatum: leave by 1p.m., or be arrested. The Richmond Times Dispatch reports that 17 students who refused to leave were charged with misdemeanor trespassing, which can cary a year in jail. or a fine of $2,500.
“As students, we fight for fossil fuel divestment while simultaneously working to prevent Dominion from further endangering our safety,” said VCU junior sociology major Aaron Tabb.
Protesters in VDEQ’s lobby demanded that Director Dave Paylor repeal the permits and agree to reissue them only after performing an investigation of the alleged 2015 dumping of untreated industrial wastewater into Quantico Creek in Prince William County.
In addition to an investigation, the activists urged that a party separate from VDEQ be in charge of water monitoring in order to ensure that Dominion abides by the standards set in place by the Clean Water Act, which limits the levels of pollutants allowed to be dumped into waterways.
“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,” said Kendall King, Virginia Student Environmental Coalition Chair.
VDEQ recently approved the renewal of permits held by Dominion that allow the release of coolant water from power plant condensers into the James River and Quantico Creek. Embedded in the permit is Dominion’s plans for compliance to a recently updated Environmental Protection Agency regulation that requires on site coal ash retention ponds to be drained and filled in.
The permit’s requirements allow Dominion to drain the water from coal ash ponds and place it into the river system. Protesters shared their concerns about the possibility of oversight or abuse of the permit standards.
“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?” said UMW sophomore, Sarah Kinzer. “If this is not the case, then why is he failing to address the issue now.”
Despite their demands, the activists were not able to speak with Paylor.
The DEQ could not be reached for comment.
Joe Johnson, Contributing Writer