Judge rules Dominion’s coal ash pit polluted Virginia water

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) – A federal judge has found Virginia’s largest utility violated the Clean Water Act because arsenic is flowing from a coal ash storage site in Chesapeake, polluting ground and surface water.U.S. District Judge John Gibney Jr. issued the ruling yesterday in a lawsuit filed by the Sierra Club against Dominion Virginia Power. But the judge also found that the arsenic discharge poses no health or environmental threat. He didn’t order the ash removed to a lined landfill, as the Sierra Club wanted.Instead, Dominion must conduct testing and the two sides must submit a remediation plan.Dominion says it’s pleased the court found no threat resulting from the ash at the former Chesapeake Energy Center.An attorney representing the Sierra Club expressed disappointment the court didn’t order a “full cleanup.”

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McAuliffe pledges to protect drivers from 5-figure toll debt

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (AP) – Virginia’s governor has pledged to protect drivers from skyrocketing toll debts owed to a private company.Gov. Terry McAuliffe said in Portsmouth yesterday that a proposed budget amendment would cap debt at $2,200 for first-time offenders. Some drivers currently owe as much as $18,000 for crossing the Elizabeth River.The plan would essentially close a loophole. Currently, the Macquarie-Skanska partnership can charge unlimited fees to violators while the DMV withholds their registration. The proposal would require the firm to offer a settlement capped at $2,200 before the DMV can take action.McAuliffe said the skyrocketing debts stem from bad deal struck in 2012 under the previous administration. It was between the state and private firms Skanska and the Macquarie Group, which built and financed crossings of the Elizabeth River.

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McAuliffe amends coal ash bill to halt pond closure permits

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) – Gov. Terry McAuliffe wants to delay Dominion Virginia Power’s plans to close its coal ash ponds until the utility provides more information about the waste pits.The governor yesterday amended a bill lawmakers passed last month and sent it back to the General Assembly. In essence, the governor wants a moratorium on the permits the utility needs to close coal ash ponds to close until next May, after the reports are due.By December, Dominion has to finish assessments of 11 ponds at four power stations, reporting about any water pollution and evaluating options for recycling the ash and closing the ponds.Environmental groups hailed the governor’s amendments. Dominion spokesman Rob Richardson says the company will start immediately on the work and looks forward to sharing the results.

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Trump to deliver commencement address at Liberty University

(Mark East Photography)

WASHINGTON (AP) – President Donald Trump will deliver the keynote address at  Liberty University’s commencement ceremony.  Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. provided the details of the May 13 graduation ceremony in a statement Wednesday. Falwell was a close ally to Trump during his campaign and told The Associated Press in January that he’d been asked to lead a presidential task force on higher education reform. President George H.W. Bush was the last president to deliver the Virginia-based university’s keynote address in 1990. Falwell says the school is “incredibly grateful to have President Trump be a part of this historic day.”

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Conservative group to challenge abortion regulation changes

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) – The conservative Family Foundation of Virginia says it plans to file a legal challenge over the way the state did away with restrictive regulations for abortion centers.The group says it notified Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s administration yesterday of its intention to file an administrative appeal over the health and safety regulations, which were updated in October.Foundation President Victoria Cobb says the administration violated state law in its “quest to water down” the standards.The Board of Health voted to do away with hospital-style regulations for abortion clinics imposed by the General Assembly in 2011. The vote came after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down tough abortion restrictions in Texas.A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said it doesn’t comment on pending litigation.

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Muslim advocacy group seeks broader travel-ban injunction

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) – A judge is weighing a request from a Muslim civil rights group for an even broader injunction against President Donald Trump’s proposed travel ban than what is already in place.Federal judges in Hawaii and Maryland have issued orders that already block the vast majority of Trump’s revised ban, which would restrict immigration from refugees and from six majority-Muslim countries.At a hearing Tuesday in Alexandria, lawyers for the Council on American-Islamic Relations asked a judge to issue an injunction blocking the entire executive order. Lawyer Gadeir (geh-DEER’) Abbas said a section of the order affecting how waivers are granted for visa applicants remains in force.Acting Assistant Attorney General Chad Readler said the remaining provisions of the travel ban have no practical effect on how the government issues visas.

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Trump Winery seeks more foreign workers this season

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) – A Virginia winery owned by President Donald Trump’s son has applied to hire foreign workers to pick grapes.The Daily Progress reports Trump Vineyard Estates, better known as Trump Winery, has asked to bring in 29 workers this season through the federal H-2A visa program.The Charlottesville-area winery is owned by Eric Trump, whose father has called on businesses to hire Americans.The H-2A program enables agricultural employers who anticipate a shortage of domestic workers to bring foreign workers to the U.S. to perform agricultural labor or other temporary or seasonal services. To apply, employers say they’ve been unable to find American citizens to fill the jobs. At least three other local vineyards also applied to hire foreign workers.Trump Winery didn’t respond to a request for comment.

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Virginia governor signs bill giving $1.55M to exonerated man

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) – Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe has signed a bill to provide $1.55 million to a man who spent more than three decades in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.Keith Allen Harward was released from prison in April 2016 at age 60 after DNA evidence proved him innocent of the 1982 killing of Jesse Perron and the rape of his wife in Newport News. Harward was a sailor on the USS Carl Vinson, which was stationed at the shipyard near the victims’ home at the time.Legislation compensating Harward unanimously passed the House and Senate. McAuliffe signed the bill last week. In order to accept the money, Harward must waive his right to seek damages from the state in court.Harward didn’t immediately return a message left  yesterday.

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Trump budget would cut funding by 25 percent at institute

GLOUCESTER POINT, Va. (AP) – President Trump’s budget proposal would slash funding by 25 percent at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science.Associate Dean Mark Luckenbach says the impact would be felt throughout the Tidewater region.For instance, VIMS gives guidance to communities trying to comply with Chesapeake Bay pollution standards. It also provides significant support to the growing oyster industry, including its breeding program.The losses would stem from proposed cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.VIMS receives much of its funding through grants that support state and federally mandated programs.Based in Gloucester Point, VIMS is among the country’s largest marine research and education centers. It is affiliated with William & Mary.

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Bridges helping birds recover in coastal Virginia

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) – Bridges in coastal Virginia have played a key role in helping boost the breeding population of large birds.The Center for Conservation Biology at the College of William and Mary says peregrine falcons have consistently nested on the Robert O. Norris bridge, which spans the Rappahannock River, for 21 years.The center said bridges have supported more than 30 percent of the known breeding population in the state for peregrine falcons since 1993.The conditions of the bridges mimic those of cliff formations not naturally found on the coast. Virginia’s large bird population has made a dramatic comeback in recent years after being decimated by DDT and other pollutants.

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