Secretary of Energy Voices Approval of Lambert's Point Docks Operation Amid Air Quality Study
October 13, 2020 - The country’s top energy official said Monday he was confident about the safety of Norfolk Southern’s Lambert’s Point Docks operation as Virginia officials begin to investigate how the coal loading facility is affecting Norfolk’s air quality.
U.S. Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette wore an American flag neck gaiter as he toured the 1,850-foot-long pier on Monday. Brouillette met with Norfolk Southern workers and leaders during a visit he said was meant to show the Trump administration’s support for the domestic coal industry.
For years, residents of Lamberts Point and other Norfolk neighborhoods have complained of coal dust coming down on them and worried about potential health effects. The state Department of Environmental Quality is planning to monitorhow toxins connected to coal dust are traveling through nearby neighborhoods, using a new grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Brouillette acknowledged the seriousness of the issue and said he didn’t want to minimize the importance of improving safety measures. However, he said Norfolk Southern continues to step up precautions as technology improves.
“We all strive to improve ourselves and our operations, but these guys are doing exactly that,” he said.
Norfolk Southern controls dust at the terminal by spraying coal cars with water and suppression agents, using hoods and wind guards on conveyer belts and sweeping up coal from the pier deck, according to its website. Past Norfolk Southern measurements of air quality have found amounts of particulates below EPA limits. Environmentalists have asked the company to enclose the two “dumpers” used to turn the coal onto the conveyer belts, but the company has said the move is too expensive, according to Virginian-Pilot reporting.
Brouillette said coal operations like Lambert’s Point are just one piece of the “all of the above” energy policy that President Donald Trump asked him to help pursue — a policy that also included natural gas, oil and renewable energy like solar power.
As part of that policy, Brouillette said he supported state and regional efforts to build offshore wind farms and attract the industry to Hampton Roads. Dominion Energy plans to build a large, 2.6-gigawatt wind farm off the coast of Virginia Beach by 2026, and Avangrid Renewables plans to build a similarly sized operation near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, by 2030.
“Renewable energy, whether it be offshore wind, onshore wind or onshore solar, needs a partner,” Brouillette said. “That partner is coal. That partner is natural gas.”
The Lambert’s Point Docks facility employs around 400 people and can process more than 8,000 tons of coal an hour. Hampton Roads is the largest coal-exporting port in the country. Exports out of Lambert’s Point Docks for the year to date was 7.83 million tons in August, an almost 20% decrease from 9.78 million tons in 2019.