Material flows out of a flooded coal ash dump at a North Carolina power plant toward the Cape Fear River. (N.C. Department of Environmental Quality/AP)

The March 9 letter “Why do ratepayers get the bill?” raised understandable concerns regarding coal ash cleanup in Virginia and who should pay for it. First, the problem: For decades, Dominion Energy stored ash from burning coal to produce electricity in unlined lakes of toxic sludge on the banks of precious and vulnerable waterways, including the Potomac River.

Dominion proposed closing these facilities by removing the water, leaving toxic ash in place, and placing tarps and sod atop the drained ponds at a cost to ratepayers in the billions of dollars. If another disaster happened in the future, we would be on the hook again.

The law that just passed offers a better approach: to clean up the ponds by removing the ash from the riverbanks either for disposal in state-of-the-art landfills or through recycling. Though cost estimates are slightly higher, the Virginia law ensures this toxic waste no longer would pose a threat to clean water. Dominion won’t profit off the cleanup, but ratepayers foot the bill because the company was not breaking the law by storing the coal ash as it did.

Burning coal for electricity has played a major role in growing the U.S. economy for more than 100 years, and now the environmental and social costs of doing so are coming due. Addressing this legacy pollution now and moving toward clean energy development will ensure a cleaner environment, safer communities and a healthier economy.

Michael Town, Richmond

The writer is executive director of the Virginia League of Conservation Voters.