Tighter coal ash rules stall in Legislature as ash pond near Smyrna is drained

By David Pendered

An effort to increase public notice about coal ash issues, and management of coal ash dumps, has stalled in the state Legislature. The proposals are dead for the year, unless advocates can attach them to legislation that is still under consideration.

Plant McDonough, coal ash

Georgia Power completed the conversion of Plant McDonough from coal to natural gas Oct. 28, 2016. The power company has started dewatering a pond where coal ash was stored. Credit: power-eng.com

Coal ash is the residue of coal burnt to generate power. The federal Environmental Protection Agency monitors coal ash because of the dangers it presents, according to a report on EPA’s website:

  • “Coal ash contains contaminants like mercury, cadmium and arsenic. Without proper management, these contaminants can pollute waterways, ground water, drinking water, and the air.”

State Rep. Jeff Jones (R-Brunswick) introduced two measures – House bills 387 and 388. Both were held by the House Natural Resources and Environment Committee.

Because the House did not approve the legislation by March 3, the bills are ineligible for further action this legislative session. However, their content remains eligible to be attached as a rider on other legislation.

Highlights of the bills include:

  • HB 387 – Requires an Internet site to contain federally mandated information; cease dumping in unlined coal ash disposal sites and close them;
  • HB 388 – Requires management plan and proof that a coal ash disposal site won’t leak into the ground water.

Metro Atlanta is affected by the coal ash issue, even though most attention on the coal ash issue in Georgia has focused on efforts by a company to increase the amount of coal ash dumped at its facility near Jesup.

Plant Scherer, coal ash

Georgia Power plans to dewater the coal ash pond at Plant Scherer, near Macon, as part of its effort to comply with federal environmental regulations. Credit: ens-newswire.com

Georgia Power started dewatering coal ash ponds at its power plant near Smyrna, Plant McDonough, in December 2016, according to the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper. There are a total of 11 coal ash ponds in the Chattahoochee River basin.  The ponds contain an estimated 872 million gallons of coal ash and wastewater, according to a statement released by the Georgia Water Coalition, a consortium of 230 conservation and environmental organizations.

Dewatering involves discharging free water into the state’s waters, according to state law.

Georgia Power announced in 2015 that it would close all of its 29 ash ponds in response to stricter rules devised by EPA in 2014 and finalized in 2015. The cost is expected to exceed $1 billion and take more than a decade to complete, according to a statement from Georgia Power.

In addition, Georgia Power intends to completely remove the ash from 16 ponds located near waterways where existing practices are not feasible to isolate the closed pond from groundwater, according to a statement.

“Georgia Power is set to close 29 coal ash ponds all over the state, so we are only talking about 29, 30-day public notices,” Jason Ulseth, Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, said in the statement. “At a minimum, the public deserves to know when toxic water will be discharged into the river so they can take appropriate precautions to protect the health of their families, crops, and livestock.”

According to Georgia Power, the 29 ponds are at the following locations: Plant Bowen (Euharlee), Plant Branch (Eatonton), Plant Hammond (Coosa), Plant Kraft (Port Wentworth), Plant McDonough (Smyrna), Plant McIntosh (Rincon), Plant McManus (Brunswick), Plant Mitchell (Albany), Plant Scherer (Macon), Plant Wansley (Carrollton), and Plant Yates (Newnan).

 

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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