ATLANTA — Three bills imposing additional regulations on the disposal of coal ash in Georgia have cleared the state House of Representatives.
Measures requiring Georgia Power Co. to notify local government officials when the utility drains nearby coal ash ponds and closing a loophole in current state law that encourages coal ash to be brought into Georgia from out of state passed overwhelmingly.
But the third bill requiring long-term monitoring of closed ash ponds ran into criticism from opponents concerned that the General Assembly’s overall response to the coal ash problem doesn’t go far enough.
Coal ash is the residue left behind after burning coal to fuel power plants. It can contain a number of toxic chemicals, including lead, selenium and arsenic.
Much of Georgia’s coal ash is stored in ponds around coal-fired power plants owned by Georgia Power. While the company is planning to excavate and close all 29 of its coal ash ponds, it intends to leave the ash in place at 10 of the ponds, using technology it says is safe.
Legislative Democrats have been pushing for a bill that would require Georgia Power to install impervious liners under every closed ash pond that will not be excavated.
On Thursday, House Minority Leader Bob Trammell complained that the Democrats’ bill isn’t moving forward and accused majority Republicans of a “missed opportunity.”
“You test to find out if something is wrong,” said Trammell, D-Luthersville, referring to the House bill requiring long-term monitoring of closed ash ponds. “When you know there’s something wrong and don’t do anything about it, that’s inaction.”
Trammell cited the community of Juliette, located in Monroe County near Georgia Power’s Plant Scherer, whose residents came to the state Capitol last month to advocate for lined ash ponds. Trammell said he recently bought property in Juliette a half-mile from the pond.
“I’ve come to fear for the water in my house,” he said. “Nobody should have to live with these fears.”
Rep. Vance Smith, R-Pine Mountain, the sponsor of the bill requiring increased monitoring, noted that the fiscal 2021 state budget the House adopted this week provides $500,000 to add environmental engineers to the state Environmental Protection Division to conduct the monitoring. He said the agency will inspect ash ponds annually until they are closed and every five years after that.
The House ended up passing the monitoring bill 113-52.
The legislation targeting out-of-state coal ash would raise the fee for disposing of coal ash to the same rate landfills charge for other garbage.
“This bill would deter coal ash from being dumped in landfills around our state,” said Rep. Trey Rhodes, R-Greensboro.
Five landfills in Georgia have taken in millions of tons of coal ash since 2017, with much of it originating from power plants in Florida and North Carolina, according to EPD records.
The three coal ash bills now are headed for the state Senate.