Environmental Groups: Coal Ash Disposal At 5 Georgia Sites Poses Danger

Workers excavate coal ash-laden soil to be removed from the Dan River Steam Station in Eden, North Carolina. Georgia Power, which announced plans years ago to close down its 29 coal ash ponds, plans to cap the coal ash in place at these sites. 

Gerry Broome / Associated Press

The method Georgia Power uses to dispose of coal ash at five sites in Georgia is raising alarms with environmental groups.

The groups, led by the Southern Environmental Law Center, are asking Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division to deny solid waste disposal permits for the sites.

The permits in question are for Plant McDonough in Smyrna, near the Chattahoochee River; Plant Scherer, Plant Wansley, Plant Yates and Plant Hammond.

Georgia Power, which announced plans years ago to close down its 29 coal ash ponds, plans to cap the coal ash in place at these sites.

Coal ash is the byproduct of coal-fired power plants and can contain toxic metals.

“They propose to leave this waste unlined and that’s going to cause not only pollution problems down the road from leaching of these toxic metals that are contained in ash, but also the the waste itself is sitting in Georgia’s groundwater,” said Chris Bowers, an attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center.

After Georgia Power applied for the permits, the SELC hired a veteran geologist and hydrologist to study the documents the company submitted.

“Georgia Power’s current plans do the exact opposite of any responsible solid waste disposal method,” said Bowers. “You need to prevent environmental pollution, not perpetuate it. And certainly don’t get a permit to co-opt, basically, vast swaths of Georgia’s groundwater”

On Monday, the SELC sent a letter to the Environmental Protection Division, asking for the permits to be denied.

Georgia Power sent the following statement to WABE, in response to the letter.

“Georgia Power’s ash pond closure plans fully comply with the federal Coal Combustion Residuals (CCR) Rule, as well as the more stringent requirements of Georgia’s state CCR rule. Georgia was one of the first states in the country to develop its own rule regulating management and storage of CCR such as coal ash. The state rule, which goes further than the federal rule, regulates all ash ponds and landfills in the state and includes a comprehensive permitting program through which the EPD will approve all actions to ensure ash pond closures are protective of water quality.”

“We stand by the data delivered from our approximately 500 groundwater monitoring wells installed around our ash ponds and on-site landfills to actively monitor groundwater quality. Monitoring is being conducted in compliance with federal and state laws and regulations. Based on the extensive data collected, the company has identified no risk to public health or drinking water.”

Meanwhile, the federal EPA is holding a public hearing Tuesday on the Georgia Environmental Protection Division’s application to manage coal ash disposal on its own.