Environment, Politics

Ga. Lawmakers Advance Environmental Bills Before Suspending Session

Coal ash swirls on the surface of the Dan River in Danville, Va. Thursday was the deadline for Georgia bills to pass either the House or the Senate, and Georgia legislators voted to keep four proposals alive that relate to coal ash.
Coal ash swirls on the surface of the Dan River in Danville, Va. Thursday was the deadline for Georgia bills to pass either the House or the Senate, and Georgia legislators voted to keep four proposals alive that relate to coal ash.
Credit Gerry Broome / Associated Press
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The state legislature is suspending its session due to concerns about coronavirus, but before wrapping up for now, lawmakers advanced bills, including a handful that would increase environmental protection in Georgia.

Thursday was the deadline for Georgia bills to pass either the House or the Senate, and Georgia legislators voted to keep four proposals alive that relate to coal ash.

It’s a byproduct from burning coal for electricity that can contain toxic materials. It’s gotten more attention the past few years, as utilities including Georgia Power have moved to clean up their coal ash. But not everyone’s happy about all those clean-up plans, and there’s been growing awareness about risks to groundwater.

The bills lawmakers voted on yesterday would regulate communication and long-term monitoring related to coal ash cleanup, increase the amount of money local governments get when it goes into landfills, and restrict landfills along the Satilla River in South Georgia.

Another landfill fee bill had already crossed over earlier in the session.

Legislation that requires utilities to completely excavate their coal ash ponds and move the ash to lined landfills did not advance. Residents of Juliette, Ga., had pushed for that, out of concern about the water coming out of their drinking water wells near Georgia Power’s Plant Scherer.

Another environmental health issue that’s attracted attention recently — including from lawmakers — is Ethylene Oxide, a cancer-causing gas that’s used to clean medical equipment.

Both houses of the general assembly approved bills Thursday that would require companies that release the gas beyond their permits to notify state officials.

And a bill that would prohibit facilities from burning railroad ties also got a vote and will be up for consideration when lawmakers return.

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