Environment, News

Georgia Officials Consider New Regulations For Coal Ash

In this Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016, photo, workers excavate coal ash-laden soil to be removed from the Dan River Steam Station in Eden, N.C. Duke Energy Corp. is digging up and hauling away from riverbanks the toxic coal residues two years after one of the worst coal-ash spills in U.S. history. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
In this Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016, photo, workers excavate coal ash-laden soil to be removed from the Dan River Steam Station in Eden, N.C. Duke Energy Corp. is digging up and hauling away from riverbanks the toxic coal residues two years after one of the worst coal-ash spills in U.S. history. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
Credit Gerry Broome / Associated Press
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The Georgia Department of Natural Resources is scheduled to vote on new coal ash rules on Wednesday. Coal ash is a byproduct from burning coal for electricity, and it can contain toxic materials.

The federal government began regulating how coal ash is stored last year, after a couple of catastrophic spills in other states.

The state’s proposed rule goes beyond the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s, said Jeff Cown, chief of the land protection branch at the Georgia Environmental Protection Division.

“We want to be able to regulate each facility in a consistent manner,” he said. “We want to have a permit program with financial assurance to protect the state for closure, post-closure care of these facilities.”

At a hearing on Tuesday, environmentalists said they don’t think the state rule goes far enough.

“I don’t think that the rule is going to really adequately protect communities around municipal solid waste landfills,” said Chris Manganiello, water policy director at Chattahoochee Riverkeeper. “Nor am I convinced that it’s going to protect the groundwater for the communities that are around the existing coal ash ponds.”

Georgia Power has 29 coal ash ponds in the state, including a few inside the Perimeter, at Plant McDonough near Smyrna.

“We are well positioned to comply with the EPD’s new, more stringent state rule,” a Georgia Power spokesman said in an email.

Groundwater testing near some of Georgia Power’s ponds has turned up arsenic, beryllium, selenium and cadmium. The utility is planning to close all of its ponds, though Mangianello said he has questions about how secure they’ll be.

There is also coal ash coming in to Georgia from out of state. Dink NeSmith, the owner of Wayne County’s local newspaper, is a vocal opponent of a plan to store coal ash in a municipal landfill in the county. Cown said the state can’t regulate companies choosing to bring coal ash into their landfills, but NeSmith said he plans to continue pushing for regulations

“This is a good first step,” NeSmith said of the state’s rule, “but we can’t stop there.”

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