Georgia Power just announced plans to cease operations at all its toxic coal ash ponds over the next three years, in a little piece of positive news this week.
Sierra Club of Georgia posted on their Facebook page: “Good news! Georgia Power is accelerating its closure of toxic coal ash ponds, a move welcomed by environmental groups who fear arsenic, lead and other heavy metals can leach into groundwater and poison homeowners’ wells.”
In 2014, the EPA finalized the first federal coal ash regulations, noting, “These regulations address the risks from coal ash disposal — leaking of contaminants into ground water, blowing of contaminants into the air as dust, and the catastrophic failure of coal ash surface impoundments.”
The same year as the EPA rules came out, Eden, N.C. faced one of the nation’s largest spills — 39,000 tons of toxic coal ash spilled out of one of these storage ponds and into the Dan River in a catastrophic accident.
In Jesup, Ga., the community has had to fight against coal ash going into a nearby landfill designed for household waste, a move they fear will result in coal ash blowing, drifting and otherwise leaking into their air and water.
According to a press release from Georgia Power, “All of the company’s 29 ash ponds across the state will cease operations and stop receiving coal ash within the next three years.”
The complete list of coal ash ponds impacted is available here.
In an interview with the AJC, Stephen Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, said, “I think this is good news for the people of Georgia…it is a significant move and it does appear to be comprehensive.”
Some of the coal ash will be closed in place, while other coal ash ponds are being relocated to permitted landfills. In light of the previous failures by energy companies to appropriately store and contain coal ash, monitoring will be a must.
Public pressure, lawsuits and federal regulation helped reshape policies and energy companies’ practices. More responsibly managing toxic coal ash storage is just the beginning of these energy companies moving towards more environmentally sustainable methods of generating energy and storing the byproducts.