Coal ash — the toxic, leftover material from coal fired power plants — is just starting to cause regulations to shape up in Georgia, as power plants struggle with how to dispose of it, Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division figures out how to regulate it and communities resist coal ash contamination in their backyard.
Residents across the state, including former President Jimmy Carter, are speaking out against coal ash being stored in regular landfills designed to hold household trash or in open air ponds, called coal ash ponds, which often allow coal ash to leach into the local environment.
Earlier this summer, Georgia Power announced plans to phase out its coal ash ponds, 29 of these open storage ponds that contain a mixture of coal ash and water. This followed the federal EPA releasing the first regulations of coal ash last year, officially called coal combustion residuals or CCR.
Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division (EPD) has proposed new regulations for how coal ash is stored (currently it’s allowed in landfills designed to service household waste) and how utilities dispose of the stuff.
These regulations are especially of interest to residents in Jesup, Ga., who are currently resisting moves by waste management company Republic Services to build a rail line transporting coal ash to their local landfill.
The EPD faced a packed meeting in Brunswick, Ga. last week, with residents expressing understandable concern about the regulations adequately protecting underground aquifers and other sensitive (and important) natural resources. Coal ash contains a mix of carcinogenic and other toxic materials, but is produced in abundance by coal fired power plants. The Brunswick News reports:
The EPA describes coal ash as one of the largest types of industrial waste generated in the United States. Studies show it contains carcinogens, heavy metals like mercury and arsenic as well as radioactive elements.
And now, former President Jimmy Carter has gotten involved. Bill Gates, one of the owners of
Republic Services, received a handwritten note from Carter asking him not to allow coal ash to be stored in Jesup’s municipal landfill.
“This will adversely impact some favorite streams of mine, where my father took me fishing many years ago,’’ Carter wrote. “I hope you will help prevent this ….”
This summer has also seen concerns over coal ash grow, following findings by Georgia Power that coal ash-related contaminants leached into the environment near three of their coal-fired power plants. However, officially the source of the contaminants still must be determined. WABE reports:
Georgia Power has found evidence that chemicals have leaked into groundwater at three of its coal-fired power plants. The utility found arsenic at plants near Rome and on the Savannah River, and it found beryllium and selenium at a plant near Newnan.
The contaminants were detected thanks to the 2015 federal regulations requiring site monitoring.
Meanwhile, Georgia’s EPD just got new new leadership. Richard Dunn was hand-picked by Gov. Nathan Deal earlier this summer, despite lacking meaningful experience navigating environmental issues, which in Georgia are quite numerous.
Here’s hoping Georgia’s people — and environment — actually get the leaders they need to keep coal ash from contaminating more communities.