Georgia Power commits to another 29 million tons in coal ash cleanup

A kayaker enjoys Georgia’s Etowah River. (© Alan Cressler)

Georgia Power announced new plans in August to excavate all the coal ash stored at its Plant Branch and Plant Bowen facilities and move the waste to lined onsite landfills. This development marks a significant improvement from the utility’s previous plans, which called for simply installing barriers around the coal ash waste and capping the unlined impoundments in place. Georgia Power has a total of 86 million tons of ash in 29 ponds statewide and initially planned to excavate only 8 to 10 million of those tons from unlined ponds and impoundments, some of which it would simply consolidate into other onsite, unlined ponds. These updated plans will result in 29 million tons of coal ash that will be excavated to lined storage.

Located near the Etowah River in Northwest Georgia, Plant Bowen’s ash pond contains about 21 million tons of ash. Based on Georgia Power’s press release, the utility now plans to excavate the ash and install a synthetic liner “to create a new, lined ash storage facility onsite,” which would result in the largest excavation to lined storage in SELC’s six state region to date.

Plant Branch is located on Lake Sinclair in middle Georgia, with five ash ponds containing about 8 million tons, which will now be excavated and consolidated into a single, lined onsite landfill. With these developments, Georgia Power has committed to excavate 19 of its 29 ash ponds in Georgia.

The dangers these ponds pose during major weather events has been starkly demonstrated as utilities in North and South Carolina struggle to contain their coal ash in the wake of Hurricane Florence.

SELC attorneys directly and in conjunction with partners throughout the state have continued to call on Georgia Power to excavate all of its coal ash waste to dry, lined storage located away from our groundwater, rivers, lakes and streams. Similarly, SELC has urged state agencies and elected officials to address numerous concerns arising from the risks posed to human health and the environment from the toxic pollutants found within these wastes. SELC submitted extensive comments on behalf of the Georgia Water Coalition regarding concerns over the Georgia Environmental Protection Division’s state regulations for coal ash storage and disposal. Additionally, SELC engaged in efforts during Georgia’s legislative sessions over the past few years to improve the state’s laws and regulations for the handling and disposal of coal ash at electric utilities and in municipal solid waste landfills.

This work builds on progress seen across the region in moving toxic coal ash away from our rivers, lakes, and drinking water sources. So far utilities in the Southeast have announced plans to move more than 125 million tons of coal ash into dry lined storage or to recycling facilities. In places like South Carolina, where excavations are further along, there has been a quick and noticeable drop in pollution concentrations almost immediately following excavation. At one spot, arsenic readings dropped more than 98 percent after coal ash was removed.

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