Lax pollution permits highlight broader concerns over Georgia Power’s coal ash dewatering plans

Speaking at a public hearing in Albany, Georgia, Flint Riverkeeper Gordon Rogers urges state environmental officials to use standards protective of public health and the environment as Georgia Power prepares to drain its coal ash ponds adjacent to the river. (© Chris Bowers/SELC)

The Georgia Environmental Protection Division’s most recent draft permit to address coal ash wastewater fits a troubling pattern that does not bode well for Georgia Power’s plans to close all 29 of its coal ash ponds statewide.

The latest permit is for Plant Mitchell, a retired coal-fired power plant on the banks of the Flint River in southwest Georgia. EPD held a public hearing on the draft permit last night at Albany Technical College. Nearly a dozen people got up to express concerns with how the utility plans to deal with the almost 2 million tons of coal ash waste stored in the plant’s three coal ash ponds.

Georgia Power plans to move Plant Mitchell’s ash away from the Flint River—a positive and important step. However, Georgia Power must first drain the ponds, and SELC and partner Flint Riverkeeper are concerned about the lack of specific protections in the draft permit covering that activity.

Among other problems, the permit fails to limit the level of toxic pollutants such as arsenic, mercury, selenium, chromium, and lead that can be discharged into the river prior to the ponds’ removal.

In addition, the draft permit would allow EPD to approve the utility’s plans for draining the ponds without any public notice or opportunity to comment—the only way for the public to find out about it under such circumstances is through an open records request.

“EPD can essentially decide for itself that it isn’t necessary to reopen the permit to require better treatment technology, or impose limits on the toxic pollutants that may be released to the Flint River as the ponds are drained,” said SELC Senior Attorney Chris Bowers. “This is exactly how it’s played out at Plant McManus in Brunswick and Plant McDonough near Atlanta. The public wasn’t involved in the process, and dewatering has occurred without any limits on the amount of toxic pollutants that can be put into the rivers."

“It is absolutely imperative that EPD’s permit require Georgia Power to treat the wastewater coming from the ponds to at least the cleanliness of the water coming out of an ordinary municipal wastewater treatment plant, and that the process is subject to public review—not in private negotiations for a secret plan that the public will see after the fact,” said Flint Riverkeeper Gordon Rogers. “The risks these toxic heavy metals pose to human health and wildlife are way too high to move forward in any other way.”

On behalf of Flint Riverkeeper, SELC submitted written comments on Plant Mitchell’s draft permit.

Georgia citizens can submit comments via email or mail through May 8, 2017.

Email: EPDcomments@dnr.ga.gov

Mail: Environmental Protection Division Watershed Protection Branch, Attn: Audra Dickson, 2 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, Suite 1152 East, Atlanta, GA 30334


 

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