New reports confirm Georgia Power’s coal ash pits are submerged in groundwater

Georgia Power wants to use the cap-in-place method to close coal ash ponds at five of its sites, including Plant Hammond along the banks of the Coosa River, as new evidence shows the coal ash is already submerged in groundwater. (© Hunter Nichols)

New evidence confirms that Georgia Power’s unlined coal ash pits slated to be capped in place are already submerged in groundwater, which the utility intends to use as a permanent waste dumping ground.

Not only is that illegal under state and federal laws, Georgia Power’s closure plans mean that nearly 50 million tons of toxic coal ash will continue to degrade and contaminate Georgia’s groundwater forever.

Georgia Power’s own publicly available engineering plans, expert analysis of the hydrology of the sites, flood maps, and other data show that all nine ponds scheduled for cap-in-place are sitting in up to 97 feet of groundwater, and are presenting an immediate and significant threat to public health and the environment.

The public relations terminology we’ve heard from Georgia Power for years concerning the effectiveness of these closure plans is now soundly disproven by the evidence.”

—Senior Attorney Chris Bowers

“Georgia Power’s plans to cap ponds in place that are already submerged in Georgia’s groundwater and that are within some of the most important watersheds in the state are beyond reckless,” says Jen Hilburn of Altamaha Riverkeeper. “Allowing the utility to continue with these plans would be an unprecedented giveaway of Georgia’s natural resources to a single industry.”

Along with Altamaha Riverkeeper, Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, and Coosa River Basin Initiative, SELC has submitted site-specific reports and a summary letter to the Georgia Environmental Protection Division detailing the numerous, significant flaws in Georgia Power’s closure plans for five of its plants that span from middle to northeastern Georgia: Scherer in Macon, Yates in Newnan, McDonough in Smyrna, Hammond in Rome, and Wansley, which is just south of Carrolton.

The ponds are located in some of the least-suitable areas of the state for storing toxic pollution, including populated areas, flood zones, and state-designated “most significant groundwater recharge areas” that would ban unlined household garbage landfills in the same locations. Despite its plans to use so-called “advanced engineering” with the capability of protecting nearby groundwater and public health and safety, the evidence disproves that claim.

“The public relations terminology we’ve heard from Georgia Power for years concerning the effectiveness of these closure plans is now soundly disproven by the evidence,” says Senior Attorney Chris Bowers. “In reality, the utility’s plans to coopt Georgia’s groundwater as a permanent dumping ground for its coal ash waste are plainly unlawful, and we hope that the Environmental Protection Division agrees.”

Other utilities across the region and Georgia Power itself have already proven that excavation is possible and beneficial, including the utility’s recent decision to excavate additional sites that are substantially larger than any of the five ponds in question.

“As other Southeastern utilities have committed to handling this waste responsibly, it’s past time for George Power to extend its commitment and remove all of its coal ash to modern, lined, and permitted landfills away from Georgia’s waters,” says Jesse Demonbreun-Chapman, of Coosa River Basin Initiative.

Georgia Power has already started the process of obtaining permits from EPD for closing its waste pits under the state Coal Combustion Residuals Rule, which was adopted in 2016. The groups are urging EPD to deny Georgia Power’s permit applications to leave coal ash in place at the remaining plants under state and federal solid waste laws, which prohibit pollution.

Says Jason Ulseth of Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, “When it comes to responsibly disposing of the remainder of Georgia’s coal ash, the Environmental Protection Division is facing a monumental decision impacting millions of Georgians, now and for decades to come.”

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