For decades, Georgia Power has stored toxic coal ash in ponds beside the rivers, lakes, and streams we depend on for drinking water and recreation. Under Federal regulations and a recent court decision, coal ash can no longer be stored in wet ponds. Closing down these leaky, unsafe ponds is a good first step for treating coal ash waste. Georgia Power plans to close all of its coal ash ponds by draining the water from the ponds and either covering up the ash in place or excavating it and moving it to dry, lined storage.
The excavated coal ash waste is being transported to lined landfills on Georgia Power’s property or to Municipal Solid Waste Landfills (MSWLs) across Georgia. Out-of-state utilities can also ship their coal ash to Georgia’s MSWLs, many of which are not designed to handle this toxic waste.
Now, thanks to a terrible provision snuck into legislation in the final days of the 2018 legislative session, Georgia Power has ensured that Georgia’s MSWLs will remain the Number One destination for out-of-state coal ash for at least the next seven years.
At the Georgia General Assembly in 2018, much-need legislation was introduced to increase “host fees,” which are fees paid to local governments in which MSWLs are located. The fees help local governments pay for services that mitigate the impacts that these large landfills may have on their communities. Georgia’s host fee has long been one of the lowest in the nation, stuck at $1 per ton of waste delivered to the landfill. House Bill 792 sought to raise the host fee to $2.50 to better reflect the costs incurred by these local governments in which MSWLs operate.
Unfortunately, Georgia Power decided it would not abide this increased fee, particularly while it is undertaking the largest consolidation and transfer of coal ash waste in state history. The utility frantically lobbied to freeze the fee increase so it would continue paying just $1 for coal ash waste sent to MSWLs. Georgia Power sought to delay the fee increase until after it has completed its efforts to close and consolidate its coal ash ponds and transfer millions of tons of the waste to MSWLs across Georgia.
However thanks to the United States Constitution, this kind of handout is only legal if it applies to all similarly situated entities across state lines. This means that Georgia’s abysmally low host fees would be frozen for allcoal ash waste shipments to Georgia landfills, whether the toxic sludge comes from Georgia or Florida or any other state. Thanks to its hold on our state legislators, Georgia Power succeeded: the host fee is frozen at $1 for all types of coal ash waste until 2025.
The message was received loud and clear: Georgia is the Southeast’s regional dumping ground for coal ash waste. We are sure to remain the cheapest option for utilities seeking to dispose of millions of tons of coal ash sludge well into the next decade.
There are currently six (6) MSWLs permitted by the State EPD to accept and store coal ash waste. These landfills are scattered across the state and situated along a variety of Georgia’s beautiful river basins.
- Cherokee County (Coosa River)
- Meriwether County (Chattahoochee River)
- Banks County (Savannah River)
- Taylor County (Flint River)
- Chatham County (Ogeechee River)
- Charlton County (St. Marys River)
These landfills are situated alongside streams and above vital groundwater aquifers that supply water to hundreds of thousands of Georgians. Current laws are insufficient to ensure that these landfills are capable of safely storing coal ash waste for the long-term. As such it is dangerous to consolidate high concentrations of Georgia Power’s toxic coal ash waste in these landfills. It is irresponsible and indefensible to pass laws that encourages other states beyond Georgia to ship their toxic coal ash waste into our communities.
Our elected officials must take legislative action to undo this egregious violation of the peoples’ trust. HB 792 sought to increase landfill host fees to allow local governments to mitigate the impacts these MSWLs have on their communities. Instead special interests hijacked the legislation and incentivized the shipment of millions of tons of out-of-state toxic waste into these counties.
When the 2019 session of the Georgia legislature convenes in January, the GWC Legislative Team will work to convince our state leaders to repeal the provision that gave Georgia Power and out-of-state waste generators this free pass to dump coal ash waste on Georgians.