Safe Disposal of Coal Ash

Coal ash, the waste leftover from burning coal, is toxic. Coal ash has harmful metals, like mercury and arsenic, and other dangerous chemicals. These chemicals become even more dangerous when they enter our water supplies. Recent disasters spilled toxic coal ash into rivers and across people’s land in the southeast. On top of these high profile spills, pollution monitoring conducted by power companies shows that these unlined pits leak and contaminate groundwater. So now some–but not all–electric utilities are moving millions of tons of this waste to lined landfills to get them out of old, leaky unlined ponds.

On January 11, 2022, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sent a letter to the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD), reinforcing longstanding federal regulations stating that coal ash cannot be permanently stored in contact with groundwater. This directive directly implicates pending permit applications under review by EPD addressing Georgia Power’s plans to leave coal ash in place in unlined pits at power plants along the Coosa, Chattahoochee and Ocmulgee rivers.

At 5 different power plants on these rivers, Georgia Power is seeking permission from EPD to leave toxic coal ash in contact with groundwater, which risks long-term contamination of groundwater and potential leaching of contaminated groundwater into adjacent surface waters.

Furthermore, on August 17, 2023, EPA announced new National Enforcement and Compliance Initiatives, including “Protecting Communities from Coal Ash Contamination.”  If EPD issued a permit allowing coal to contaminate groundwater and adjacent communities, then EPA would be compelled to act. 

Despite these federal actions, on November 13, 2023, Georgia’s EPD issued a close-in-place permit at Plant Hammond for Ash Pond 3 knowing that toxic coal ash would be left in contact with groundwater.

Federal law is clear: coal ash cannot be left in groundwater to perpetually threaten us and future generations of Georgians. It must be excavated and stored in permitted, lined landfills away from groundwater and surface waters.

Since 2016, to protect communities around the state, the Georgia Water Coalition (GWC) has advocated for legislative and regulatory remedies that will:

  • Ensure all of Georgia’s toxic coal ash waste is stored in dry, lined, and capped facilities.
  • Aggressively monitor coal ash storage facilities for leaks.
  • Require public notification when coal ash waste threatens communities.
  • Require producers of coal ash to provide drinking water when coal ash contamination is discovered in private drinking water wells.
  • Keep coal ash landfills away from wetlands and fragile ecosystems.

November 18, 2023, Environmental Groups Call for Federal Action After Regulators OK Georgia Power Coal Ash Permit

November 16, 2023: State grants controversial coal ash pond closure permit

October 6, 2023: The Danger Upstream: In Disposing Coal Ash, One of These States is Not Like the Others

September 28, 2023: Georgia environmentalists ask for a stronger EPA hand in coal ash regulation

September 27, 2023: Georgia coal ash pond neighbors channel frustrations through proposed EPA crackdown in Alabama

November 29, 2022: Why a coal ash decision in Ohio may cause problems for Georgia Power

February 22, 2022. EPD Approves Coal Ash Storage Plans for Plant Bowen

January 11, 2022: US EPA Warns Georgia Coal Ash Cannot Be Permanently Stored in Groundwater

Read about coal ash contamination in Juliette in The Grist.

April 1, 2021. No Coal Ash Progress from 2021 Legislative Session

February 26, 2021. The Newnan Times-Herald. "Wrong is wrong, especially when lives are on the line"

September 29, 2020. The Albany Herald. "Georgia Water Coalition Lauds Passage of Coal Ash Bill".

September 28, 2020 - Georgia Water Coalition Issues Coal Ash Thank Yous

June 24, 2020 - One coal ash bill headed to Governor’s desk

June 19, 2020, Senate Committee passes coal ash drainage bill

June 18, 2020 - "Bill to discourage out-of-state coal ash import clears major committee hurdle".

Map of coal ash storage from coal-fired utilities in Georgia, December 2018. Please send additions or corrections to info@gawater.org

If you would like to contact a representative of the Georgia Water Coalition with questions about coal ash, contact:

Chris Manganiello, PhD
Water Policy Director, Chattahoochee Riverkeeper
Email: cmanganiello@chattahoochee.org