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.
Earlier this year at the Georgia Water Coalition’s Clean 13 Celebration, the work of Mark Masters was recognized for many contributions to water planning and conservation in Georgia, including his long-term efforts coordinating and supporting the work of the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) Stakeholders while they developed a water sharing agreement between diverse interests from Georgia, Florida and Alabama.
Since then, the ideas espoused by ACF Stakeholders and highlighted by GWC in the 2017 Clean 13 Report have gained the attention of the Supreme Court.
In June 2018, the high court sent the Florida v. Georgia case back to a special master for further deliberations.
In doing so the justices affirmed several ACF Stakeholders recommendations. The court has an expectation that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will not simply sit on the sidelines, and that the health of the river ecosystem can be considered along with concerns over uses like drinking water or irrigation for agriculture.
During the court proceedings overseen by Special Master Ralph Lancaster in fall of 2016, he repeatedly referenced the ACF Stakeholders Sustainable Water Management Plan (SWMP) and questioned numerous witnesses about the plan.
In August 2018, the Supreme Court appointed federal appellate court judge Paul J. Kelly, Jr. as the new special master in the case. While it remains to be seen whether Judge Kelly will lean on the SWMP as did special master Lancaster, it appears the ACF Stakeholders recommendations are reaching as far as Washington D.C. In recognition of the hard work and diligence of this stakeholders group, the GWC is honoring them as a recipient of our 2018 Clean 13 award.
Since 2011, Georgia’s taxpayers have paid NEARLY $50 million in legal fees for water wars litigation. The ACF Stakeholders SWMP, produced at a cost of $1.7 million, provides a road map for solving the dispute without additional, costly litigation. The 2018 GWC Clean 13 Report was released on September 19th. To download a copy and read about all of the 2018 Clean 13 Awardees click here.
Revising the GWC’s Biennial Report of Recommendations
Every two years, since 2002, the Georgia Water Coalition has released a report of recommendations for protecting and restoring Georgia’s water resources. This report serves as the foundation for our water advocacy work. All of our GWC members are given the opportunity to provide input during the revision process. We work to address new issues that have developed since the last report and also to determine if any old issues have since been resolved. For instance, during the revision process in 2016, we added language about pipelines, fracking, and sea level rise. All changes to the report are agreed upon by consensus of those members that are present at the biennial revision meeting.
This summer on July 18th we will be revising our 2017 Biennial Report at the Alcovy Conservation Center in Covington. The revision process will be in two parts:
A team recently pulled all of the policy positions/recommendations that were in the report and put them in a spreadsheet. They asked some questions in the spreadsheet that we need our members to answer. Questions like “How did this position originate?” “Is it still relevant?” The spreadsheet was sent to all of our GWC members on June 15th. Members were asked to answer the questions for the policy positions that matter the most to them. We also asked our members to let us know of any new water related issues that have arisen since our last revision in 2016. All input should be submitted to Chris Manganiello at [email protected] by July 5th.
On July 18th we will meet in person and go over the entire report, all recommendations that were sent in early, additional recommendations that are presented at the meeting, and vote on the changes to the report.
The new report will be created during the fall of 2018 and will be released in January of 2019. Watch your email for announcements about the revision process and for information about registering for the July 18th membership meeting. If you have any questions please contact Gina Rogers, GWC Director of Operations at [email protected]
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: Jennette Gayer [email protected] 0-404-370-1764, M-703-475-3228
BILLS TO PROTECT COMMUNITIES FROM COAL WASTE INTRODUCED Georgia Water Coalition applauds legislators for taking steps to protect communities and waterways
ATLANTA, GA (February 13, 2018)—The Georgia Water Coalition (GWC) applauds state Representative Jeff Jones (R-Brunswick) and a bipartisan list of cosponsors for their work to protect communities around Georgia from the toxic contaminants found in coal ash. After working to address concerns from Georgia Power and the Georgia Environmental Protection Division regarding legislation filed last year, Representative Jones introduced two bills that will help keep coal ash out of the water in which we swim and from which we drink, and people informed about coal ash present in their communities.
The first bill HB 879 would require Georgia Power and other power generating utilities to notify local communities when they plan to drain coal ash pits into local waterways. The second, HB 880 would require notification and more stringent testing at landfills that are accepting coal ash. It would also prohibit municipal solid waste landfills located in floodplains or too close to shallow aquifers from accepting coal ash.
“Keeping coal ash out of our public waters is a top priority for the Georgia Water Coalition,” said Juliet Cohen, chair of the GWC’s legislative committee and Director of the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper. “More than half of the state’s major river basins are affected by coal ash. This is something that the 200 plus groups in our coalition are very concerned about.”
“These are common-sense bills that will ensure that Georgians know what is going on in their communities,” said Representative Jones. “Georgia is one of the country’s largest repositories of coal ash. Some is already here, and some is shipped in from other states. We must make sure, by law, that this ash does not contaminate our waters.”
Coal ash is the toxic-laden waste left behind after coal is burned to generate energy. Coal ash waste contains many heavy metals and other toxic elements, which are concentrated in the ash when they are prevented from escaping through the plants’ smokestacks. The toxic contaminants in coal ash have been linked to serious health impacts and include arsenic, lead, mercury, selenium, cadmium, and chromium. Georgia Power has 29 unlined coal ash pits and roughly 90 million tons of coal ash.
Following major spills and damage in North Carolina and Tennessee, a federal rule is requiring dry storage of coal ash moving forward in most cases. This is driving utilities across the southeast, including Georgia Power, to drain their coal ash ponds, and it also means Georgia landfills are now accepting coal ash from inside and outside of the state.
The GWC plans to make HB 879 and HB 880 top priorities on March 1, when the GWC hosts Capitol Conservation Day. Water lovers from all over the state will visit the Capitol to discuss important legislation with their representatives.
About Georgia Water Coalition: The Georgia Water Coalition’s (GWC) mission is to protect and care for Georgia’s surface water and groundwater resources, which are essential for sustaining economic prosperity, providing clean and abundant drinking water, preserving diverse aquatic habitats for wildlife and recreation, strengthening property values, and protecting the quality of life for current and future generations. The members of the Georgia Water Coalition work collaboratively and transparently with each other to achieve specific goals conservation goals.
December 4, 2017
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Jen Hilburn, Altamaha Riverkeeper, [email protected], 912-441-3908
Gordon Rogers, Flint Riverkeeper, [email protected], 912-223-6761
EPD Responds to Dirty Dozen Listing By Proposing Dirty Rule Change
Atlanta, GA—This week, the Board of the Department of Natural Resources will consider changes to a water pollution rule that could harm all of Georgia’s waterways in the interest of industrial polluters.
One week after Rayonier Advanced Materials was listed as a top polluter in the Georgia Water Coalition’s 2017 Dirty Dozen report, the Georgia Environmental Protection Division proposed changes to clean water regulations to allow Rayonier to continue polluting the Altamaha River. The smelly and visible discharge from the facility prevents many community members from swimming and fishing in the area. EPD’s request to change the rule also comes after a state administrative law judge recently ruled that Rayonier AM’s discharge violates existing state water quality rules. In its letter to the Board of Natural Resources, EPD requested approval for amendments that would re-write the regulation:
“All waters shall be free from material related to municipal, industrial or other discharges which produce turbidity, color, odor or other objectionable conditions which unreasonably [language added] interfere with designated [replaces “legitimate”] water uses.”
These changes would have major ramifications and would apply to all of Georgia’s rivers, lakes and streams. Changing “legitimate” to “designated” would reduce legal protections for activities such as boating and swimming. The insertion of “unreasonably” would give industrial polluters an additional loophole to weaken citizen enforcement suits.
“Every waterfront property owner in Georgia and every fisherman, paddler, and swimmer should pay attention,” said Gordon Rogers, Flint Riverkeeper. “Your water and your property values are being put in jeopardy by the state agency that is supposed to protect you, but in fact is in the pocket of well-connected, powerful polluters.”
“This isn’t just a simple matter of changing a few words in a meaningless rule—these proposed amendments would gut protections for Georgia’s rivers, streams and creeks across the entire state,” said Jen Hilburn, Altamaha Riverkeeper. “Giving polluters a free pass has already contributed to the degradation of the Altamaha River, and continuing down the path of weaker enforcement does nothing to protect Georgia citizens.”
About the Georgia Water Coalition:
The Georgia Water Coalition is a consortium of over 240 conservation and environmental organizations, hunting and fishing groups, businesses, and faith-based organizations. The Coalition’s mission is to protect and care for Georgia’s surface water and groundwater resources, which are essential for sustaining economic prosperity, providing clean and abundant drinking water, preserving diverse aquatic habitats for wildlife and recreation, strengthening property values, and protecting the quality of life for current and future generations.
For Immediate Release Nov. 14, 2017: Today, Georgia’s leading water advocacy organizations released their “Dirty Dozen” for 2017 in a 28-page report highlighting 12 of the worst offenses to Georgia’s waters (https://www.gawater.org/resources/dirty-dozen).
The seventh annual Dirty Dozen report shines a spotlight on threats to Georgia’s water and highlights the polluters and the policies or failures that threaten the health and safety of Georgia’s waters. High on this year’s list are rollbacks to clean water protections that benefit the polluters at the cost of Georgians—a recurring theme since the first Dirty Dozen report was released in 2011.
“This report shows how changing policy in Washington, D.C. is having real pollution impacts in Georgia communities,” said Joe Cook, Advocacy and Communication Coordinator for the Coosa River Basin Initiative in Rome. “Couple those changes with continued lackluster funding for state clean water programs, and you have a one-two punch that, if not a knock out, has some of our rivers and lakes on the ropes.”
After bowing to pressure from energy lobbyists, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has delayed new rules limiting pollution from coal-fired power plants. This delay directly affects the health of Georgia’s waterways and allows toxins like mercury, lead, arsenic and selenium to continue to be dumped into Georgia waterways.
Likewise, the EPA’s decision to redefine what water bodies are protected under the Clean Water Act could leave thousands of miles of Georgia’s streams and thousands of acres of wetlands with no protections.
Meanwhile, at the state level, funding for Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division (EPD), the state agency charged with enforcing clean water laws, remains poor. Since 2005, EPD has seen its appropriations fall while state revenues have grown. Adjusted for inflation, Georgia’s 2017 revenue was $3.3 billion more than in 2005, yet in 2017 EPD received almost 25 percent less support from the lawmakers than it did in 2005.
This underfunding has resulted in prolonged delays to cleanup the Coosa River near Rome as well as other water bodies while also hampering the cleanup of hundreds of hazardous waste sites and illegal tire dumps across the state.
And, all too often, the state defends big business rather than protecting ordinary citizens from pollution. On the Altamaha River, despite court rulings asking EPD to fix noxious pollution coming from the Rayonier Advanced Materials facility in Jesup, the state agency continues to defend its actions and the multinational corporation.
“All Georgians deserve better,” said Jen Hilburn, Altamaha Riverkeeper. “We and other Georgia Water Coalition members should not have to file lawsuits to get our state to enforce clean water laws, but too often through lack of funding or lack of political will, EPD fails to protect us and our water.”
Issues highlighted in the Dirty Dozen report include:
The Georgia Water Coalition is a consortium of more than 240 conservation and environmental organizations, hunting and fishing groups, businesses, and faith-based organizations that have been working to protect Georgia’s water since 2002. Collectively, these organizations represent more than 250,000 Georgians.
WHAT: On Tuesday, Nov. 14, the Georgia Water Coalition will host a tele-press conference for the release of our seventh annual Dirty Dozen report which highlights 12 of the worst offenses to Georgia’s waters and serves as a call to action to solve these problems. Each of the issues in the report will be highlighted and representatives with the Georgia Water Coalition will be on the call to answer questions.