Georgia Legislature adjourns without passing critical coal ash legislation

Media Contacts

Separate bill to limit out-of-state coal ash headed to Gov. Kemp

Environment Georgia

ATLANTA — Legislation that would warn communities when toxic coal ash ponds are drained into fresh water nearby (HB 93) stalled in the state Senate Committee on Rules on Friday, the last day of the 2019-2020 legislative session.

 “Georgia Power is already in the process of draining toxic coal ash ponds into the rivers and lakes that Georgians swim, fish and boat in without giving notice to downstream communities,” said Jennette Gayer, director of Environment Georgia and chair of the Georgia Water Coalition’s coal ash committee. ”Georgians have enough health worries already because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, on top of that, our communities will go at least another year without the clear warning they deserve about water pollution.” 

A second piece of legislation, SB 384, would have protected the Satilla River from coal ash landfills stalled in the state House Committee on Rules. 

“Our coastal blackwater rivers have wide, flat floodplains, and they are no place for a coal ash landfill,” said Laura Early, the Satilla Riverkeeper. “I’m disappointed by the failure of Georgia’s legislature and Gov. Kemp to recognize the importance of these beautiful resources to all Georgians.”

Earlier this week, the legislature passed a different coal ash bill, SB 123, and sent it to Gov. Brian Kemp for his signature. That bill  would close a loophole that encourages out-of-state businesses to dump coal ash in Georgia solid waste landfills.  It is the first bill to pass the Georgia legislature to address the massive threat coal ash poses in Georgia. We urge the governor to sign this legislation immediately.

“Anything to deter the hundreds of trucks hauling coal ash into our community or any other community is desperately needed,” said Tammy Purcell, a resident of Banks County, where the R&B Landfill has taken in more than 2.7 million tons of coal ash in the last three years, mostly from out of state. “I thank the legislature for moving this legislation and hope they will do more to ensure our communities are protected from toxic coal ash.” 

State lawmakers failed to consider legislation in committee that would require liners on all facilities storing coal ash. An effort to mandate liners in long-term coal ash storage facilities will now move to the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD). The agency has tentatively announced plans to permit permanent storage facilities with no liners at Plant Hammond near Rome, Plant McDonough in Cobb County and Plant Wansley near Carrollton in the summer and fall of 2020.

“Storing industrial waste full of toxic heavy metals permanently submerged in aquifers used for drinking water is not the legacy we should leave for future generations,” said Fletcher Sams of the Altamaha Riverkeeper. 

The Altamaha Riverkeeper worked with residents to test well water in Juliette, GA, near Plant Sherer, and they found high levels of carcinogens. 

“Other states in the South are making the right decision about coal ash for their residents. Georgians deserve the same, but now we have to wait till next session for justice to arrive in Juliette,” said Sams.