Two coal ash regulation bills are kaput for the present legislative session, but the ideas behind them still have some life after actions taken late last week in the General Assembly.
Thursday, state House Natural Resources and Environment Chairwoman Lynn Smith, R-Newnan, let it be known Rep. Jeff Jones’ coal ash bills — H.B. 377 and H.B. 378 — were not going to make it out of subcommittee in time to pass before the crossover deadline of the end of business Friday.
“Both these bills rest still in the subcommittees because there is still a lot of debate and discussion going on with these bills,” Smith said. She later noted she was hearing a large number of questions from committee members.
“First of all, what I’ve heard is that we’re in no way ready to have a debate on these bills and to call for a vote, because it is very complicated,” she said.
She pointed out H.B. 1028, which passed during the last legislative session, mandates notifying the public if contaminated water from a coal ash pond leaked off the property where it was contained.
“What I’m trying to tell you here is you’ve already done something, and you’re on your way to studying this situation more and to see if there’s more that needs to be done,” Smith said.
She — under her authority as committee chairwoman — appointed an ad hoc study committee to handle the subject going forward. Smith appointed Reps. Buddy Harden, R-Cordele; Chad Nimmer, R-Blackshear; and Chuck Williams, R-Watkinsville to the committee.
Jones, testifying before the committee, said the bills were not advanced because of the violation of laws already on the books.
“There have been no laws broken here in the state of Georgia regarding the handling, treatment, discharge of coal ash,” Jones said. “Georgia Power, in particular — I want to emphasize — has been an excellent corporate citizen. They have exceeded the requirements, they have anticipated the requirements and have moved far ahead of what any law, whether it be federal or state, has required regarding the proper closure of ponds, and/or the receipt of coal ash.”
Jones said what he was trying to do was deal with the massive coal ash volume contained within the state and to notify the public before coal ash enters a community or before dewatering takes place, which could lead to off-site contamination.
“What has happened in the Jesup community is that community received no prior notification — the public at large, let me clarify — the public at large received no notification of Republic (Services’), the Broadhurst landfill’s intent to begin receiving, as I said, what are massive quantities of coal ash,” Jones said.
State Environmental Protection Division Director Rick Dunn said public notice through local newspapers was not usual procedure for EPD.
“What we offered to Rep. Jones is to make an offer on our website, which we think news would eventually filter down and get to folks through various people,” Dunn said. “If the citizens themselves were not looking at the website, certainly advocacy groups, reporters and things like that would be looking at the website and that information would get down.”
While stating legislators would still be leaving the committee hearing without providing for public notice for coal ash dumping and dewatering, Jones said he realized that creating a new law is a process.
“This is my third year (in the legislature), and I’ve had a number of bills that I’ve tried to work through,” Jones said. “This is a process and I’ve tried to work through, compromise and come up with legislation, if the legislation is even necessary, that clearly solves an identifiable problem.”
He later noted, “We’re at a point where we don’t want another Broadhurst to occur in this state,” and said he looked forward to the study process with the ad-hoc committee in the off-session.