State Rep. Jeff Jones — joined by fellow St. Simons Republican Rep. Don Hogan and a bipartisan group of sponsors — made official this year’s effort at getting two coal ash disposal bills through the General Assembly by filing H.B. 93 and H.B. 94 on Jan. 29. They received first reading Wednesday.
In the 2018 session, H.B. 880 — last year’s version of H.B. 94 — didn’t make it out of committee. It’s essentially calling for safer standards and better public notice at municipal solid waste and commercial industrial solid waste landfills when it comes to coal ash.
For instance, before the modification of a permit to allow coal ash at one of those landfills, an owner or operator would have to make a public notice in the local legal organ — usually a print newspaper — within 14 days of submitting a permit modification application. Within seven business days, that notice would have to go on the state Environmental Protection Division’s website.
The bill has further technical requirements, like no landfill in a 100-year flood plain at the time of the original permitting of the site can accept coal ash. The other requirements can be read in the bill posted with this story at The News’ website and at its location on the General Assembly’s website at legis.ga.gov/Legislation/20192020/180040.pdf.
Last year, H.B. 879, the coal ash pond dewatering public notice bill, passed the House 169-3 and passed out of the Senate Natural Resources and Environment Committee, but never got a vote of the full chamber. The 2019 version, H.B. 93, is like its predecessors a fairly simple document.
It states that within three days of the start of dewatering, the owner or operator has to give notice to the EPD director and the local municipality in which the pond is located. Within seven days of that notice, the EPD director has to post notice on the division’s website stating the location of the pond and that dewatering’s commenced.
Further notification has to be posted by the pond owner/operator on its coal ash compliance data website, and within 14 days, notice has to go to the locality’s legal organ.
At the end of the last session, Jones told a group of local Republican women, “Prior to the beginning of the session in 2019, I intend to have all the objections worked out with all of those who are in the solid waste industry, so when we come into the 2019 session, pretty much all those objections will be worked out.”
Along with Jones and Hogan, sponsors of the bills the day they were filed include Reps. Rick Williams, R-Milledgeville; Bill Werkheiser, R-Glennville; Ron Stephens, R-Savannah; Jesse Petrea, R-Savannah; Mary Margaret Oliver, D-Decatur; Debbie Buckner, D-Junction City; Bee Nguyen, D-Atlanta; Teri Anulewicz, D-Smyrna; Tom McCall, R-Elberton; Mary Frances Williams, D-Marietta; Lee Hawkins, R-Gainesville; David Clark, R-Buford; Steven Sainz, R-Woodbine; and Deborah Silcox, R-Sandy Springs.
One Hundred Miles congratulated the legislators with a post on Facebook over the weekend.
“Nine times out of 10, when I speak with a legislator in Atlanta, they ask what they can do about coal ash,” Megan Desrosiers, CEO of OHM, said Monday. “The members of both the House and the Senate are concerned about coal ash pollutants contaminating our drinking water and our favorite fishing and swimming spots.
“Rep. Jones’ bills don’t prevent coal ash from being disposed in our state, rather they ensure precautions are taken to keep people safe.”
In other legislative action, Hogan — along with Rep. Carl Gilliard, D-Garden City — filed a resolution supporting protection of the coast, its environment and its industries, and against offshore energy exploration. A similar resolution received a lengthy hearing toward the end of the 2018 session but died in committee.
“I am grateful to legislators across the state of Georgia that are joining forces to support the hospitality, tourism, history, culture, military and fishing industries that make Coastal Georgia a great place to live, visit and work,” Hogan said in a statement Monday.
Gilliard specifically addressed seismic testing off the coast, which is progressing through the federal permitting process.
“The use of seismic air guns to search for oil and gas deposits deep beneath the Atlantic Ocean will harm marine mammals like dolphins and whales and devastate the food chain necessary to support our coastal fishing economy,” Gilliard said in the statement.
The legislators have a news conference scheduled regarding the resolution — H.R. 48 — Wednesday at the State Capitol at 2 p.m.