After extensive research, conversations, negotiations and legislative shepherding, state Rep. Jeff Jones, R-St. Simons Island, saw both of his coal ash-related bills stuck in a House subcommittee and effectively killed a year ago.
But as the saying goes, tomorrow is another day, and tomorrow turned out to be Tuesday, when Jones filed new legislation to tackle the coal ash problems left unaddressed at the end of last year’s General Assembly session.
If passed, House Bill 880 would result in “full public notice” before a public landfill could accept coal ash. The bill would also regulate coal ash storage in solid waste landfills.
“Today, Georgia is one of the country’s largest repositories of coal ash,” Jones said in a statement. “While we would like to prevent coal ash from being shipped into Georgia from out of state, we cannot stop it due to interstate commerce regs. Believe me when I say we have tried our best. But, we can make sure, by law, that our landfills properly store the coal ash.”
The other bill, H.B. 879, deals with the process of dewatering coal ash ponds with an emphasis on providing proper notice before the procedure begins.
“Lake Sinclair is a great example of a place where many families swim, boat and fish, right in the shadow of a power plant that currently stores coal ash in wet ponds,” Jones said. “For many years, wet storage of coal ash was the traditional method of coal ash storage.
“Now, the (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) has issued regs requiring all wet coal ash ponds be drained, dried and either capped in place — under certain and very limited controlled conditions — or the dried coal ash ponds must be dug up and the coal ash moved to landfills. The drying process requires that the coal ash pond water, which is full of heavy metals and toxins, be drained into state waters.”
Jones said he recognizes the water is treated to meet safety standards and becomes diluted once passing into larger water bodies.
“However, the initial outflow of coal ash pond water still contains a relatively high concentration of coal ash toxins until dilution occurs,” Jones said.
The main point of the bills, Jones reiterated, is to let people know what’s going on in their communities.
Environmental advocacy group One Hundred Miles announced its support of the bills, noting the months of work legislators, the state Environmental Protection Division and Georgia Power put into writing them.
“Rep. Jones knew that Georgia Power and EPD had issues with his bills last year and he worked very hard with them over the summer and fall to address their concerns,” OHM Executive Director Megan Desrosiers said. “These bills ensure that, as the ash ponds are drained and coal ash is moved around and stored all over our state, we all know what is happening and the responsible parties take appropriate precautions to keep us safe.”
Fellow St. Simons Island Republican, Rep. Don Hogan, sponsored both bills. Other sponsors of the landfill bill include Reps. Tom McCall, R-Elberton; Jay Powell, R-Camilla; Paul Battles, R-Cartersville; Rick Williams, R-Milledgeville; Mary Margaret Oliver, D-Decatur; Marc Morris, R-Cumming; Betty Price, R-Roswell; and Robert Trammel, D-Luthersville.
McCall, Powell, Battles, Williams, Oliver, Morris and Price are also sponsors of the dewatering bill.