Last week, the nonprofit Sierra Club, an environmental watchdog group, notified Georgia Power about the organization’s intent to sue over a proposed utility company plan to clean ponds in the State of Georgia containing toxic coal ash residues. The utility firm has indicated it will remove environmental waste generated by 11 coal-burning plants in the Peach State. However, it seeks to empty out water from containment ponds at some sites without first obtaining updated permits.
Moving Away From Coal Ash Ponds
As a subsidiary of Southern Company, Georgia Power operates as a utility in 155 of the state’s 159 counties. It provides power for business and residential customers using a combination of resources. Energy sources utilized by the firm include nuclear power, natural gas, coal, solar power, wind energy and hydroelectric power.
The company for several years has sought to modernize some coal-burning facilities which generate coal ash. This waste product occurs following the burning of coal for energy. Coal ash sometimes includes toxic heavy metal components, such as lead, mercury and arsenic. Previously, some 29 coal ash waste ponds contained much of this material. The Sierra Club seeks to ensure the water removed from these sites won’t damage adjoining waterways or public drinking water systems.
The Coal Ash Pond Cleanup Effort
Georgia Power recently indicated the closure of the existing coal ash ponds will constitute part of a projected $2 billion cleanup plan. The firm will shut down all the coal ash ponds. It expects to treat contaminated water, or recycle it. Workers will also remove coal ash deposits to other locations, seal them in place, or recycle them, too. The details of this effort have generated concern on the part of Georgia environmentalists, who fear the recycling of heavy metals may contribute to public health problems unless conducted in strict accord with federal clean water regulations.
The utility began emptying coal ash ponds near its McManus Plant outside Brunswick, Georgia late last year. Since this action occurred without the company first seeking updated permit approvals, the Sierra Club has indicated it will seek an injunction. It wants remediation to ensure the water removal efforts comply with environmental safety standards. A spokesman for Georgia Power contended in an email responding to an Atlanta journalist the firm has complied fully with rules enforced by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division and will launch a robust defense.