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Georgia Power gets its way again

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Georgia Power gets its way again

Dec 05, 2023 | 12:25 pm ET
By Dink Nesmith
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Georgia Power gets its way again
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For years our guest columnist Dink NeSmith has sounded the alarm over ways Georgia Power disposes of toxic ash generated to produce electricity at Plant Hammond and its other coal-fired plants. Credit Coosa River Basin Initiative

Surprise.

Surprise.

Georgia Power gets its way again.

For now.

Was I surprised that Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division (EPD) greenlighted the mega-utility’s plan to ignore the dangerous-pollution risk in some of its leaking coal-ash ponds?

Are you kidding?

Whatever Georgia Power thinks that it needs or wants (I’ll leave rate hikes for another day) is explained in the next sentence. They don’t call it Georgia Power for naught.

Why would I say that?

The past is an excellent predictor of the future. Georgia Power and its parent—the Southern Company—arguably have the best lobbying force in the state, maybe the nation. Follow the money that the two spend on influence peddling, and you’ll see the results in the EPD, the Public Service Commission and the General Assembly.

And don’t forget Washington, D.C.

Three states out of 50 persuaded the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to allow them to set their own coal-ash rules.

Guess which ones?

Oklahoma, Texas and Georgia.

Repeat: Follow the money. Study how much whatever-it-takes money was spent by Oklahoma, Texas and Georgia to gain exception status to federal guidelines for safe storing of toxic coal ash.

Therefore, I was not surprised on Nov. 18 to read in the Georgia Recorder “Environmental groups call for federal action after regulators OK Georgia Power coal ash permit.”

But I digress.

If you haven’t followed the coal-ash trail, you might ask: “What is coal ash, and what is the concern?”

Coal ash is industrial waste produced from burning coal. Georgia Power has burned a gazillion tons providing electricity for its customers. Coal has been a plentiful and cheap source of energy. But after coal is burned, nasty stuff, loaded with arsenic, mercury, lead, cadmium and other dangerous heavy metals, is left to threaten the environment.

For decades, Georgia Power has stored the waste in unlined, watery ponds. Many of those piles of coal ash are sitting deep—often very deep—in groundwater that could pollute our drinking water.

Georgia Power made the right choice when it announced the abandonment of coal. But the utility is not committed to entirely clean up its environmental mess. Georgia Power is excavating most of its ash ponds and storing that coal ash for possible recycling into cement and other options.

What’s troubling is that the company is balking—thanks to its special privilege—and plans to “cap in place” as many as 10 of its ponds. The strategy is to closely monitor the leaky ponds, wait and see whether those watery holes need to be excavated, too.

Duh.

You are either pregnant or you are not.

You are either vigilant and committed to protecting people and the environment or you’re not.

So, where are we now?

The EPA has denied Alabama Power—a sister company of Georgia Power—the right to store its coal ash in watery ponds. That decision casts wonder over what happens in our state. Clean-water advocates—who are committed to protecting people and the environment—believe the EPA should make coal-ash rules stout in all 50 states. While we sleep, Georgia Power’s lobbyists and lawyers will be spinning their meters to thwart that.

But in the interim, I am not surprised.

Georgia Power is a good company. It hires the best people, who have a history of civic involvement.

Georgia Power is an all-star on the state’s world-class economic-development team.

And when a storm knocks out the power, we know those big white trucks will roll to our rescue.

But there’s one thing that Georgia Power is too good at doing.

It’s too good at getting its way with the handling of toxic coal ash.

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