Commentary

Opinion: Time will not heal toxic-coal-ash sore

November 14, 2021 7:15 pm

Guest columnist Dink NeSmith wonders why is Georgia Power balking at putting coal ash in lined storage in some locations, like Rome’s Plant Hammond on the edge of the Coosa River. The company wants to cap in place the toxic waste in some unlined pits that sit in groundwater and are leaking. Photo courtesy of Coosa River Basin Initiative

Shhhhhhhhhhhh.

Listen.

Do you hear it?

Could be clinking cocktail glasses.

Could be snickering.

Could be both.

High up—above everyday Georgians, in Georgia Power and the Southern Company’s ivory towers—I imagine multimillion-dollar executives are celebrating the squeeze they have on our state’s decision-makers. As Sherlock Holmes would say, “They don’t call it Georgia Power for naught, my dear Watson.”

I have a theory as to why our beloved Peach State and its future generations are likely to suffer a festering, never-to-heal environmental sore. Georgia Power—our state’s largest utility and one of our most important corporations—must think time will heal our toxic-coal-ash sore.

You don’t have to be a scientific genius to see that time isn’t the safest solution. So why is Georgia Power being so hardheaded in its approach? I have a theory on that, too. But first let’s look at the positives.

Its coal-powered plants are being systematically shuttered. This is a huge step in the right direction. Thanks, Georgia Power.

Georgia Power and its parent, the Southern Company, are among the irreplaceable elite gears in our state’s economic engine. The two powerhouses—figuratively and literally—make great things happen for us. For generations, Georgia Power has touted its motto “A citizen wherever we serve.” And that’s 99 percent true. I’ll talk about the remaining 1 percent in a minute.

Over my half-century in business, I have marveled at the civic-minded men and women of Georgia Power. Some of my best friends spent their careers radiating the utility’s motto by giving of themselves to improve the communities, wherever they serve. And who among us hasn’t cheered when those big white trucks roll into our neighborhoods to restore our electricity after a storm? Those Georgia Power workers risk their lives for us. Heroes, indeed.

That’s why I am mystified why this traditionally generous corporate giant is so reluctant to do the right things about its leaking and toxic coal-ash ponds. At this moment, all eyes of 10 million Georgians should be watching how our state’s regulators and lawmakers are likely to yield—once again—to Georgia Power’s army of vise-grip lobbyists.

I believe the right thing for the behemoth utility to do is remove all toxic coal ash from its watery ponds. That’s what’s happening in some locations. Thank you, Georgia Power. But why is the company balking in some locations? Consider Rome’s Plant Hammond on the edge of the Coosa River. The company wants to cap in place the toxic waste in some unlined pits that sit in groundwater and are leaking.

Come on, Georgia Power.

Surely you know that time will not cure this toxic-coal-ash sore.

The slogan of FRAM oil filters underscores the inevitable truth: “Pay me now or pay me later.” That’s exactly what Georgia Power is asking our great-great-grandchildren to do. Pay for the company’s—in my opinion—irresponsible approach to helping heal this festering and poisonous environmental abscess.

So why would such an otherwise corporate all-star be so stubborn about doing the right thing?

Sad but true, Georgia Power’s history of getting its way with regulators and lawmakers is a good predictor of the future.

And that’s why you might hear snickering and clinking cocktail glasses in Georgia Power and the Southern Company’s ivory towers.

That should make us wonder, “Is it corporate arrogance or greed that keeps Georgians in this shameful, health-threatening situation?”

Ummm.

Could be both.

Arrogance and greed.

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Dink Nesmith
Dink Nesmith

Dink NeSmith is co-owner and president of Athens-based Community Newspapers Inc., publisher of more than two dozen newspapers in Georgia, Florida and North Carolina.

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