Ga. lawmakers push to end ‘subsidizing’ coal ash imports

    Georgia Power helped stall a bill last year to raise landfill fees to dump coal ash, a byproduct of its power generating facilities like Plant Bowen near Cartersville. File/Georgia Recorder

    Georgia will require local governments to collect more money from coal-fired power producers that are dumping toxic ash in their community, under a bill gaining traction in the state Senate.

    Lately, it’s cheaper to bury household garbage in Georgia than to bury coal ash, which can contain toxins like boron and arsenic.

    “In essence, the way the law was set up was subsidizing bringing in coal ash from other areas of the country,” said state Sen. William Ligon, a Brunswick Republican and sponsor of Senate Bill 123. “We shouldn’t be subsidizing that. Everybody should pay their fair share.”

    Landfills in Georgia have accepted millions of tons of the waste from other states’ coal-fired power plants. Georgia is coping with its own coal ash disposal problems and state environmental regulators are negotiating a solution with Georgia Power.

    If Ligon’s bill is successful, the fee local governments collect for dumping coal ash in private landfills will increase to at least $2.50 per ton, up from $1 per ton. That’s the same floor price as for the disposal of a ton of household garbage.

    When the state Legislature last adjusted tipping fees, it set coal ash fees lower than garbage fees. That 2018 legislation, which is in effect now, put the coal ash fee at $1 per ton and scheduled it to rise to $2 per ton on July 1, 2025.

    It took less than 10 minutes for Ligon’s bill to get unanimous approval from the state Senate Natural Resources and Environment Committee Tuesday afternoon.

    Ligon introduced the bill early in the 2019 legislative session, but it got resistance in part from Georgia Power, on the grounds that all that new coal ash disposal cost could soar. This year is the second in a two-year cycle and bills filed last year can be quickly revived.

    The bill leaves some other potentially toxic subjects unresolved. Environmentalists want the state to require coal ash to be stored in lined landfills, and that Georgia stop accepting out-of-state ash altogether.

    Maggie Lee
    Maggie Lee is a freelance reporter who's been covering Georgia and metro Atlanta government and politics since 2008. Her written work and data journalism has appeared in online and print outlets including The (Macon) Telegraph, Creative Loafing and SaportaReport.com.