Lawmakers take steps to slow Georgia’s coal ash imports to landfills

    Georgia's environmental agency charged with regulating air polluters is dealing with budget woes in part caused by lost fees from a shift from decreased use of coal for energy. Plant Bowen near Cartersville is one of a few coal-fired plants Georgia Power still operates in the state. File/Georgia Recorder

    Georgia state senators Monday overwhelmingly backed a fee hike to curb financial incentives for waste companies to dump toxic coal ash in landfills across the state.

    Senate Bill 123 now heads over to the House of Representatives after the 52-2 Senate vote to align the cost to dump coal ash with what it costs to take household garbage to a landfill. If the bill passes, counties can collect $2.50 per ton, up from $1. Lawmakers raised the fee for garbage to $2.50 per ton in 2018, but left the price for coal ash at $1.

    Coal ash disposal took on a high profile at the Capitol Monday, with a few dozen residents from Juliette pressing lawmakers to force Georgia Power to dispose of toxic coal ash in lined storage. Instead, they headed back to their community near Plant Scherer with little more than the assurance Georgia lawmakers might make the state a less attractive place to ship coal ash.

    The landfill bill’s sponsor said the higher fee will help local governments avoid subsidizing millions of tons of the waste from other states’ coal-fired power plants. Atlanta-based Georgia Power has also objected to paying the higher tab if Ligon’s bill passes.

    “The hope is this will help Georgia stop from being a repository for coal ash that’s generated here as well as other places,” Sen. William Ligon, a Brunswick Republican, told lawmakers on Monday. “It also removes a prohibition that prevents those fees generated from being used to assist those counties and all of their operations.”

    Coal ash storage polices are a simmering controversy across Georgia, with environmentalists asking for stricter coal ash regulations, such as requiring it to be stored in lined landfills.

    Georgia Power continues to resist the call to use lined storage at all coal ash sites because it costs more. The state Public Service Commission approved Georgia Power’s request to charge ratepayers $525 million to clean up coal ash waste in December as part of a $1.8 billion rate hike.

    Stanley Dunlap
    Stanley Dunlap has covered government and politics for news outlets in Georgia and Tennessee for the past decade. At The (Macon) Telegraph he told readers about Macon-Bibb County’s challenges implementing its recent consolidation, with a focus on ways the state Legislature determines the fate of local communities. He used open records requests to break a story of a $400 million pension sweetheart deal a county manager steered to a friendly consultant. The Georgia Associated Press Managing Editors named Stanley a finalist for best deadline reporting for his story on the death of Gregg Allman and best beat reporting for explanatory articles on the 2018 Macon-Bibb County budget deliberations. The Tennessee Press Association honored him for his reporting on the disappearance of Holly Bobo, which became a sensational murder case that generated national headlines.