April 3, 2018

Georgia Power puts squeeze on Gold Dome, again

     Make no mistake.    
     I am appreciative of Georgia Power, especially when I flip a switch and there’s light, air conditioning and heat.  And when disasters strike, their folks—wearing hard hats and driving those big trucks—are quick to respond.  They risk their lives to make ours better.
     Going back as far as I can remember, some of the best civic leaders our community has ever known worked for Georgia Power. Bob Shaw, Rick Thomas, G.A. Nasworthy, Mike Garrett and James Griffin—just to name a few—proved the utility company really meant: “A Citizen Wherever We Serve.”  Travel anywhere in the state, and you can hear similar testimonies.
     The jobs-creating behemoth is an irreplaceable cog in our state’s economic engine.  With its more-or-less bottomless pockets and an army of lobbyists, Georgia Power has the clout to make things happen or not happen.  That’s mostly a good thing. 
     I wish this story stopped there, but it doesn’t.
    Georgia Power wants the public to see its shiny, feel-good public image. What it would like for us to overlook is the giant’s underbelly coated with millions of tons of toxic coal ash.  And it doesn’t take a modern-day Sherlock Holmes to discover how effectively the utility company puts the squeeze on the Gold Dome.  The governor, the lieutenant governor, and many members of both the General Assembly and the Public Service Commission are quick to kowtow to Georgia Power’s wishes.  In return, just like electricity, campaign contributions flow. 
     What’s happened in the past three sessions of the General Assembly makes it obvious—Georgia Power enjoys a nearly untouchable sacred-cow status.  Since the controversy over toxic coal ash erupted, several state representatives and senators have tried to get better environmental and public-notice laws passed.
     If it weren’t serious, it’d be comical to watch the backroom pressure to water down, gut or outright kill measures designed to protect 10 million Georgians.  One longtime political observer has labeled the House’s natural resources committee “The Georgia Power Fan Club.”  Again, you don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to detect that nothing gets out of that body without Georgia Power’s stamp of approval.
     Consider these 2018 examples:
§  Glynn County’s Rep. Jeff Jones introduced House Bill 879.  He thought people ought to know when water from toxic coal-ash ponds—after being treated—is about to be dumped into the state’s waterways.  A diluted version of the bill passed in the House, but it died in the Senate.  And who has dozens of toxic coal-ash ponds in our state?  Georgia Power.
§  Rep. Jones also introduced House Bill 880 to establish more strict regulations for landfills which could accept toxic coal ash.  The House natural resources and environment committee, chaired by Jesup native Rep. Lynn Ratigan Smith of Newnan, promptly put that measure in the round file. Who benefits from that?  You know the answer: landfill operators and Georgia Power.
§  The General Assembly did pass a bill to increase the minimum landfill host fee from $1 per ton to $2.50 per ton in 2019.  Guess what got excluded from an increase until 2025?  That’s right, toxic coal ash.  And who has millions of tons of toxic coal ash that needs to be dumped somewhere?  That’s right, Georgia Power.
Make no mistake.
I appreciate the good Georgia Power does. 
Besides, our state needs Georgia Power.
But what Georgia also needs is for the company’s corporate honchos to loosen their political grip on
the Gold Dome and live up to its motto: “A Citizen Wherever We Serve.”