January 10, 2019

‘Chickens coming home to roost’ on toxic coal ash

     Born in the horse-and-buggy days of 1900, my mother’s mama was a God-fearing and earthy soul.  If she 

had something to say, Nanny didn’t hold back.  Her fiery tongue could curl the bark on a chinaberry tree.  My 

grandmother died in 1983, but she “lives” inside my head.  I can hear her pontificating on a variety of 


     I can imagine what she’d have to say about this toxic-coal-ash debacle, especially about the leaking ponds 

on Georgia Power properties scattered around the state.  She’d say, “Well, the chickens are coming home to 

roost.” And to punctuate her words, she’d fork two fingers, press them to her lips and spew a stream of 

strawberry-snuff juice into a pillow of Kleenex stuffed in a Maxwell House coffee jar.
     Snuff juice is nasty. 
     Coal ash is nasty and dangerous.
     To see how cavalier so many members of Georgia’s General Assembly have been about governing coal ash 

is enough to make a preacher cuss.  For three years, I’ve watched a forthright few try to do the right thing, 

introducing new laws to protect Georgians and our environment. 
     Time and time again, those measures were neutered or killed in the Natural Resources and Environment 

Committee of the House of Representatives.  The longtime chair, Rep. Lynn Smith, appeared to listen to i

industrial lobbyists more than considering what’s in the best interest of 10 million Georgians. Nothing 

seemed to move out of her committee unless two entities, the governor’s office and Georgia Power, applied 

stamps of approval.
     I join others in congratulating Gov. Nathan Deal.  History will record him as one of our most successful 

governors. His accomplishments are obvious.  So is his loyalty to our state’s largest utility.  Should Gov. Deal 

and his longtime chief of staff, Chris Riley, become political consultants, don’t be surprised if Georgia Power is 

one of their prized clients.
      Just before the start of the 2019 Gold Dome session comes a not-so-surprising announcement.  A press 

release from the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) read: “At least 10 of Georgia Power’s toxic, 

unlined coal-ash ponds sit dangerously close to the groundwater beneath them, according to the utility’s 

recent filings required under the federal Coal Combustion residuals rule.”
     Furthermore, SELC senior attorney Chris Bowers said, “Georgia Power’s coal-ash ponds were built in the 

worst possible places—near streams, lakes, floodplains, next to rivers and right above groundwater … we 

now know that at least 10 of its ponds sit too close to the groundwater aquifer.”  Four of these ponds are 

along the Chattahoochee River at Plant Yates near Newnan, where Rep. Lynn Smith lives.
     You have heard me say this before: “Georgia Power is a tremendous asset of our state, and it’s a vital gear 

in our economic engine.  I appreciate its important role, so I am not against Georgia Power.  I am not against 

Rep. Smith, either. Instead, I am for responsible handling of toxic coal ash.”  
      The issue has been suppressed for too long.  Coal may have been our ticket to cheaper electricity, but 

now there’s the expense of cleaning up the mess.  You don’t solve the coal-ash pollution problem by creating 

another problem.  That’s what happens when you dump toxic coal ash on other communities such as Wayne 

     For three years, we’ve observed Rep. Lynn Smith and her committee playing political footsie with lobbyists 

and downplaying the need for stronger toxic-coal-ash laws.  Neighboring states are using our Peach State for 

a dumping ground. That ought to make you mad enough for your words to curl the bark on chinaberry trees.
     I wish no ill fortune or pollution on any community, but maybe there’s a lesson for Rep. Smith to be 

gleaned from what’s happening in Coweta County.  We aren’t in her district, but Georgia’s natural resources 

and environment belong to all of us.  Perhaps you’d like to reach out to lynn.smith@house.ga.gov.       

     In the meantime, Nanny would say, “Honey, the chickens are coming home to roost.”