July 9, 2019

This ‘kicked can’ will haunt us for years to come

            Remember this slogan: “You can pay me now, or you can pay me later”? That’s what the FRAM oil-filter folks told us, and they were right. If you don’t properly maintain your vehicle’s engine, the eventual repair bill will shock your wallet.
            Georgia Power customers—residential and small commercial—can expect their wallets to be shocked, again. It’s not over the multibillion-dollar cost overrun on the nuclear-power expansion at Plant Vogtle. We already know about that financial nightmare.
This time, it is a classic “FRAM” moment that could haunt us for years to come. As customers, we benefited from low-cost energy from Georgia Power’s coal-fired plants, while overlooking the long-term environmental expense. For decades, the “proverbial can” was kicked down the road. Now that estimated $7 billion cleanup can is at our feet. And it is stuffed with millions of tons of toxic coal ash.
If you are wondering who will pay for mopping up this colossal mess, put down the paper and look into the mirror. I already have. Besides a frown, I see my power bill going up. But I also know that when disaster strikes and the lights go dark, those big white Georgia Power trucks will be rolling to the rescue.
There are many reasons I like Georgia Power. But by now, you know I am troubled by its contradictory way of doing business. They tout “A Citizen Wherever We Serve.” I applaud that, and they live up to the pledge—mostly. When it comes to politics and formulating laws, it’s not called Georgia Power for naught. No matter what it takes to get the rules tilted in its favor, the utility company is notorious for its heavy-handed lobbying in Atlanta and Washington.
Since 2016, we’ve watched Georgia Power manipulate or subdue almost every proposed law that would give Georgians more public notice or protection from toxic coal-ash pollution. All of this was done with the help of our former governor and his chief of staff, who are now reportedly being rewarded as paid lobbyists for Georgia Power.
In recent days, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed to allow Georgia—along with Oklahoma—to manage its own coal-ash permitting program. Less Washington and more Atlanta is generally more favorable, especially since a former coal-industry lobbyist, Andrew Wheeler, was put in charge of the EPA.
            But 10 million Georgians cannot exhale and lose focus on a very perilous threat to our environment. Besides Georgia Power’s mountains of toxic coal ash, bordering states are using us as their cheap dumping ground. You don’t have to be a sleuth to see whose fingerprints are on that roll-out-the-welcome-mat and dump-on-us legislation.
What part of that scenario doesn’t make your blood boil?
Consider this: Under this new Washington-sanctioned proposal, our state’s Public Service Commission (PSC) will collaborate with Georgia Power on its coal-ash remediation efforts. Those two have stipulated that outside parties cannot review or participate in the semi-annual reviews of the remediation.  
Those “outside parties” include those of us who have coal-fired power plants or landfills in our community’s backyard. Isn’t the PSC supposed to be our watchdog rather than a lapdog for the utilities it regulates?
            Now, what part of that non-transparent arrangement doesn’t make your blood boil? On July 16, the PSC will vote on this issue. If we remain silent, shame on us.
            I understand that we’ll be paying more, as it relates to the FRAM-like warning. I get it. What I don’t get is the public-be-damned way all of this is going down.