In her signature velvety voice, Dinah Washington purred, “What a difference a day made … 24 little hours.” Ever since 1959, romantics have swooned to the songstress’s purr. A day can make a difference in many things. How about 1,471 days, or 35,304 hours (and counting)? That’s how long we’ve been fighting against the harmful effects of toxic coal ash on Georgia’s health and environment.
The wakeup call came on Jan. 9, 2016. If you had slammed my thumb with a sledgehammer, I wouldn’t have yelped any louder. Coal ash jumped off the pages of John Grisham’s Gray Mountain and into the lives of everyone in our community. We are now in our fifth year. This is the 104th time that I’ve written on toxic coal ash. I think a good-news-bad-news reflection is appropriate.
Central Virginia Properties, LLC, an unknown subsidiary of Republic Services Inc., almost slipped past Wayne County its Corps of Engineers application. The proposed rail spur would have opened the way for Republic to ship an estimated 10,000 tons—per day—of toxic coal ash into its Broadhurst Environmental Landfill.
Neill Herring read the fine print on a government website and tipped our newspaper, The Press-Sentinel. Immediate coverage began. Residents rallied and demanded to know more. Coal ash became a supper-table topic.
Many people shrugged their shoulders and moaned, “There’s nothing we can do.” Phoenix-based Republic Services Inc., owner of the landfill, seemed to have its heels dug in.
Persistence pays off. We were encouraged when Republic introduced a different executive in charge. Drew Isenhour, now a company-wide vice president, embraced a welcoming we-are-listening attitude. Four years later, no permanent agreement reached, but not an inch of rail line has been built or an ounce of toxic coal ash added in Broadhurst.
Georgia’s General Assembly has been reluctant to strengthen laws governing disposal/storage of toxic coal ash. The perceived reason is that too many officials are so “deep in the pockets” of Georgia Power that they can’t see what’s best for 10 million Georgians. Check the legislative record since 2016. Shamefully, it’s bad enough to make the Pope cuss.
Toxic coal ash is no longer lurking in a dark corner. Georgians and citizens across America are awake and asking hard questions. A growing number of our state legislators are pushing for better/safer laws. Voters will carry their environmentally friendly passion to the ballot box.
Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist and now director of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is determined to change the EPA’s definition to the Environmental Pollution Association. If you visit some Georgia landfills, you might want to cuss, too. Why? They are loading up with out-of-state coal ash, courtesy of a 2018 bargain-basement coal-ash tipping fee set by the General Assembly. The goal was to benefit Georgia Power and its millions of tons of toxic coal ash. The unintended consequence is that the Carolinas and Florida are racing to dump on us what they don’t want in their states.
There is much work yet to do, but never underestimate the impact of the court of public opinion. In 2019, Georgia Power announced that it is quitting coal-fired energy. And if the giant utility would loosen its vise-grip on the Gold Dome, that really would be good news.
In early 2020, look what a difference 1,471 days—35,304 hours—of effort have made. The credit goes to millions of Georgians who believe something can be done to better protect our natural resources and environment.
For inspiration, someone sent me this:
“First they ignore you.
Then they laugh at you.
Then they fight you.
Then you win.”