February 18, 2020

Puerto Rico proves toxic coal-ash ‘mell of a hess’

            If you care about your health—along with Georgia’s natural resources and environment—you might want to sit down. But before you find a comfy perch, I suggest you grab a roll of your favorite antacids—Tums, Rolaids or Maalox.
            Maybe chew a few.
            A bad situation is getting worse. Our state has become a dangerous dumping ground for what other places don’t want. Toxic coal ash is pouring into Georgia.
            In 2018 our General Assembly unfurled a welcome mat by leaving in place a ridiculously cheap ($1 per ton) landfill surcharge for coal ash while raising solid municipal waste to $2.50 per ton. Even before that unwise measure, Wayne County quietly got 800,000 tons of Florida’s toxic ash from the Jacksonville Electric Authority (JEA). Fortunately, none has been added since 2014.

Several catastrophic toxic coal-ash spills have occurred in America in
recent years. Coal ash is laden with numerous dangerous heavy
metals. This photo, by Rick Dove of Waterkeeper Alliance,
shows a 2014 spill in North Carolina.
            But with the new law, the dump trucks—piled with toxic coal ash—have picked up the pace into the Peach State. The Carolinas’ Duke Energy has piled Lord-knows-how-many millions of tons in Banks County, north of Athens. Landfills in seven Georgia counties—Meriwether, Taylor, Chatham, Banks, Cherokee, Crisp and Charlton—are permitted by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) to receive toxic coal ash.
            Here’s where you might need to chew more antacids.
            According to a recent news article, AES Puerto Rico—operator of a coal-fired power plant—is loading its waste onto cargo ships and sending it to Jacksonville’s private port, Keystone Terminal. Reportedly, the original out-of-the-public’s-view plans were to dump the toxic waste in an Osceola County, Florida, landfill. When people around Kissimmee discovered the stealth shenanigans, they rallied in protest.
            And you guessed it.
            Georgia is getting what Florida didn’t want—toxic coal ash. Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory, objects to the waste on its island, too, so it’s coming to Waste Management’s Chesser Island Landfill in Charlton County. The private landfill, near Folkston, is on the lip of one of the globe’s ecological wonders, the Okefenokee National Refuge.
How’s that for caring about our natural resources and environment?
            Coal ash isn’t a new addition to Chesser Island. When Georgia Power closed its McManus coal-fired plant in Brunswick, an estimated 550,000 tons of toxic ash was shipped to Charlton County. I suspect there’s plenty of JEA waste there, too.
            Georgia’s General Assembly is in session. There is some proposed legislation that needs your support. Your state representative and senator should hear from you. For years, too many of our politicans have slurped Georgia Power’s Coal-Ash-Ain’t-So-Bad Kool-Aid. Rather than doing what’s in the best interest of 10 million Georgians, lawmakers have traditionally kowtowed to lobbyists representing producers of toxic coal ash.
            Georgia Power is a highly valued player in our state’s economic prosperity. We depend on the giant utility in countless ways, but we cannot ignore that its underbelly is coated with more than 50 million tons of poisonous coal ash.
This is the year, 2020, for our elected leaders to do the right thing.
Don’t just sit there and chew antacids.
Make your voices be heard on House Bill 756 and Senate Bill 123.
When it comes to toxic coal ash, Puerto Rico proves that Georgia has what my late mother would call a “mell of a hess.”