April 13, 2022

Georgians must keep ‘buttin’ that dam’

“Once there was a silly old ram

Thought he’d punch a hole in a dam

No one could make that ram scram

He kept buttin’ that dam …”

A host of folks have sung “High Hopes.” My favorite rendition is Frank Sinatra’s when he is accompanied by kids. I can hear him now, “Next time you’ve found with your chin on the ground, there’s a lot to be learned, so look around.”

The first verse suggests an ant can’t move a rubber tree plant, “but he’s got high hopes.” And what happens when that tiny ant packs persistent punches? Frank explains, “Oops there goes another rubber tree plant. Oops there goes another rubber tree plant ….”

In the next verse, the ant inspired a “silly old ram.”

Some days I feel like that ram, buttin’ an environment-threatening “dam,” protected by corporate and elected leaders who don’t see the dangers of toxic coal ash. Now in my seventh year, I have been buttin’ opposition to do the right things for now and the future.

            Long term, Georgia Power is doing the right thing by shutting down its polluting coal-burning plants. New priorities focus on cleaner energy. That’s a smart move. But in the opinion of many, the company isn’t completely smart with how it plans to deal with the left-behind coal-ash waste.

            Our state’s biggest power producer is doing the right thing—partially—by transferring most coal ash to dry, lined pits. Yes, move it out of groundwater, away from streams and wetlands. But why adopt a wait-and-see-what-happens plan for millions of other tons? Time will not cure a coal-ash sore.

`The “A Citizen Wherever We Serve” utility company wants to leave massive amounts in unlined ponds that are filled with constantly moving groundwater. Coal ash is poisonous to plants, animals and humans and disruptive to our ecosystem. Where’s the good citizenship in leaving arsenic, boron, cadmium, mercury, lead and selenium leaking into what could become our drinking water?

Why in the name of common sense would Georgia Power stop short of doing the right thing completely? I suggest arrogance and greed. Georgia Power has a history of getting its way with Georgia lawmakers. Proposed laws, providing more protection, are systematically smothered under the Gold Dome. Plus, the utility makes more money doing a partial cleanup. As usual, follow the money.

So why would any of us keep buttin’ the “dam?”

There’re flickers of “high hopes” that Georgia Power’s environmental attitude could improve. Our state’s Environmental Protection Division (EPD) might enforce the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) more stringent federal requirements. But you can bet Georgia Power is scrambling for loopholes.

However, the Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC)—the watchdog of our utilities—appears to be waking up and asking questions about coal-ash management.

On May 24, the PSC will begin a series of hearings on Georgia Power’s long-range energy plans, which include how to deal with coal ash. If the General Assembly and/or the EPD won’t step up for our health and environment, perhaps the PSC will. The commission’s vote on Georgia Power’s plans is in mid-July.

Georgians need to be vocal to the PSC. Here’s how: Tricia Pridemore, chair, tpridemore@psc.state.ga.us; Tim Echols, vice chair, techols@psc.state.ga.us; Fitz Johnson, fjohnson@psc.ga.gov; Jason Shaw, jshaw@ psc.ga.gov and Lauren “Bubba” McDonald, lmcdonald@psc.state.ga.us.

It’s up to our generation to demand responsible stewardship of our environment.

The ram’s hard-headed persistence, fueled by high hopes, is why Frank sang, “Oops, there goes a billion-kilowatt dam.”

That’s why this “silly old ram” is going to keep on buttin’.

            How about you?