February 15, 2024

General Assembly’s silence is deafening


            Can you hear it?


            Two things in Atlanta.

            Clink, clink, clink and tick, tick, tick.

Cocktail glasses of Georgia Power, Twin Pines Minerals LLC and their lobbyists are clinking so loudly that you don’t have to be in Atlanta to hear the unmistakable sounds. The reasons for celebrating are different, but they are really the same. Hold that thought. I’ll explain.

Well, what about that ticking?

Feb. 29 (Leap Day) is Crossover Day in the General Assembly. That means proposed legislation in the House of Representatives must be approved and recommended to “cross over” to the Senate by Feb. 29. Otherwise, the measure dies for 2024. Ditto for Senate-approved legislation that needs a vote in the House.

The Crossover Day clock is ticking—loudly—for two significant environmental issues that are likely to be lost this session in both chambers under the Gold Dome.

§  Georgia Power appears to be escaping, again, without any interference from lawmakers who could force the behemoth utility to be more responsible with its storage of millions of tons of dangerous industrial waste—coal ash—that is leaching into ground water.

§  Twin Pines, the Alabama mining outfit that wants to dig for minerals on the “eastern hydrological boundary” of the Okefenokee Swamp, has—like Georgia Power—spent enough lobbying dollars to convince General Assembly powerbrokers that money is more important than factual science and environmental risks.

            As you can see, the two issues are very different. But the silence on both issues is the same. The General Assembly found time to vote for cornbread as the “official bread” of Georgia, but it can’t seem to find room on the agenda to deal with the threat of Georgia Power’s coal ash poisoning our state’s drinking water.

            Oh, I’m a fan of hot-buttered cornbread, too. Same goes for just-out-of-the-oven cathead biscuits. But I’d like to have clean water in my tea or coffee to wash down the official state bread. Wouldn’t you?

            For years, I’ve been talking about Georgia Power’s bottom-line-driven strategy that prioritizes profits over common sense when it comes to safe handling/storage of coal ash. The heavy metals in coal ash are proven to make you sick and/or kill you. Yet legislative attempts to force Georgia Power to do what’s right are squashed, year after year.

Can you hear the cocktail glasses clinking?

            My questions are:

§  Don’t the families of Democrats, Republicans and Independents all deserve clean, safe water to drink?

§  If so, what’s the problem?

            The silence is deafening.

            Now, about the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge—which is under threat from a seems-likely-to-happen mining operation of Twin Pines Minerals LLC.

The Alabama miners say, “Trust us. We know what we are doing.”

Others, who know more than I do, counter, “We can’t trust Twin Pines. Its plan will do irreparable harm to an irreplaceable ecosystem.”

This I do know. There’s only one Okefenokee Swamp in the world, and most of it is in Georgia. Why wouldn’t we want to safeguard this environmental treasure?

One clue is that a piece of protective legislation—with overwhelming bipartisan support—won’t even be brought up for discussion in the House’s committee on environment and natural resources. That nonaction appears to have given Twin Pines what it wanted: a draft permit for mining, courtesy of Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division (EPD).

Josh Marks, president of Georgians for the Okefenokee, believes, “The EPD may have signed the death warrant for the Okefenokee Swamp, our state’s greatest natural treasure.”

Can you hear the cocktail glasses clinking?

But wait.

The EPD has declared a 30-day public comment period, even though it earlier promised 60 days. If you have concerns about the proposed titanium dioxide mining, submit your statements to twinpines.comment@dnr.ga.gov. There’ll be a virtual public hearing on March 5 at 6 p.m. Don’t let your silence send the wrong signal.

The disturbing common denominator in both of these environmental issues—coal ash and the Okefenokee—is the deafening silence of Georgia’s General Assembly.

But it might not be too late.

Talk to your representative or senator.

Just remember that Crossover Day is Feb. 29.

Tick, tick, tick.