As early as the end of this week, there could be three important bills introduced in the State House of Representatives that aim to have a big impact locally.
The first deals with dewatering coal ash pits.
The second would force an offending party who contaminates a drinking water source with coal ash to take responsibility for their actions and provide an alternate drinking source, among other things.
The third, would make state Environmental Protection Division guidelines for dealing with coal ash announced in December part of state law.
Notice a theme? All three aim to regulate how coal ash, the residual left over after energy production from coal, is stored and handled. Rep. Jeff Jones, R-St. Simons Island, told The News he is hoping all three bills will be introduced by the end of this week.
He said the bills need to get passed soon because the interest in importing coal ash from other states or from other parts of the state to Southeast Georgia is not fading.
In seeking to translate EPD rules into state law, Jones said that one major point would be to ensure that if a municipal landfill accepts coal ash at more than 5 percent of the volume permitted, a “major modification” approval process to the landfill permit would be required. That process would include public notices and hearings to ensure residents are aware of what is happening.
“(Out-of-state importers would) just as soon not have that attention drawn to their intentions and just slip it in and have it happen and it all be too late before the public has an opportunity to say, ‘Hey, whoa whoa, whoa,’” Jones said.
Jones knows the importance of this because there is a plan by Republic Services seeking to build a rail spur in Wayne County to the Broadhurst Landfill that would allow it to bring large amounts of coal ash to the site. With wetlands and the Altamaha River nearby, this plan takes all of Southeast Georgia one step closer to an environmental disaster. We already have five federal Superfund sites in Glynn County alone where unchecked pollution is still being cleaned, decades after it happened. We do not need another disaster waiting to happen nearby.
Whether the ash is kept in a lined pond intended to keep it out of the groundwater table or not, more coal ash storage than there already is upstream from Brunswick is not something we want.
We hope Jones’ bills are strong enough to make a difference and we hope they move quickly through the General Assembly and into state law.