If fictional detective Sherlock Holmes were roaming under the Gold Dome, he could give us an “elementary” clue why efforts to strengthen toxic coal-ash handling and disposal were killed this year. “My dear Watson,” the pipe-smoking sleuth would say, “follow the money.”

There’s enormous money in garbage. Otherwise, why would the richest man in the world, Bill Gates, own about 30 percent of Republic Services, the second-largest waste-management firm in America? He also has a stake in Waste Management, the nation’s biggest. Wall Street investors love garbage. Other people’s trash is a treasure to the waste-management industry.

And why would Republic appoint a coal-ash guru to solicit and store toxic coal ash? You don’t need Sherlock for that. It’s all about the money, and Georgia is ripe with millions of tons of coal ash. We learned that from Central Virginia Properties’ stealth application to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The previously unknown Republic subsidiary told us Georgia-based Southern Company needs to get rid of its stockpiles of toxic coal ash, and Broadhurst could be a good dumping point.

Georgia Power maintains it has “no plans” to put coal ash in Wayne County, but I’d like to see that in writing. I understand Georgia Power’s challenge. What I don’t understand is why companies such as Republic are determined to make Coastal Georgia a sacrifice zone. Republic’s landfill sits atop the Floridan Aquifer, a drinking-water source for millions in Georgia and Florida. The landfill is interlaced with wetlands, with nearby streams which flow into the Altamaha and Satilla rivers. Both empty into the Atlantic Ocean. The environmental risk is just too great. So why did the protective bills get axed before Crossover Day? That’s easy: mountains of money and political muscle.

Early on in this modern-day David-and-Goliath battle, a former governor asked, “Have you read Who Runs Georgia?” I had, but I pulled out my dusty copy of the report on 1947 politics. Corporations, including Southern Power Company, were dominant in running our state. Nothing has changed since. In this year’s session, Sherlock would say, “Look for the fingerprints of Georgia Power, Republic and Gov. Nathan Deal. Those clues will explain why the measures died in committee.” Georgia Power has a fleet of arguably the best persuaders under the Gold Dome. One of Republic’s lobbyists is former Secretary of State Lewis Massey. CSX is no novice, either.

Nathan Deal is a pro-business governor. He knows jobs are the key to building our economy, and his leadership has brought Georgia the acclaim of being the best state in which to do business. I’m pro-business, too. For 46 years, I’ve poured my all into building businesses, fostering economic development and creating jobs. Every other Wednesday, my signature is on hundreds of paychecks. I applaud the governor’s zeal for creating more employment. As Georgia prospers, my associates and I prosper.

Likewise, Georgia Power is a magnificent cog in our state’s economic engine. To label me — as some have tried — as an enemy of Georgia Power is spinning a lie. For a lifetime, I have admired its slogan: “A Citizen Wherever We Serve.” My efforts haven’t been to harm Gov. Deal, his administration, Georgia Power, Republic or CSX. My passion is for responsible handling of toxic coal ash. You don’t solve one problem by creating another.

Hauling and dumping toxic waste in unsuitable places because it’s the cheapest option is irresponsible. We don’t want soggy and porous Coastal Georgia to be turned into an environmental prostitute with greedy corporations serving as our pimps. Never! If you aren’t willing to fight for the people and place you love, what kind of person are you?

Georgians deserve more protective laws for toxic coal-ash handling and disposal. We cannot stop with 2017’s failure to accomplish that goal. But in the meantime, if Sherlock Holmes were wielding his magnifying glass, he’d analyze the clues and conclude: “My dear Watson, when it comes to politics … it’s not called Georgia Power for naught.”

Dink Nesmith is co-owner and president of Athens-based Community Newspapers Inc., publisher of more than two dozen newspapers in Georgia, Florida and North Carolina. He also owns separately The Press-Sentinel in Jesup.

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