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Bill to limit out-of-state coal ash passes Georgia House committee

Georgia Power’s Plant Bowen near Cartersville began commercially operating in 1975. Its 250-acre ash pond will be excavated. The company plans to install a liner to create a new, lined ash storage area that will be permitted and regulated by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM
Georgia Power’s Plant Bowen near Cartersville began commercially operating in 1975. Its 250-acre ash pond will be excavated. The company plans to install a liner to create a new, lined ash storage area that will be permitted and regulated by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

A senate bill designed to help keep out-of-state coal ash from being dumped in Georgia landfills is moving forward after a unanimous vote Thursday from the House Natural Resources and Environment Committee.

Senate Bill 123, sponsored by Sen. William Ligon, R-Brunswick, will increase from $1 to $2.50 the minimum per ton surcharge imposed on any privately operated municipal solid waste facilities that accept coal or fly ash. The bill also propsoses to reserve 20% of the collected surcharge to be used for certain purposes such as remediation.

“Loopholes for coal-fired power plants have turned Georgia into a dumping ground for toxic coal ash,” said Jennette Gayer, director of Environment Georgia and chair of the Georgia Water Coalition’s coal ash committee. “In the few days left in the legislative session we urge passage of SB 123, which will start addressing our coal ash import problem and give local governments much needed funds.”

More than 4.5 million tons of coal ash — waste from coal-fired plants that may contain toxic heavy metals —have been dumped in Georgia landfills, according to data from the EPD.

Coal ash has received a lot of attention during this legislative season,after residents of Juliette, Georgia  raised concerns about their water supply, which they believe is contaminated by coal ash stored at Georgia Power's Plant Scherer.

>> Related: Juliette residents ask Gov. Kemp, lawmakers to take action on coal ash

But while three bills related to management of coal ash at Georgia Power plants passed the House, they have not recieved a hearing in the Senate.

>>Read More: House, Senate pass bills on coal ash management, monitoring

Several additional bills were added to Senate Bill 123 including House Bill 926, that restores the previous rates on fees collected by the state on solid waste disposal and new tire sales. The fees, which were set to decrease on July 1, will instead revert to $0.75 per ton for solid waste and $1 per tire on the sale of new tires. The fees respectively fund the Hazardous Waste Trust Fund which is adminstered by the Environmental Protection Division to remediate contaminated sites statewide and the Solid Waste Trust Fund which is designed to fund clean-ups of tire dumps.

A final bill, Senate Bill 356, which was also added, would allow McIntosh County to expand their current landfill that sits near the U.S. Marine Corps. bombing range in Townsend where military aircrews from more than six states go for training. Ligon said the county would have to spend millions of dollars to build a new landfill. The bill would allow any existing municipal solid waste landfill to expand to areas within two miles of military air space used as bombing ranges.

Senate Bill 123 now moves to the House Rules Committee to schedule for a possible vote from the full House.