Environmental groups sued Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division, claiming the agency has dragged its feet on reviewing and updating wastewater permits for five of Georgia Power’s coal-fired power plants. POUYA DIANAT / AJC Staff

Environmentalists: Georgia sued over outdated power plant permits

State regulators have endangered Georgia’s drinking water and rivers by failing to re-examine outdated permits at five of Georgia Power’s coal-fired power plant, environmental groups said in a lawsuit filed Thursday.

The original wastewater permits at some of the plants expired more than a decade ago and haven’t been updated to comply with tougher federal water pollution limits that went into effect a year ago, the Sierra Club and other groups said.

Their lawsuit against the Georgia Environmental Protection Division was filed in Fulton County Superior Court.

A spokesman for Georgia EPD said the agency hadn’t seen the lawsuit and declined to comment.

A Georgia Power spokesman called the environmental groups’ complaint “completely false.”

“All of our plants are operating with active, valid wastewater permits, in full compliance with state regulations,” said Georgia Power spokesman John Kraft. “We actively work with Georgia EPD to renew and update (wastewater) permits for our plants as required.”

In earlier statements, Georgia Power and the environmental regulator said the permits had been “administratively extended” and are still in force. When the groups complained last year that the permits are out-dated, a Georgia EPD spokesman said the agency was working on reviewing the permits, but that the process would take a “couple of years.”

The environmental groups said some of the permits haven’t been updated in more than 12 years, allowing the company to discharge waste water with excessive levels of mercury, arsenic and other toxic metals into rivers and other waterways.

“Coal plants dump toxic heavy metals like arsenic, lead, selenium, boron, cadmium, and mercury into our waterways—polluting our drinking water, fishing areas, and local rivers and streams,” said Jonathan Levenshus, with the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign in Georgia. “EPD must be held accountable for dragging its feet and for refusing to protect the health of our communities.”

The groups said the permits for all of the state’s coal-fired plants are 4 to 12 years past original expiration dates. The permits are typically supposed to go through regulatory review and renewal every five years.

The permits typically regulate waste water coming from systems that transport coal ash to storage ponds, and contaminated water from so-called “scrubbers” that remove sulfur and toxins from smokestacks.

The environmental groups asked for the state agency to begin reviewing the wastewater permits at Georgia Power’s Bowen, Hammond, McIntosh, Wansley and Scherer plants.

The other environmental groups that joined in the lawsuit were the Altamaha Riverkeeper, the Coosa River Basin Initiative, and the Savannah Riverkeeper.

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