“Third-party engineers and geologists evaluated the site geology at Plant Bowen and incorporated into the design proven engineering methods that will ensure that the pond closure process occurs properly,” said Aaron Mitchell, the director of environmental affairs for Georgia Power.
Environmental advocates say the plan for Plant Bowen is far from perfect, but using a liner to keep waste from leaching into soil or groundwater is a welcomed safety precaution.
That is not what the company has proposed to do at other sites around the state. At its plants near Smyrna, Rome, Newnan, Carrollton and Juliette, Georgia Power is seeking to leave most of its coal ash in unlined pits. In some cases, the waste would be left in contact with groundwater, which environmental groups and neighbors have warned could contaminate water supplies.
“If Georgia Power can excavate the ash at Plant Bowen and put it into a lined facility, they can do it at Plant Scherer in Juliette and they can do it everywhere,” said Fletcher Sams, executive director of the Altamaha Riverkeeper.
The company’s plans for its other coal ash ponds also may be at odds with Environmental Protection Agency standards.
Georgia is one of three states in the country allowed to administer its own program for closing coal ash ponds.
But earlier this year, the director of the EPA’s Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery sent a letter to the Georgia EPD asking the agency to review any pending or issued permits for coal ash pond closures to ensure they meet EPA standards. Georgia Power has proposed to leave coal ash in contact with groundwater at some sites, but EPA regulations require that coal ash ponds are closed in a manner that controls, minimizes or eliminates contamination of groundwater.
In response to questions about whether Georgia EPD will force Georgia Power to reevaluate its proposed plans for coal ash at other sites, an EPD spokesperson said that all permit applications are still under review.
“EPD and US EPA will continue to work together to ensure that all issued permits comply with the rules and are protective of human health and the environment,” the spokesperson said.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article misidentified the EPA official who sent the letter to the Georgia EPD and oversimplified the contents of the EPA’s letter. The article has been corrected.