Kevin Chambers, a spokesman for the state EPD, wrote in an email that the state was informed of “the potential change to the performance standards.”
“We are awaiting further clarifications and discussion with our federal partners,” Chambers said, and any impact on pending applications ”is unknown at this time.”
A Georgia Power spokesman wrote in an email that the company is evaluating the EPA’s position. The Atlanta-based utility will “continue to work with them, as well as Georgia EPD, to safely close our ash ponds.”
The company’s proposed $9 billion cleanup plan, which will likely be paid by its customers, includes removing some ash to lined landfills. But Georgia Power has asked to leave three-fourths of the ash in updated sites beside current or former plants. They would have protective covering and surrounding monitoring wells to track any potential contamination. Most would not have a synthetic liner underneath, which are typical protections required at regular landfills.
The state regulators have taken heat from environmental groups and people who live in communities around the plants. Some complained about an early draft permit issued by the Georgia EPD that, if finalized, would allow more than a million cubic yards of coal ash — enough to fill 5,400 tractor trailers — to sit forever in an unlined site along the Coosa River near Rome.
Frank Holleman, a senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, said he thinks state regulators will not try to buck their federal counterparts “now that the EPA has made it clear to them, which should have been obvious in the first place.”
Staff writer Drew Kann contributed to this article.