Coal ash bills face the Natural Resources committees of the Georgia Assembly


House coal ash bills begin committee journey

Putting Georgia’s own coal ash controversies into the figurative dustbin of history could make some progress this week.

State Rep. Jeff Jones’ coal ash bills — H.B. 387 and 388 — received their first and second readings in the state House of Representatives on Thursday and Friday after going into the House hopper Wednesday.

They were both assigned to the House Natural Resources and Environment Committee. While Jones isn’t on the committee, he said before the session that he has kept in close touch with committee chairwoman Lynn Smith. Also, fellow St. Simons Island Republican and freshman Rep. Don Hogan sits on the committee this year.

According to the General Assembly website, the bills have yet to be assigned to a subcommittee, but the Environmental Quality Subcommittee of NR&E meets today at 3 p.m. The only item on the agenda was further discussion of H.B. 271, the Shore Protection Act reform measure.

H.B. 387 specifically deals with coal ash pits — known in the bill as surface impoundments — dewatering those impoundments, conversion to dry storage and other related matters. For instance, it sets a deadline of Nov. 22, 2019 for the owner of an unlined coal ash pit to close it or begin retrofitting it before Oct. 1, 2018. The owner can also get a two-year extension, renewable once, if it can demonstrate closing the pit would be unfeasible.

And should the dewatering process lead the owner or operator to run that water into an existing water body — including “any and all rivers, streams, creeks, branches, lakes, reservoirs, ponds, drainage systems, springs, wells, and all other bodies of surface or subsurface water, natural or artificial, lying within or forming a part of the boundaries of the state which are not entirely confined and retained completely upon the property of a single individual, partnership, or corporation” — they need a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit. They can also apply for a major modification to their existing permit through the state Environmental Protection Division, which necessitates quite a process.

Applications for both new and modified NPDES permits are required to be posted by the owner or operator online on their (Coal Combustion Residuals) Rule Compliance Data and Information website no fewer than 14 days before submitting them for review.

Also to be notified, no less than 30 days before dewatering begins, are operators of public water systems with intakes within 10 miles of any dewatering discharge point. That dewatering date also has to be placed online on the compliance and data website no fewer than 30 days before it is scheduled to begin.

H.B. 388 takes the baton from there, in an attempt to make the regulations on disposal of coal ash at utility-owned facilities and municipal landfills more consistent. To start, the owner or operator of a municipal landfill has to submit a coal ash management plan by Dec. 1 of this year to EPD.

And as reported previously, if the landfill seeks to accept coal ash that is more than 5 percent of the daily volume received, the owner or operator has to request a major modification permit, which also includes required notifications to the public.

Among other specifications, the coal ash management plan would require the landfill base be at least 5 feet higher than the top limit of the highest aquifer, no portion located in any predetermined wetlands, a plan for minimizing dust, leakage monitoring and proper cleaning of transport vehicles.

Coal ash is the waste produced by coal-fired energy production.

Wes Wolfe