Legislation to increase the fees for storing toxic coal ash at landfills in Georgia passed out of the General Assembly Wednesday.
Senate Bill 123, sponsored by Sen. William Ligon, would raise the fee for coal ash disposal from $1 per ton to $2.50 per ton, matching the fees charged for other items.
The increase is intended to discourage an influx of coal ash being transported to Georgia from power plants in surrounding states.
The bill also erases a carve-out for coal ash disposal the General Assembly passed in 2018 that charged $2.50 per ton for all kinds of waste storage except coal ash, which was set at $1.
The bill by Ligon, R-Brunswick, passed out of the Georgia Senate Wednesday after clearing the state House of Representatives earlier this week. It now heads to Gov. Brian Kemp’s desk for his signature.
Under the bill, 20% of the revenue generated by the coal ash fees would go to local governments for recycling, litter control and improvements to areas adjacent to landfills such as repairs to local roads affected by the hauling of solid waste to landfills and beautification initiatives.
Any contracts effective on Sept. 1, 2020, between landfills and local governments where the dumps are located would not have to adopt the lower fee for coal ash unless the contract was renewed, amended or otherwise changed.
The bill stemmed from concerns by local environmentalists that the lower disposal fee could spur out-of-state power companies to send Georgia massive amounts of coal ash.
The ash, which is the byproduct of burning coal at power plants to generate electricity, can contain compounds causing cancer after long exposure.
Five landfills in Georgia have taken in millions of tons of coal ash since 2017, much of it originating from power plants in Florida and North Carolina, according to state Environmental Protection Division records.
Environmentalists’ concerns come as the state’s top energy producer, Georgia Power, is moving away from storing coal ash in liquid ponds and instead disposing of it in dry landfills. The company has previously touted the economic benefits of recycling coal ash into materials like concrete.
Lawmakers do not appear likely to pass any legislation this year requiring Georgia Power to install impervious lining around every site where coal ash is stored, including ash ponds set for permanent closure in the coming years.
Georgia Power is in the process of closing all 29 of the large pond areas that store coal ash. But environmentalists worry some ash ponds will be sealed in place forever without any protective lining, creating the potential for groundwater contamination.
The power company has insisted its plans for closing the ponds should keep liquid ash from leaching into the groundwater surrounding coal plants.