Georgia Power’s Plant Hammond

ATLANTA – The Biden administration is cracking down on the disposal of coal ash generated by power plants in Georgia and other states.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced this week it intends to enforce a 2015 rule prohibiting utilities from dumping coal ash into unlined ponds.

Georgia Power is in the process of closing all 29 of its ash ponds at 11 plants across the state, a $9 billion investment. While the Atlanta-based utility’s plan calls for excavating and removing the ash from 19 of those ponds, the other 10 are to be closed in place.

The Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) issued a proposed permit last year for an unlined coal ash pond at Georgia Power’s Plant Hammond near Rome. Environmental groups and nearby residents have protested, claiming some of the ash is sitting in groundwater.

The Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) welcomed the EPA’s announcement.

“The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has stepped up to offer communities hope and to protect clean water, rivers and drinking water supplies from the threats posed by coal ash,” said Frank Holleman, a senior attorney with the SELC.

“With EPA’s leadership, we now have the opportunity to put coal ash pollution and catastrophes behind us and to restore common-sense protections for communities across the South that have lived with coal ash contamination for far too long.”

The EPA’s Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery sent a letter Tuesday asking Georgia EPD Director Rick Dunn to review pending coal ash pond closure permits to determine whether they need to be modified or reissued in light of the EPA’s announcement. 

The federal agency suggested a meeting with EPD later this month to discuss the results of the review.

Georgia Power spokesman John Kraft said the utility is committed to closing all of its ash ponds safely.

“We are evaluating EPA’s position as announced Tuesday and we will continue to work with them, as well as Georgia EPD, to safely close our ash ponds,” he said. “We remain committed to compliance with all environmental regulations and ensuring that our closure plans are protective of the environment and the surrounding communities.”

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.