Rural Georgians deserve safe drinking water too

Have you ever sat down to a home-cooked meal and heard the cook say, “You may not be able to taste it, but the pasta was cooked in water that may very well be contaminated with a plethora of cancer-causing toxins. Enjoy!” For Georgians who live near a coal plant in Georgia and rely on a well for every drop of water their family uses, there’s a chance that every morsel which came in contact with water from their faucet has been exposed to those contaminants.

Families who rely on a well don’t have other options. In Georgia, 1.5 Million households serve as their own public works department for clean water in their faucets and a properly maintained septic tank field. If the pump breaks or the well goes dry, the expenses are theirs, not the city or county. Counting on a well is a fine art, making families and farmers excellent water conservationists.

coal ash waste

What families across rural Georgia do not control is the contamination of their water source from coal ash waste. The landfill where their household garbage is piled up must have a liner that prevents seepage of any waste into groundwater aquifers, nearby streams, and rivers. Those same families are not afforded anything close to that same protection when it comes to coal ash waste.

Georgia’s Democrats in the General Assembly, led by Rep. Robert Trammell of rural Meriwether County, and joined his rural neighbor Rep. Debbie Buckner in Talbot County, and four metro Atlanta legislators, are working together to help protect families and farmers relying on wells for their water. The wide-lens view of HB756 adds a significant measure of protection to municipalities drawing water from rivers and aquifers at risk for coal ash waste contamination.

In short, this bill will serve to better protect all of us from serious health problems resulting from exposure to mercury, lead, arsenic, and a laundry list of other life-threatening toxins that are the end waste of burning coal. This legislation will put an end to Georgia Power’s proposal to leave approximately 50 Million tons of their coal ash waste submerged as deep as 80 feet in groundwater at Plants Hammond, Scherer, Wansley, Yates, and McDonough. Allowing the waste to remain there in unlined disposal pits and ponds will permanently convert Georgia’s water resources into toxic dumping sites benefitting only the company’s shareholders.

Putting coal ash waste in lined landfills, a much safer and secure option for coal ash waste storage, is what Duke Energy in North Carolina is pursuing, as are all utilities in South Carolina. Virginia lawmakers passed a law last year requiring lined disposal of Dominion Energy’s coal as as well. To date, Georgia Power has easily secured the weakest possible standards for storing and monitoring coal ash waste, and expects ratepayers to foot the bill for anything more stringent. As recent news reports confirm, the way coal ash waste has been regulated in our state has been at the detriment of our citizens.

HB756 goes a long way towards putting the health of our water, air, wildlife, and communities, ahead, at last, of Georgia Power’s bottom line. Shareholders have profited mightily from lax oversight of the company’s waste for decades, and long past the time when they should have known better than to simply dump this waste in unlined holes in the ground. It should be their responsibility to clean up the messes they have made across our state, while being held to the highest standards for ensuring that our water and air are not threatened by the toxic residue their plants produce.

Still waiting on a call from the EPD (but Georgia Power has been on the phone)

Yesterday (Wednesday, January 6) The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) asked if they could repost R&P’s post from Tuesday, January 5th about Georgia Power pumping water from their Plant Branch coal ash ponds into Lake Sinclair over the weekend.

They reposted, and Georgia Power picked up the phone and set up a conference call with SACE and Jen Hilburn, the Altamaha Riverkeeper who discovered the pumping last weekend.

SACE has added this to their reposting of my original blog:
Subsequent to our posting of this article, Georgia Power contacted us to clarify that emergency overflow pumping was taking place as part of their emergency response plans, consistent with the facility’s permit, due to unusually high rainfall. The overflow is designed to prevent water over-topping the dyke and damaging it through erosion. While overflow water comes from the surface of the pond and has less exposure to toxic ash, which settles to the bottom, we remain concerned about the risks of wet ash storage demonstrated by this episode. Georgia Power aims to publish closure plans for all its ash ponds in Spring 2016 and we look forward to reviewing those plans to ensure they keep ash in lined facilities away from waterways.

Like SACE and the Altamaha Riverkeeper, I am very concerned about both the storage of wet coal ash so close to Lake Sinclair, and the pumping of  water from their ponds into Lake Sinclair.

Georgia Power should have been proactive in sharing information with the public about their actions. The Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) should have been on site in the “emergency” situation Georgia Power is claiming (The record rains weren’t a surprise, and the proximity to Lake Sinclair isn’t new at Plant Branch either).

But that’s not all of it.

Georgia Power and the EPD told Hilburn they were testing the water.

Jen Hilburn on Lake Sinclair at Plant Branch
Jen Hilburn on Lake Sinclair at Plant Branch

But Georgia Power and the EPD don’t test for heavy metals and toxins found in coal ash waste. They test for oil and grease, pH, and sediment/particulate concentration.

If you don’t test for coal ash toxins, then you surely won’t find them.

Hilburn was told by Georgia Power that it will continue pumping water from their coal ash ponds into Lake Sinclair.

And the EPD?

As of 6:30 this evening, the Altamaha Riverkeeper says she is still waiting for phone messages to be returned from her weekend calls about Lake Sinclair and Plant Branch.

Georgia Power doesn’t seem interested in calling me, and that’s ok, but apparently they have read Rural and Progressive.

 

 

What was Georgia Power doing at Plant Branch on New Year’s weekend?

Georgia’s coal ash monitoring laws are awfully easy on power companies. The companies get to monitor their heaping piles of coal ash waste piles and ponds themselves.

Thank goodness the Altamaha Riverkeeper (aided by Tonya Bonitatibus, the Savannah Riverkeeper) checked up on the coal ash ponds at Plant Blanch, which abut Lake Sinclair, last weekend.

There was a lot of activity there on Saturday, with large trucks in and out at the ponds and generators buzzing due to the tremendous amount of rain recently.

What was flowing into the lake just didn’t look like normal runoff, so Jen Hilburn, Altamaha Riverkeeper (ARK),  put in a call to the Georgia Environmental Protection Division. Hilburn said in a press release, “I am deeply concerned about what sounds like pumping of water into Lake Sinclair.  If this is coming directly from the coal ash ponds into the lake, it could pose a threat to our community on the lake as well as many others who utilize its waters. Georgia Power appears to be delibrately dumping coal ash waste directly into the lake. I am surprised that no-one I spoke with on Lake Sinclair had been notified in anyway by Georgia Power of their activities”

coal ash spill at Kingston, TN, photo from New York Times
coal ash spill at Kingston, TN, photo from New York Times

Coal ash ponds are notorious for leaking, or worse, collapsing, as they did in Kingston, TN on December 22, 2008. That community was flooded with 1.1 billion gallons of coal ash slurry from a TVA coal plant. Coal ash waste also contaminated the Dan River on the Virginia-North Carolina state line in 2014 as a result of nine criminal violations of the Clean Water Act by Duke Energy. 

How risky are the coal ash ponds at Plant Branch?

Since 2010 Plant Branch’s coal ash ponds have been considered “High Hazard” for contamination or failure by the Environmental Protection Agency. Did Georgia Power try to avert a pond breach or overflow by  pumping the coal ash waste into Lake Sinclair? I’m anxious to learn what the EPD says in their findings.

While ARK, and concerned citizens, wait to hear back from the EPD, the Riverkeeper is advising that no fish be consumed from Lake Sinclair until more is known about the safety of the water.

What can Georgians do in the meantime?

Our General Assembly convenes next week. Ask your state legislators NOW to require stricter monitoring of the coal ash waste landfills and ponds that pepper our state. Even though wind and solar are becoming a larger part of our fuel resources, the heavy metals and toxins in coal ash waste are forever. As last weekend demonstrates, shuttering a coal plant like Plant Branch doesn’t solve the problem of safely storing the contaminated waste it has left behind.

Allowing Georgia Power and other coal burning companies in our state to self-monitor their toxic waste isn’t working. The Georgia General Assembly can do something about that beginning next week.

 

Another hurdle for “dormant” Plant Washington

The Carbon Pollution Standards for new power plants announced by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on August 3rd confirm that Plant Washington will not get a “pass”, adding yet another hurdle to the development of one of the last proposed new coal plants in the country.

The new standards rely on partial capture and storage of carbon dioxide emissions. Plant Washington project spokesman Dean Alford has said that such a standard will result in cancellation of the coal-fired project because it was not designed to meet the standard. To avoid that outcome, the project developer, Power4Georgians, LLC (P4G) sought to convince EPA that the project had “commenced construction” when the standards for new sources were first proposed in January 2014.  Under such circumstances, Plant Washington would be considered an existing source exempt from the new standards

Dean Alford
Dean Alford

But as Alford and P4G are now finding, there’s a difference between saying something and proving it.

Almost two years ago, in the draft version of the standards, the EPA specifically addressed Plant Washington and another proposed coal-fired plant in Kansas. The agency took the developers at their word that the plants were under construction and therefore qualified as existing sources.  But EPA also said that if either plant failed to qualify as an existing source, and was therefore classified as a new source, the agency would consider granting special standards due to the unique circumstances that both already had their construction permits.  The idea was that these two sources, the last two coal plants still supposedly under development in the country, would get special treatment – perhaps a standard less stringent than that applied to other new sources.  Otherwise the two lingering plants might not get built despite their “sunk costs.”

But last week, in the final rule, EPA said it is “unaware of any physical construction that has taken place at the proposed Plant Washington site,” and noted that a recent audit of the project had described it as “dormant.” EPA said it appears that Plant Washington did not commence construction when the new source rule was proposed, and would therefore likely be considered a new source should it ever be constructed.
 

The EPA pointed out that in October 2014, P4G received an 18-month extension on Plant Washington’s air permit from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division. The EPA went on to say that the possibility of Plant Washington being built and operating is “too remote” to merit an exemption from the new carbon emission standards.

So Plant Washington is not an existing source.  But what kind of carbon standard will it get? Remember that EPA said it would give Plant Washington and the Kansas project their own new source carbon standards.  Well, on this point, EPA punted.  Why?  Because the agency views it as so unlikely that these projects will actually go forward that it doesn’t want to spend the time coming up with individualized standards.  In the agency’s words, “because these units may never actually be fully built and operated, we are not promulgating a standard of performance at this time because such action may prove to be unnecessary.”

Ouch. 

EPA puts the ball P4G’s court, telling the developer that it must formally request a determination of its status — new or existing —  before EPA can decide whether and what kind of standards should apply to its carbon emissions.

P4G has had the ability since January 2014 to seek this so-called “applicability determination,” which would clear up once and for all the question of its status under the new standards.  In fact, under Alford’s leadership, P4G sought such an “applicability determination” from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, but later chose to withdraw that request before the state agency could respond. Rather than clarify the project’s status, Alford opted to pursue an 18-month extension of the construction deadline under Plant Washington’s state-issued air permit. Alford got the extension, but this did little to convince EPA of P4G’s claim that the project had commenced construction in January 2014.  Instead, EPA arrived at the opposite conclusion: that Plant Washington is going nowhere fast.

Thanks to EPD’s generosity, Plant Washington still has 8 months left on its deadline to construct under the air permit.  But the project’s water discharge permit, another critical piece of the project, expired in March of this year. P4G failed to timely file an application to renew the permit prior to its expiration, prompting EPD to fine P4G.  EPD gave P4G thirty days to cure the defect but P4G missed that deadline as well.    These are not the actions of a project developer intent on meeting its construction deadline. 

And here in Washington County, there are no signs the coal-fire project is going forward, even at a snail’s pace. No ground has been broken, no Power Purchase Agreements have been announced, and no financier willing to pour the necessary billions into the project has emerged.

The EPA was correct in its refusal to exempt Plant Washington from the new carbon emission
standards.  The plant is not needed and would be a major source of carbon emissions.

Over 8.5 years have passed since this boondoggle plant was first announced, and its future is not one bit brighter than it was on the cold, gray, January day when it was unveiled. If Mr. Alford returns for yet another permit extension next year, the state would be wise to tell him that the final buzzer has sounded and no more time can be added to the game clock

The rules of the game are changing

The Friday Photo
August 8, 2014 20140808-074453-27893384.jpg This looks like a lot meetings do, with PowerPoint presentations and charts that are hard to read from the back of the room. It was the first public meeting held by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division to discuss how Georgia will meet the EPA’s carbon pollution rule. Georgia’s Plant Scherer is the biggest carbon spewing coal plant in the country, so the task ahead of the state’s regulatory agency is steep. They didn’t seem very enthusiastic.

For those of us who have spent years advocating for reducing carbon pollution, yesterday was no ordinary meeting. The rules of the game are changing, literally.

Today’s EPA deadline

The Friday Photo
May 9, 2014

pine trees
mature pine trees in our front yard

I had other plans for The Friday Photo today but spent more time than I expected crafting my comments to the EPA about proposed carbon pollution rules for existing power plants and why Plant Washington isn’t an existing source of greenhouse gases. The deadline was today at 5:00 p.m.

My comments included this:

“On a sunshine soaked afternoon in September 2013 while Power4Georgians was announcing its intent to request permit extensions from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, crews hired by the current land owners were preparing the proposed plant site for planting timber. Growing timber is an investment in time and money, as my family knows from timber management on our family farm. Growing trees requires patience as it takes several years before even a thinning of the growth is necessary, with significant harvesting sometimes requiring 20 years of patient waiting and watching.”

Just like growing timber, fighting Plant Washington has required time and patience, and some watching and waiting. The investment for those of us who steeled ourselves and stood up in our community has been worth the effort. We won’t have to wait decades for the return on our investment.

Enough is enough

The Friday Photo
May 2, 2014

20140502-072805.jpg
I posted this photo on January 25, 2012 after Cobb EMC abandoned Plant Washington and resigned itself to a likely $15M loss on the proposed coal plant it had bankrolled with co-op owner/member dollars.

Almost 6.5 years after it was announced as a “done deal,” Power4Georgians has asked for a permit extension for this because P4G chose to delay construction.

Today is the last day to tell the Georgia EPD that Power4Georgians has had plenty of time.

We’re all living on the same small spinning piece of real estate sharing the limited water and air that has to sustain all of us. Every one of us have skin in this game.

Sign and share this message to the Georgia EPD TODAY and say that after almost 6.5 years, “enough is enough.”

 

Um no, not really

This letter was submitted to newspapers sold in the Washington EMC area:

Um, no. Not really

There is a critical error of fact in a press release issued by Power 4 Georgians last week. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has NOT stated that Plant Washington is exempt from any of the proposed carbon, or greenhouse gas (GHG) rules proposed by the agency, for existing or new power plants. In fact, it has become even clearer that, if built, Plant Washington will be subject to carbon pollution standards.  The only question is how protective those standards will be.

Plant Washington’s developer Power4Georgians has requested yet another extension from Georgia’s Environmental Protection Agency for his dinosaur-fuel based project. Southern Environmental Law Center attorney John Suttles commented that, “If Power 4 Georgians commenced construction a year ago like they said, they wouldn’t need additional permit extensions.”

Power4Georgians is choosing to delay construction.

With no announced Power Purchase Agreements or billions in required financing announced, of course the project requires extensions. If the project was fully funded and coal stacks of moneycustomers were waiting for power, wouldn’t the plant already be under construction?

The arguments against Plant Washington continue to grow larger and stronger with time. More energy producers are switching to renewable fuel sources due to reduced costs. Ratepayers are demanding more power produced by sunshine and wind. Major financiers have abandoned coal projects. A similarly speculative project, the Longview Power Plant in Maidsville, West Virginia, began operations in December 2011 and filed for bankruptcy less than two years later.  Meanwhile, ratepayers for power plants like the Prairie State Energy Campus have seen their monthly bills go up by as much as 51 percent due to the soaring costs of coal plants.

We’ve never needed Plant Washington in the first place. If you don’t believe me, drive out 300px-Solar_panelsto the 10 megawatt solar farm in Davisboro and see where Cobb EMC in Marietta is buying clean, affordable electricity generated right here in our own community.

Katherine Cummings
FACE Executive Director
Washington EMC owner/member

Disenchantment spreads to Conservatives, last call for King America permit comments

Displeasure with the state’s “protection’ of our natural resources, specifically the Ogeechee River, has found strong voices among leading Conservatives in the last few weeks. Now State Senator Buddy Carter has joined the choir.

Yesterday the Albany Journal ran a letter from Carter in which he said the EPD has “earned a vote of no confidence” from the public and from him as well.

This week the volume was turned up by the Statesboro Herald in a strongly worded editorial. The paper spared no criticism for the EPD or King America Finishing, closing with, “We believe the EPD rightfully has earned a ton of distrust for its handling of King America’s role in the 2011 fish kill. The state agency can begin to regain its credibility as a responsible steward of the environment by demonstrating the health of the Ogeechee River is more important than the sustainability of the King America plant.”

Governor Nathan Deal took his head out of the sand long enough to tell the Statesboro paper that, “We know that we don’t want anything that’s going to pollute our waterways. We don’t want anything that’s going to make our state a worse place from the standpoint of environmental degradation.”

Make our state worse from the standpoint of environmental degradation? We are competing for the bottom of the list. I am afraid to say we can’t get any worse, but with the track record in the last few years, ineptitude among state leaders seems to rise to the challenge every time.

Tuesday the Peach Pundit weighed in with this, “Given the recent history, I find it difficult to be anything but cynical about the state’s ability to protect life in and along the river. My guess is that many who are calling now for stricter oversight will soon be demanding that King America Finishing be forced to shut down.”

Wednesday, May 15 is last call for comments on KAF permit! 

Citizens can comment on the latest King America permit through today at 5:00 p.m. Email your  comments to: EPDcomments@dnr.state.ga.us, with the words “NPDES permit reissuance King America Finishing (Dover Screven County)” in the subject line.

You don’t have to make it fancy, you just need to speak up. “Deny the NPDES permit reissuance for King America Finishing in Dover, Screven County, GA”  is just fine. Make sure you get your name and contact info on the email.

Why the Georgia EPD is toothless

This week started with Mary Landers at the Savannah Morning News reporting that employees at King American Finishing (KAF) were told to drink bottled water at work for the past six months. Tests of two wells at the company’s textile and chemical plant in Screven County found unacceptable levels of cadmium and phenanthrene (known to cause cancer, cardiovascular disease and other serious health problems). An attorney for KAF told Landers in an email that Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division (EPD) ordered the company to switch to bottled water.

Landers contacted EPD Director Jud Turner, who said that the EPD had not issued that requirement.

Someone isn’t telling the truth.

Both the state and the Chicago based company keep telling concerned citizens that everything is okey dokey. But it isn’t.

Last night the Statesboro Herald reported that King America now says the initial water test results were wrong. Why should we believe KAF or, for that matter, the EPD?  Both have talked in circles for two years when tens of thousands of fish died in the Ogeechee, and people ended up in the hospital after swimming in polluted water.

What did the EPD tell 200 citizens during Tuesday night’s public comment session on a proposed permit for the plant? The Savannah Morning News reports that EPD official Jane Hendricks said, “Please understand that under the law EPD has a very limited ability to deny the permit.” The paper goes on to say that Hendricks said that the special conditions that can trigger a denial don’t apply in this case.

Based on newspaper and television coverage, that didn’t quell citizen outrage. They went ahead and took the EPD and King America to task for polluting the river, setting unreasonable discharge limits, failing to respond quickly to citizen complaints, making a mess of the water and wildlife, driving down property values, and hurting businesses based on river activities like boating and fishing.

But Ms. Hendricks’ statement that the EPD can’t easily deny a permit is telling on both  EPD and state leaders. If the EPD was really in the business of proactively protecting our natural resources, they would be all over state legislators each session asking them to put some teeth in their enforcement abilities.

And if state legislators wanted the EPD to protect our water and air, wildlife, drinking water, land, and swimming holes, they’d pass some laws that would empower the EPD to do just that.

In the end, they continue to do nothing. It doesn’t seem to matter how many fish die, how many citizens end up in the hospital after swimming in polluted water, how many people continue to boil water from their wells out of fear of the poisons that may be in it, or how many small businesses are crippled due to boaters, fishermen, and families who just don’t want to chance getting sick from whatever is lurking in our rivers and streams.

It does matter to the citizens and taxpayers. And we are tired of hearing, and feeding, a toothless guard dog barking on our porch.

You can’t take “way over” to the bank

Last Wednesday’s Macon Telegraph included coverage of the long-lingering proposed Plant Washington and developer Dean Alford’s race to meet an April 12 “commence construction” carbon pollution rule deadline set by the EPA almost a year ago.

Should someone call or email Alford? Maybe he missed exactly what the EPA said when it announced the carbon rule (see section 2.2.4). Maybe he hasn’t seen the EPA filings specifically about Plant Washington, or the news coverage and numerous web site postings in the past year pointing out that beating the clock on the April 12 deadline won’t help his no-bid project.

When the EPA announced the deadline, the agency said very clearly that to be exempt from the carbon rule, new coal plants had to have a final permit in hand.

Plant Washington didn’t have a final permit when the rule was announced.

So it isn’t exempt from the carbon emission rules when you get right down to what the EPA said. We all know from past playground experience, whoever makes the rules also gets to enforce them.

The EPA knows exactly when Alford got a final permit because last spring in another set of court filings pertaining to mercury emissions, the agency refers to Plant Washington’s lack of a final permit at the time the carbon rule was announced. The EPA’s filing included this, “The Power 4 Georgians’ (“P4G”) Project (Case No. 12-1184): Movants submit a declaration stating that “as of April 9, 2012, P4G has a final PSD permit and all other required permit approvals necessary to commence construction of Plant Washington.” Mot. Ex. H ¶ 5. This assertion is incorrect, inasmuch as state administrative challenges to the P4G permit remain pending.”

Ooops.

Other coal developers did get the news. They ran the numbers again for their projects as natural gas, and even wind and solar, gained more ground in the power generation market.

Like dominoes, developers began cancelling proposed plants, even in coal friendly states like Texas. The math just didn’t add up any longer. They couldn’t finance, build, and then sell coal-generated power for a profit. They said new coal can’t compete, and existing coal isn’t so cheap either. Beating an April 12 deadline wouldn’t help them. They couldn’t afford to go forward.

Despite the fact that the carbon rule does apply to Plant Washington (and Alford said that having to meet carbon rules would kill the project), Alford has continued talking up his project and making a lot out of meeting the April 12 deadline.

Earlier this week Alford continued the charade when he told the Telegraph “If I add up everybody I’m talking to, I’ve got way over the amount of money I need for this project.”

“Way over” must be A LOT of money, because conservative 2011 estimates, without carbon controls, put Plant Washington at a whopping $3.9B, almost doubling the original $2.1B estimate in 2008. I can’t imagine how many zeros would be added to a price estimate to engineer and control for carbon.

Alford is “talking to” utilities, private investors, pension funds and independent power producers. (Never mind that one doesn’t “talk to” pension funds, it is the fund manager who must be convinced to invest.) Power4Georgians (P4G) and Washington EMC also think there is no reason to be burdened by a pro forma study or independent market analysis to make the case to investors, so at least they aren’t having to trot out tried and true methods of return on investment to funders.

Oh yeah, “talking to” is also not the same as having power purchase agreements, contractors, an EPA approved boiler design, county issued bonds, or all the financing confirmed.

And in all this “talking to,” who is Alford saying will own this plant which will not only supply power to the power purchase customers, but also repay the debt owed in a timely manner?

When Alford announced Plant Washington in January 2008, he said it would be owned and operated by the EMCs in P4G. I heard it with my own ears because I was in the room. Alford even said that under oath in September 2010.

That all changed when his former employer, Cobb EMC, abandoned the project in January 2012. Alford made a final pitch at that meeting to keep his largest funding source engaged. The Marietta Daily Journal’s coverage last year included this from the Cobb EMC minutes, “Power4Georgians owns the permits but he (Dean Alford) stated that P4G never intended to build Plant Washington. He stated P4G’s goal has always been to obtain the permits needed and then sell them to any interested party that could build the plant.”

In January 2012 Alford told the AJC there were “hundred of entities” interested in this project. If the contracts were real, investors were lining up to get a piece of this project, and an owner had been secured, wouldn’t they have been paraded out by now?

The time for Alford and the four remaining EMCs to call it a day on Plant Washington is “way over.”

There’s no need to wait until April 12.

Streamlining protection of our natural resources could result in huge savings for taxpayers

When the Effingham County EMA stepped up and advised citizens to stay out of the Ogeechee River downstream from King America Finishing (KAF) for the second Memorial Day weekend in a row, I started mulling over a suggestion on how the Georgia Environmental Protection Division  (EPD) of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) could save taxpayers significant money and streamline protection of our natural resources. On the heels of yet another advisory issued this week due to blistered catfish downstream from KAF, I think the time is ripe for my suggestion.

Blistered catfish in the Ogeechee River, July 4, 2012
(photo by Effingham County EMA)

Based on the fact that the EPD doesn’t find unpermitted dumping when it does site inspections (the dumping went on for five years at KAF), negotiates paltry consent agreements, and then issues a draft permit which essentially says, “Go ahead and pollute but this time you will have a permit” I suggest that at the least the water program be closed except for one staff person.

My guess is that with the willingness to issue lax permits to repeat polluters, one staffer could readily handle the issuing of permits because it seems issuing permits to dump chemicals and wastes into our rivers and streams is what the EPD thinks it is supposed to do. A small desk with a large “PERMIT APPROVED” stamp is all they would need.

With all the chatter in Georgia about smaller government, the elimination of at least the water program in the EPD could not only serve as a savings to taxpayers, but could also be used for economic development. I can see the advertising now, “Bring your business to Georgia. No restrictions or penalties on polluters! Hurry down for prime river access sites!”

The General Assembly could then take some of those savings on department operations and direct it toward the county agencies who do respond promptly to protect the health of all those who love to fish, swim, and boat in Georgia’s rivers.

Effingham County’s EMA Director, Ed Myrick is a real bargain. Following the second fish kill and two tropical storms in May, Myrick told me in a phone conversation that he is the first full-time EMA Director they have had, and he is the only person on staff.

Myrick isn’t afraid to do whatever it takes to protect the citizens in Effingham County. He told the Atlanta Journal Constitution what we already know, “it is apparent that the pollutants in the Ogeechee River are continuing to be an ongoing problem and may always be until the Northern portions of the river are reclassified. I sympathize with the businesses that depend on the Ogeechee River for income, but we must look after the health and safety of everyone involved.”

One person speaking up when an entire state agency won’t. Because it is the right thing to do.
Riverkeeper suit scheduled in Superior Court Monday, July 9.

 The Ogeechee Riverkeeper (ORK) filed a suit against the EPD when an administrative judge in Atlanta ruled that citizens who live on the river, fish and swim in it, rely on it for their livelihood, or simply enjoy watching the wildlife, have no standing in court. The legal challenge will be heard this Monday, July 9 at 2:00 p.m. in Superior Court in Statesboro.  in Judge Turner’s Courtroom, Judicial Annex Building, 20 Siebald St. Statesboro, Georgia. This is not an opportunity to comment or speak, but rather to support the Riverkeeper and demonstrate your concern by being there. Please remember to adhere to proper courtroom attire and conduct. 

 

One simple reason the EPD shouldn’t issue a final permit for Plant Washington

May 15, 2012

To: Georgia Environmental Protection Division

RE:  Amendment 4911-303-0051-P-01-2

When Plant Washington was announced over four years ago the plant was expected to pump 122 lbs of mercury per year into the local airshed. The EPD approved that amount of toxins in a permit which local residents and organizations across the state challenged. The result was a second permit reducing the mercury emissions to 55.6 lbs per year.

The developer of Plant Washington, Dean Alford, acquiesced on meeting the MATS rules at start up. The much needed and long awaited MATS regulations reduce the allowable mercury emissions to 1.69 lbs per year.

Please allow me to pat myself and other plant opponents on the back for standing firm on lower emissions in a community which already teeters on non-attainment, and whose citizens suffer the health ramifications of poor air quality. If your agency is truly committed to protecting the health of Georgia’s citizens and our natural resources permits with such high emission levels should never have been issued.

Now that Mr. Alford has agreed to meet the MATS emissions sooner rather than later, he seems to have had a change of heart. In interviews with Politico Pro and The Sandersville Progress, Alford said he can meet the emissions standards at start up. That is what the amended permit requires. Period.

I hope you can appreciate my concern about Alford’s ability to meet these standards when he joined a filing with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit stating that the emission regulations are unattainable.

The EPD permit amendment makes no mention of any technical or engineering requirements, or fuel mix, to assure that the emission standards will be met.

Is your agency in the business of issuing permits to companies who announce, before they have secured a final permit, that they can’t meet the requirements of the permit?

Rightly so, the confidence of local citizens in Alford’s ability to meet the standards has been deflated.

The taxpayers and citizens of Georgia expect, deserve, and demand that all companies issued a permit for emissions of any type, are able to meet those standards and maintain them in demonstrable and measurable ways.

Alford’s assurances that Plant Washington can meet the MATS rule are now hollow. I urge and request that the EPD do its duty to protect the health of my community as it is described in your mission and vision statements, and require Alford and Power4Georgians to demonstrate their ability to meet the MATS standards before a final permit is issued.

Sincerely,

Katherine Helms Cummings

From where I stand

Standing-The legally protectible stake or interest that an individual has in a dispute that entitles him to bring the controversy before the court to obtain judicial relief.

Lois Oakley, an administrative law judge presiding over a courtroom in Atlanta, over 200 miles from the Ogeechee River in Eastern Georgia, told citizens living on the river that they have no standing to bring a case concerning the state’s largest fish kill in history. Huh? They live on the river and they have no protectible stake or interest in the river? If they don’t, then who does?

Never mind that the state’s Environmental Protection Division (EPD) inspected King America Finishing and failed, over the course of five years, to find unpermitted dumping. Never mind that the state then tucked its tail between its legs, and instead of levying a penalty that could have reached $91M, it signed off on a consent agreement with King Finishing for $1M. And, to add insult to injury, the agreement doesn’t even require that the paltry $1M be spent directly on protecting the Ogeechee.

As stunning as the judge’s ruling is, what is more stunning is the absolute failure of the state to regulate dumping in the river. Children have been swimming in these cast-off chemicals. Taxpaying citizens have eaten fish soaked in the stuff. And until the dumping got so out of hand that at least 38,000 fish, along with alligators and other wildlife died, the EPD didn’t even know it was going on.

So, if the people who live on the river, depend on the river for their livelihood, love paddling and fishing in it, or have invested in the river for generations (my family has owned a farm on the river since 1789), don’t have standing, then who does?

The Ogeechee fish kill is a heartbreaking example of the state’s lack of interest in protecting our natural resources and wildlife. More importantly, it is a slap on the face to all taxpayers, especially those of us who consider the Ogeechee to be “our” river,  to watch the state continue to discount those of use who stand on its banks.

more information:
Ogeechee Riverkeeper
GreenLaw
Don Stack 

HB 887 gives corporate foxes the key to the hen house

On the heels of Georgia’s largest fish kill in our history– which included five years of unpermitted dumping-the state is on the verge of giving corporate foxes the key to the state hen house with HB 887. If you think the rules and enforcement are lax now, imagine what HB 887 will do.

This bill will allow employees of the  Department of Natural Resources (DNR), which oversees the Environmental Protection Division, to ask for donations from the corporations it permits and regulates. In reality, a corporation eager to obtain a permit might find friends by writing a large check to members of the very agency that issues the permits and then enforces adherence to the permit specs.

HB 887 is sponsored by Chad Nimmer, R-Blackshear, Matt Ramsey, R-Peachtree City, Ellis Black, R-Valdosta, B.J. Pak, R-Lilburn, Robert Dickey, R- Musella, and Richard Smith,
R-Columbus.

Now you know who to blame.

I have a hard time believing that the DNR is going to hold a bake sale to protect the rivers and streams of our state. Some House leaders, including Judy Manning (R-Marietta) and Debbie Buckner (D-Junction City) have said they are uneasy with HB 887.  Rightly so.

The state should find a way to adequately fund the agency charged with “the conservation and protection of these (Georgia’s) resources for current and future generations.” Sending employees, hat in hand, to solicit funds from taxpayers and private corporations to fund their agency is absurd. What would be next? Discount coupons for permits?