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.

Rinse, reuse, refill

A man commented to me that it has been hot and dry as we waited in a line together last week. A reusable water bottle is a constant companion with me year-round, so I held up the blue metal bottle I had filled up before leaving the house and said I can’t drink enough water on hot days. He responded that he also drinks a lot of water and buys it by the case. He asked me if I buy a lot of water. I replied that we have several reusable bottles which we fill and take with us, so we rarely buy bottled water. He smiled and said that he buys water by the case and tosses the empties, “because it is so cheap.”

Water bottles come in all shapes and sizes. The stainless steel travel coffee tumbler (front row, far right) was part of an anniversary gift from my husband in 1996. Most coffee shops offer a discount if they fill your cup instead of theirs.
Water bottles come in all shapes and sizes. The stainless steel travel coffee tumbler (front row, far right) was part of an anniversary gift from my husband in 1996. Most coffee shops offer a discount if they fill your cup instead of theirs.

Two days later a cashier handed me a bottle of water with her business logo printed on it, saying they were complimentary for customers. My blue water bottle was on the check out counter, so I replied that I had my own bottle, but thanks anyway. She suggested I pour the water she had offered into my own bottle. I said I didn’t mind refilling my well-worn bottle at their water fountain instead. Her expression told me she didn’t understand why I preferred the water from the fountain. I told her my goal was to create less plastic waste. By refilling my own bottle she could save the one she offered to me for another customer and I was happy to refill my own. Rinse, refill, reuse. Drink up folks-it’s hot outside!

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?

What is missing from all the noise about breast cancer funding?

Last week when the country erupted over Susan G. Komen’s decision to yank funding for Planned Parenthood, one key element was missing from all the shouting: how many cancer organizations are talking about the very real dangers and causes of cancer resulting from how our food is produced, and what is in the air and water we rely on?

Genes play a part in one’s proclivity for disease in many cases, but what we eat, the air we breathe, and the water we drink play a large part in our health. Exercise does too, but if you have asthma or respiratory problems, being outside on a bad air quality day isn’t an option.

Why aren’t more health and disease focused groups insisting that these contributors to poor health status be addressed? Before quitting my job as the Executive Director of the Georgia Rural Health Associaction (GRHA), I made mention of my volunteer work, more than once, with the Fall-line Alliance for a Clean Environment (FACE). My “hobby” fighting coal was just that, a volunteer thing I did on my own time and dime.

I would go to meetings with state partners fighting three proposed coal plants in Georgia and folks would ask why, if GRHA was working on behalf of better health for rural Georgians, wasn’t the organization speaking up to protect the air and water sheds in the threatened communities? That remains a mystery to this day.

Standing up to new coal, AND talking about the problems already plaguing rural communities from existing coal plants, would have been appropriate and right. I couldn’t make my personal agenda GRHA’s, but it still begs the question: why aren’t more health care advocacy organizations speaking up for what lies at the root of so many health problems? The silence from the Department of Community Health in Georgia is stunning.

While so many of us focus on how Komen let politics get in the way of delivering preventive      health screenings to undeserved women, we shouldn’t forget that our environment and access to healthy foods play a part in good health too. When you consider where to donate, think about what isn’t being said publicly. Better yet, ask them why before you sign the check.

 

(Read a 2011 post asking if any state agency in Georgia is protecting citizen health here:  http://ruralandprogressive.blogspot.com/2011/10/why-isnt-department-of-public-health.html)

Senate Bill 269: Georgia’s rivers and streams for sale to lowest bidder

One would think that if an elected official, like Jesse Stone of Senate District 23, had an opportunity to introduce legislation that would create stronger safeguards for the already polluted rivers in his district, he would. But in fact, as a co-sponsor of SB 269, he hasn’t.

The Ogeechee River, which experienced the largest fish kill in our state’s history last year, meanders through Stone’s district. Reedy Creek and Brier Creek also pass through the district, and both were recently polluted with spills (the Reedy Creek spill happened over New Year’s weekend).  Stone sits on the Senate Natural Resources and the Environment Committee, so he certainly has access to and influence on a committee that should be attuned to clean air and water issues.


SB 269
, which Stone co-sponsored, as written now, would allow the director of the Environmental Protection Division (sometimes referred to as the Environmental Pollution Division among citizens) to negotiate a settlement with a polluter (both private companies and local governments) rather than imposing a stiff fine or penalty. SB 269 would allow the EPD director to notify “any person” (i.e. the polluter) and offer to negoiate an agreement    In short, the polluter and the EPD director can ignore penalties and just settle on some type of corrective action.

The director may also extend the period of time for clean up in six month increments with no limit on the number of extensions allowed.

So who has Jesse Stone’s ear? Of local interest were Stone’s campaign contributors Ben Tarbutton, Jr and Hugh Tarbutton, both donating $500.00. Hugh Tarbutton chairs the Washington County Industrial Development Authority. (The Tarbuttons have been advocates for coal fired Plant Washington, organized by Power4Georgians since it was announced over four years ago.)  Ben Turnipspeed, an engineer who has worked for the cities of Sandersville, Davisboro, Deepstep, and Louisville, donated $200.00 to Stone’s campaign.

The citizens of Georgia know that the EPD failed completely and absolutely to conduct proper inspections at King America Finishing during a five year period when the company dumped unpermitted fire retardant chemicals into the river. The EPD tucked its tail between its legs and entered into a $1M consent agreement with King Finishing, when the penalty could have been as high as $91M. And now Stone supports giving the EPD even more freedom to negoiate way our natural resources?

Right now I don’t have a lot of confidence in the inspection and oversight conducted by the EPD, or its ability and willingness to pursue companies and local governments responsible for spills and dumping which endanger the drink water supplies of both municipal water systems and home and farms depending on well water in the aquifer. Drinking water alone is a reason to have and uphold the highest regulations and penalties possible. Add the damage to wildlife, recreational areas, and businesses connected to the rivers, and the damage is even greater. Georgia can’t afford to have dirty water.

I called Stone’s office and left a message that will leave no doubt in his mind how disappointed I am in this bill and his support of it. The bill now moves to the Senate Rules Committee. Citizens across the state are contacting Rules Committee members Jack Hill, Buddy Carter, and Johnny Grant by phone and email to urge them to VOTE NO on SB 269. These three senators know and value the rivers in our state. We are counting on them to stand up for clean water for all Georgians. Apparently we can’t count on Jesse Stone to do that.