The Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) will host an online public hearing at 6 p.m. Oct. 14 on Georgia Power’s proposed plan for toxic coal ash located at Plant Bowen. 

EPD released the draft permit on Sept. 14 for Ash Pond-1 (AP-1), which initiates a 60-day comment period that ends on Nov. 15. Comments will be accepted both at the virtual hearing and via email to  [email protected], with the subject line “Plant Bowen AP-1 CCR Permit.”

The EPD permitting process determines how Georgia Power must deal with the pollution left over from decades of burning coal at its plants throughout the state. Coal ash is the toxic residual waste created by burning coal, which is then mixed with water and dumped into giant pits. Coal ash contains some of the most toxic materials on earth, like arsenic, mercury, chromium, beryllium, and radium. These toxins can poison water and cause significant health complications like cancer, reproductive issues, and heart problems.  

Although Georgia Power plans to install a liner at Bowen AP-1, underneath AP-1 lies unstable karst terrain, which is prone to sinkholes and underground caves. Expert analysis shows that a liner will likely not protect ground and surface water from coal ash contamination if another sinkhole develops. 

In 2002, a four acre-wide sinkhole formed under Plant Bowen and released 2.25 million gallons of coal ash into Euharlee Creek. This spill resulted in arsenic levels rising to 1250 parts per billion, exceeding federal drinking water standards by more than 120 times, which caused downstream drinking water intakes to suspend operation. Additional sinkholes developed again at AP-1 in December 2008 also caused by the inherent instability of the terrain. 

Sierra Club is mobilizing concerned community members to send comments to the EPD and/or attend the public hearing to make it known that the public is opposed to Georgia Power’s dangerous plan. To learn more and sign up to take action, visit GeorgiaCoalAsh.org.

“As a resident of Cartersville, only about 10 miles from Plant Bowen, I am deeply concerned about toxic coal ash,” said Barbara Tustian, who has lived in Cartersville for more than 30 years, and within a few miles of Plant Bowen since 2002. “Coal burning plants across the country are closing as the transition to cleaner energy sources becomes a priority in order to control climate change. The accumulated waste from these plants — millions of tons of coal ash — must be dealt with to eliminate the health threat it poses to our environment and waterways. 

“As theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said, ‘The ultimate test of a moral society is the kind of world it leaves to its children.’ Our lives, our health, and that of generations to come depend on the safety of clean air and water. It’s our responsibility to do all we can to ensure the quality of these resources. It’s the only moral option.”

Georgia Power released the following statement to CVN:

In 2018, Georgia Power announced that it would permanently close the 250-acre ash pond at Plant Bowen by excavating the ash and installing a synthetic liner to create a new, smaller 144-acre, lined ash storage facility onsite that will be permitted and regulated by Georgia EPD. 

Each closure design is certified by a team of independent, professional engineers and geologists and demonstrates how the specific closure design meets the performance standards established in the Federal and State CCR Rules. Regardless of the method used, closure by removal or closure in place, we’re going to be sure that our closure plans are protective of the environment and the communities we serve.  

Georgia Power has been monitoring and reporting groundwater data around Plant Bowen to the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) for years and has publicly posted monitoring data on our website since 2016. Monitoring will continue long after the ash pond at Plant Bowen is closed. Independent engineers and geologists will be monitoring the groundwater for years and routinely reporting the results to the EPD. Monitoring will continue for decades to protect public health and the environment.