- The Sierra Club announced this week it will file a lawsuit against Georgia Power, a Southern Co. subsidiary, to block the utility's plan to drain water at 11 coal ash ponds, saying the utility does not have valid permits allowing wastewater to drain into public waterways.
- Georgia Power officials countered Sierra Club's claims, saying they are "going above and beyond" state requirements, and are in full compliance with regulations and laws, Savannah Morning News reports.
- The utility last year announced it would accelerate the closure of its 29 coal ash repositories to help comply with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Coal Combustion Residual Rule and the Steam Electric Effluent Limitation. Georgia Power expects to spend up to $2 billion during the shuttering process.
Georgia Power is still developing complete plans for how the ponds will be drained, but the Sierra Club said it has more than enough information to file its lawsuit. While some water would be reused, the group says that otherwise water from the coal ash ponds would be treated and discharged into public waters. Coal ash contains arsenic, mercury, selenium, chromium and lead, and its disposal is controversial in Southeastern states, especially after Duke Energy's Dan River spill in 2014.
In a statement, Stephen Stetson, senior representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign in Georgia, said the filing puts the utility "on notice that we’ll fight to make sure they adhere to the critical public health protections in the Clean Water Act before they start pumping water from these toxic coal ash ponds into our lakes and rivers."
But according to the utility, "Georgia Power is in full compliance with all environmental regulations." And Georgia Power spokesman Jacob Hawkins told Savannah Morning News the company "will vigorously defend against any allegation to the contrary. .... we are going above and beyond regulatory requirements to protect Georgia’s water quality.”
Georgia Power's plan called for closing the ponds within 14 years. A dozen cleanups would be completed by 2018, with the remaining 17 done over several years. The utility intends to completely remove ash from 16 of the ponds and enclose the remaining 13 with concrete barriers.