Expired permits leave water sources vulnerable to toxins, pollutants
ATLANTA, GA—The Sierra Club and its allies are calling on state regulators to protect Georgia’s drinking water and rivers from mercury, arsenic, and other dangerous pollutants by updating and enforcing expired permits on all six of the state’s coal-fired power plants.
Twelve groups have sent a joint letter (attached) to the Environmental Protection Division to revise and update expired National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (“NPDES”) permits on Georgia’s coal plants, so that critical water protections in new federal rules can be met and implemented without delay. The groups have also requested no less than 60 days for public comments on any draft permits, as well as a meeting with EPD to discuss details and timelines.
“The timely renewal of NPDES permits is a linchpin of the Clean Water Act, and an essential part of EPD’s responsibilities to public health and safety,” said Jonathan Levenshus, campaign representative for the Beyond Coal campaign in Georgia.
Last year, the EPA announced updated safeguards (effluent limitation guidelines, or “ELGs”) to control the amount of toxic heavy metal pollution coal plants can dump into waterways. Existing, weak national ELGs were more than 30 years old and allowed coal plants to release billions of pounds of contaminants in wastewater directly into water supplies and rivers. The new standards will protect Georgians from toxic wastewater from coal-fired power plants. But EPD must first ensure that new NPDES permits cover the full breadth of public health protections required by the new ELGs.
The groups also urge regulators and plant owners to consider whether it would be more prudent to retire Georgia’s coal fleet rather than spending huge sums of ratepayer money maintaining the facilities in the face of new regulations, unstable market conditions surrounding fossil fuels, and the fact that renewable energy technologies are smarter, more reliable and more cost-effective ways to meet public energy needs.
“Hardworking Georgians don’t deserve to see their money wasted on expensive, outdated and environmentally damaging energy sources,” said Ian Karra, organizing representative for the Beyond Coal campaign in Georgia. “There are better, cleaner, cheaper ways to power our communities that don’t involve needlessly propping up coal plants like Plant Hammond.”
In fact, a report issued last year by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis found that Plant Hammond costs $94 per megawatt hour to operate — twice as much as it costs Georgia Power to buy power on the market, especially low-cost wind power from the Great Plains.
“State regulators have dragged their feet far too long on cleaning up Plant Hammond and other coal-fired power plants across the state,” said Amos Tuck,Upper Coosa Riverkeeper at Coosa River Basin Initiative. “The operation of Plant Hammond in particular is polluting our water and killing fish. It’s time Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division actually protected our water.”