State Grants Controversial Coal Ash Pond Closure Permit

Dave Williams

Tuesday, December 5th, 2023

Capitol Beat is a nonprofit news service operated by the Georgia Press Educational Foundation that provides coverage of state government to newspapers throughout Georgia. For more information visit

The state has issued a permit to Georgia Power for a coal ash pond closure plan at Plant Hammond critics say violates a federal rule against leaving ash in contact with groundwater.

The closure of Ash Pond 3 at the plant near Rome is in conjunction with the Atlanta-based utility’s plan to to close all 29 of its coal ash ponds. At 19 of the ponds, ash is to be excavated and removed. The other 10 are to be closed in place.

Coal ash contains contaminants including mercury, cadmium and arsenic that can pollute groundwater and drinking water as well as air.

The ponds are being closed because Georgia Power intends to retire its entire fleet of coal-burning power plants by 2028, with the exception of two units at Plant Bowen near Cartersville.

A parade of Georgia environmental activists urged the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) at a public hearing in September not to let the state Environmental Protection Division (EPD) approve permits Georgia Power was seeking to leave ash in groundwater at four of the ash ponds it plans to close in place, including the pond at Plant Hammond.

“This state permit is not worth the paper it’s printed on because ash pond closures cannot comply with the [EPA] rule if closed in contact in groundwater, which is the case with Plant Hammond,” said Chris Bowers, a senior attorney with the Atlanta-based Southern Environmental Law Center.

“Leaving toxic coal ash in primitive, unlined pits contaminates groundwater and puts Georgia’s rivers at risk. … EPA has put Georgia EPD on notice that federal closure standards prohibit closure of ash ponds that are in groundwater, and today’s permit does not change that.”

A Georgia Power spokeswoman said in September that the EPA has authorized Georgia’s coal ash pond permit program to operate rather than the federal program, making Georgia one of only three states authorized to do so.

“At Plant Hammond, as we have at all our ash ponds across the state, we are utilizing proven engineering methods and technologies as part of customized, site-specific closure processes,” the company wrote Thursday in a statement. “This permit issuance is an important step as we continue our ash pond closure efforts at Plant Hammond.”

The permit the EPD issued contains a list of conditions, including following a post-closure plan for at least 30 years, conducting groundwater monitoring, and maintaining “the integrity and effectiveness of the final cover system as necessary to correct the effects of settlement … erosion, or other events, and preventing run-on and runoff.”

The permit is subject to appeal for 30 days.