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CRBI director to testify on water rule today in Washington, DC

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The Coosa River Basin Initiative executive director is flying to Washington, D.C., today to testify against a proposed delay in limiting heavy-metal wastewater discharges from coal-fired power plants.

Jesse Demonbreun-Chap­man said Sunday the change could affect the health of the waterways around Plant Hammond in Floyd County and Plant Bowen in Bartow County.

“Georgia Power has been preparing for years to be in compliance with the rule … and the technology is readily available,” he said.

The rule was finalized in 2015, but U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt wants to postpone the compliance dates — which begin Nov. 1, 2018 — until the standards are reviewed again.

Several petitions were filed in December to reconsider and one came in March from the Utility Water Act Group, a coalition of about 200 electric utilities and trade associations. According to the EPA notice, the UWAG petition contends the agency’s model technology can’t bring the plants into compliance with the new wastewater limitations and standards.

The public hearing starts at 1 p.m. at EPA headquarters.

Demonbreun-Chapman said he’ll be attending with the Sierra Club to talk about the potential impact on the Upper Coosa basin, which covers the Northwest Georgia area to Weiss Lake in Alabama.

“The biggest change is, they were going to put limits on heavy metals — arsenic, lead, mercury, selenium — that get discharged into the water supply,” he said. “It also requires them to start dry-handling their coal ash.”

The ash from coal plants is typically deposited in ponds, although Georgia Power announced last year it would stop taking in coal ash at all 29 sites by mid-2019.

Announced plans are to remove the coal ash from three of the ponds at Plant Hammond and close off the fourth with impermeable concrete barriers. The lone ash pond at Plant Bowen will be closed in place and capped.

Georgia Power officials also said they are converting to a dry-ash handling process. However, Demonbreun-Chapman said the rule is the incentive.

“The new Plant Hammond permit hasn’t been finalized, and they need to reissue one for Bowen too,” Demonbreun-Chapman said. “If EPA overturns the rule, Georgia Power could lobby to leave out the standards. It could be a big problem locally, and it’s an unnecessary one.”

At today’s hearing, he’ll argue that the utility has not said it can’t meet the lowered limits.

“Southern Co. built the Water Research Center at Plant Bowen to test technologies. Companies have been created to help these plants come into compliance,” Demonbreun-Chapman said. “A surefire way to waste millions and billions nationwide is to say all this money you’ve invested is going to go down the drain.”

The clean water protections, known as Effluent Limitations Guidelines, were last updated in 1982.

Georgia Power pulls about 1.3 billion gallons of water a day from public waterways to generate electricity and returns about 90 percent of that as discharge, according to the Water Research Center.