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ATLANTA – The Sierra Club filed an appeal Friday to a court decision upholding Georgia Power Co.’s plan to collect from customers $525 million in coal ash pond closure costs.

This story also appeared in Capitol Beat News Service

The state Public Service Commission (PSC) gave the Atlanta-based utility permission to pass along those costs as part of Georgia Power’s 2019 rate case. A Fulton County Superior Court judge upheld the commission’s decision late last year.

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Georgia Power is spending an estimated $8.1 billion on a multi-year plan to close all 29 of its ash ponds located at 11 coal-burning power plants across the state to comply with federal regulations. The utility plans to excavate and remove the ash from 19 ponds and close the other 10 ponds in place.

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

“Georgia Power customers have already paid for the coal being burned – both with their pocketbooks and with their health,” said David Rogers, Southeast deputy regional director for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign. “They shouldn’t have to foot the bill for Georgia Power’s bad business decision decades ago to not properly dispose of this toxic coal ash.”

In a brief submitted to the Georgia Court of Appeals, the Sierra Club argues that Georgia Power failed to explain in the rate case how it would spend the $525 million it requested.

The brief also complains that the PSC approved Georgia Power’s proposal even though the state Environmental Protection Division has yet to issue permits for the ponds slated to be closed.

The costs of cleaning up around 92 million tons of coal ash across Georgia would go up if the PSC later requires the utility to excavate all of the ponds and store the ash in lined landfills, the Sierra Club asserts.

For its part, Georgia Power argued in the Fulton County case that none of the testimony filed in the 2019 rate case dealt directly with its request to pass on $525 million in cleanup costs to customers.

Neither federal nor state environmental regulators have accused Georgia Power breaking the law in developing its ash cleanup plan, a lawyer representing the utility said during a court hearing last fall.

The Republican-controlled General Assembly declined to take up legislation introduced by minority Democrats during the recently concluded session requiring coal ash to be stored in lined landfills.

A bill tightening monitoring requirements for coal ash made it through the Georgia House of Representatives but died in the state Senate.

This story available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

Dave Williams/Capitol Beat

Dave Williams is bureau chief for Capitol Beat News Service, a service of the Georgia Press Education Foundation.