Georgia Supreme Court rejects coal ash lawsuit that could have stopped Georgia Power from passing costs on to consumers

A coal ash pond.

The Georgia Supreme Court has declined to take up a legal challenge to Georgia Power’s plan to collect $525 million from customers in coal ash pond closure costs.

The Sierra Club had appealed to the high court after both a Fulton County trial court and the state Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the Atlanta-based utility, upholding a 2019 vote by the Georgia Public Service Commission giving Georgia Power the green light on its plan.

Georgia Power plans to spend nearly $9 billion to close all 29 of its ash ponds at 11 coal-burning power plants. The company intends 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.

The lawsuit sought to force Georgia Power – rather than its customers – to pay for the cleanup, with the Sierra Club arguing the utility was to blame for the coal ash problem.

“There are people all over the state who have to deal with serious impacts from coal ash in the form of poisoned drinking water and unsafe fishing and recreation,” Charline Whyte, senior campaign representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign in Georgia, said Friday.

“Now, every Georgia Power customer is picking up some of the tab for a decision that the utility knowingly made for decades.”

The Sierra Club and other environmental groups have charged Georgia Power’s decision to leave some of the coal ash in unlined pits in contact with groundwater violates federal clean-water standards.

Lawyers for the utility have countered that the ash pond closure plan complies with federal regulations for ash ponds as well as the more stringent requirements of the Georgia Environmental Protection Division.

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

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