The coal ash pond, foreground, of Georgia Power's Plant Scherer near Juliette in August 2019.

The coal ash pond, foreground, of Georgia Power's Plant Scherer near Juliette in August 2019.

Credit: GPB file photo

The Sierra Club is asking the Georgia Supreme Court to take up its challenge of  Georgia Power’s plan to collect from customers $525 million in coal ash pond closure costs.

Both a trial court in Fulton County and the Georgia Court of Appeals have upheld a decision by the state Public Service Commission (PSC) to let the Atlanta-based utility recover a portion of the costs of closing all 29 of its ash ponds at 11 coal-burning power plants across Georgia, nearly $9 billion according to the latest estimate.

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

Georgia Power plans to excavate and remove the ash from 19 ponds and close the other 10 ponds in place.

Lawyers for the Sierra Club have argued the PSC failed to take into account Georgia Power’s culpability in creating the coal ash problem to begin with, and thus should not be allowed to pass all of those costs onto customers. 

“Georgia Power made a decision to cut corners by continuing to store coal ash in unlined pits, disregarding the health and safety of Georgia communities and their waterways,” said Charline Whyte, senior campaign representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Campaign in Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi. “If the lower court’s ruling is left unchecked, it will leave the door wide open for Georgia Power to continue to flip the bill to its customers for years to come.”

Georgia Power’s lawyers have countered that the utility’s ash pond closure plan complies with federal regulations as well as more stringent state requirements and that the PSC has thoroughly reviewed the cost recovery issue in making its decision.

This story comes to GPB through a reporting partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.