A Letter to the EPA: Comment on Georgia’s Coal Combustion Residuals (CCR) Permit Program

For over 15 years, Georgia Interfaith Power and Light has engaged communities of faith across the state of Georgia in the stewardship of Creation as a direct expression of what it means to be faithful. We have partnered with hundreds of churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, religious schools, and religious non-profits in pursuit of faithful environmental action, to take care of this glorious creation that God has entrusted us with.

A large part of our work for several years has been to ensure that Georgia’s coal ash is disposed of in a just and safe way. Today I urge you: do not approve of Georgia’s program and plans for coal ash storage and disposal as they stand now.

Currently, the [EPA’s] plan is to leave roughly 50 million tons of coal ash in unlined pits scattered across the state, allowing the heavy metals and toxic materials to remain dangerously close to Georgia’s rivers, lakes, and streams. In several locations, this coal ash is currently sitting in the groundwater, surely leeching these toxins every moment we delay.

Furthermore, this proposed plan offers incredibly limited mechanisms for communities to raise their voices and concerns to the Georgia Environmental Protection Division. Just as it was important for you to hold this public hearing, to allow voices from the community to plead with you, so too it is important to honor the residents of the communities in which this coal ash is going to be stored, by allowing them to raise their own concerns at a similar such hearing that should be held in their own community.

It is imperative that coal ash is stored in dry, lined facilities in order to protect our waterways for the sake of recreation, access to safe drinking water, and other such activities. However, much more than this is at stake. My training is as a minister, and my job is to work with faith communities around this state in order to protect Creation. In my Christian tradition, caring for Creation is fundamental to what it means to love God, and to love neighbor. We must protect our water because it is a holy work to do so. We must protect the health of our neighbors because it is a holy work to do so. We must elevate the voices of our communities and our neighbors because it is a holy work to do so.

To allow coal ash to continue to damage our environment and Georgia’s communities by leaving it leaking in unlined pits is a betrayal of our charge to care for God’s creation and to live a life of faithfulness, regardless of our tradition. To scar creation, is to scar the face of God. To put our neighbors in the path of potential harm, when we could now do something about it, is to forget our calling, and from a Christian perspective, to abandon our first commandment to care for this place. This proposed coal ash program condones the desecration of the glory of God as revealed in Creation.

There are, as I said, hundreds of congregations that we [GIPL] have worked with, many of whom share the perspective about coal ash that I have raised here. Thousands more sit in communities throughout the state. All of them deserve the opportunity to raise their voice in an effort to protect their communities, their families, and Creation. Not only does Georgia’s coal ash program currently stand to do further harm to our environment and our neighbors, it stands to rob communities of their voices, and of their opportunity to speak their convictions, whatever they may be. I ask you to honor the convictions of all the people in the communities in which this coal ash is going to be stored, by giving them an opportunity to speak. I ask you to honor God and the convictions of many faith communities across this state by protecting Georgia’s piece of Creation.

Do not approve of Georgia’s coal ash program unless the following changes are made:

  1. The Georgia Environmental Protection Division must hold a public hearing on every single coal ash permit application before the decision is made, and that public hearing must be held in the community where the coal ash is located.
  2. EPD must provide public notice and an opportunity to comment on every single 5-year review of issued coal ash permits.
  3. EPD must require Georgia Power to dig up all of its coal ash and store it in lined dry facilities away from waterways.

Please do this to protect Georgia’s water, to safeguard against harming our neighbors, and to protect Creation.

Codi Norred, Program Director
Georgia Interfaith Power and Light

We encourage you to submit your own comments to the EPA. The comment period closes Tuesday, August 27. Comments can be submitted here.