Governor Kemp signs bill banning creosote burning

The people of Colbert can breathe a little easier today as Governor Brian Kemp signed a bill on Tuesday banning the burning of creosote-treated railroad ties.

The Georgia Legislature passed the bill (HB 857) unanimously in June but even today piles of ties still sit in train cars lined up outside the biomass power plant in Colbert, Georgia. By contrast, their yard, where large stacks of these ties had once been stored before they could be incinerated, is now empty. That’s not a moment too soon for Gina Ward, who lives less than a mile from the plant.

“We’re just so desperate to have that toxic compound removed from our environment,” Ward said.

Ward is the co-founder of the Madison Clean Power Coalition, a group working “to mitigate air, water, land, sound and light pollution” coming from the plant, according to their website.

They’ve won a significant grassroots victory with the signing of HB 857, but according to Ward, their fight is far from over.

Ward expressed concerns that Georgia Renewable Power may switch from creosote to burning construction and demolition materials, which she says may include other toxic compounds like lead, plastic or asbestos. 

“That’s just as deadly to our population as the burning of creosote,” she said.

Even without this potential new source of pollution, there are many problems residents say that have yet to be addressed at the plant. Biomass power is marketed as clean energy, but those living nearby say it has caused significant pollution which has disrupted their lives since it began operations last year.

Beyond the constant smell of burning creosote which has now been addressed with HB 857, there have been complaints of toxic dust clouds, extremely loud noise into the night and groundwater contamination.

Critics of biomass power also point to the high levels of particulate matter released from these plants. According to June Deen, the Senior Advocacy Director for the American Lung Association in Georgia, burning even untreated wood “creates air pollution that causes a sweeping array of health harms, from asthma attacks to cancer to heart attacks, resulting in emergency room visits, hospitalizations and premature deaths.”

The Madison Clean Power Coalition will continue speaking at commission meetings and protesting the Colbert plant, hoping that eventually their county government will act on their requests, which include sound testing at the plant and well water testing for those living in the area.

Stacks of wood with a power plant in the distance

For more information on the Colbert plant and on biomass energy in general, you can watch APN’s video on biomass here.

You can also find out more at the Madison Clean Power Coalition website.

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