Wayne County Georgia residents need help protecting treasured wetlands from a potential environmental catastrophe. In the town where I spent much of my childhood, a small newspaper has taken on a giant corporation bent on dumping coal ash in a local landfill. The story is a poignant reminder of how small town America has been bulldozed by big business. Here is a synopsis, and I promise to me more eloquent and precise in my next report.
“Coal ash, the toxic remains of coal burning in power plants, is full of chemicals that cause cancer, developmental disorders and reproductive problems. It poisons our water and kills fish and wildlife.” — EARTHJUSTICE —
The story goes something like this. Republic Services, Inc. runs a landfill off Penholoway Creek, in an area called Broadhurst, just outside the city limits of Jesup, Georgia. Republic wants to dump coal ash into the landfill now, and Wayne County commissioners “somehow” approved their bid. Now that residents know some of the risks to prized wetlands, they are against disposing of the metals laden ash for coal fired power plants. Standing in the way of Republic, is a tiny newspaper that has served this part of America since 1880.
A Sliver of Freedom Left
Dink NeSmith owns The Press-Sentinel in Jesup, Georgia. I have known him more than forty years. I cannot lay claim to being friends with him personally. I do recall my father, an attorney who practiced in Jesup, entrusting his own editorials to the newspaper. Back in the 60s and 70s, when Dad practiced law, newspapers were a valuable resource for getting the right information in front of people. And for Wayne County, and hundreds of other tiny communities around the US, this is still so. I met the previous publisher of the Wayne County Press too, as I used to deliver editorials to both papers from Dad, way back when. Dink NeSmith spearheaded the union of the Press and the Sentinel papers back in the early 70s. Today he owns quite a few little newspapers across Georgia, Florida, and North Carolina. That’s the short introduction, but it is important to understand, Wayne County is home toe NeSmith, and a bunch of other great people I know. You know, the notion “home” is sacred to all Americans, and so is the real press, though we seem to have forgotten.
I have a million stories about Wayne County. Right now I sit here saddened to hear of yet another tragedy in the making there. The place we all grew up, it has been marginalized and devastated by other corporate ideas. Places like Jesup dot the American landscape now, you could call them “the places and people capitalism forgot”, I guess. Main Street USA, all our dreams and hopes, generations are what this story is about. I know you can identify. I remember now, that we all came from “the country” at some point. Well, the countryside is a waste dump nowadays, and corporations like Republic Services help make this so. When I read about Dink NeSmith’s bout against the dumping, I decided to do my bit to stop it too. This report by Susannah Nesmith, it fills us in on more details. As for my part, I chose to tell you about the endangered wetlands, and the company intent on making money off coal ash disposal.
“We are suffering out here in rural America. We are watching agrarian landscapes turned into industrial ones (giant clear-cuts, giant glyphosated fields, giant genetically engineered eucalyptus plantations), and we are watching the high quality of rural life, with its hummingbirds and purple martins, its trilliums and turnips, its streams and lakes, made toxic.” — Author Janisse Ray —
An article by Janisse Ray, on The Bitter Southerner, it frames a colorful and familiar picture for readers forlorn over the decline of rural America. I urge you to read it, for the author weaves a meaningful tapestry for anyone wanting to revisit the Deep South. More important than her ethereal colloquial character portrayals though, is the raping of an American dream going on. Ray is intimately familiar with the corporate monster, she’s been jailed for opposition to the demons of greed. Here report is riveting. It smashes in the heads of the medusa-like powers gripping rural America – powers that have poisoned us all for decades. She creates the bridge between us. But we all need to help. And this is where, and why I come in. Our country has been taken over almost completely, but the unscrupulous investor. Let’s now focus on coal ash, Republic Services, and the potential for harm.
Transparent PR Games
On Republic Services’ website the company suggests a “potential” of coal ash. The PR people who approved the text, they were slick, I’ll give them that. Since I helped companies develop their “minimalist” site designs, seeing huge sub-headings like “Capabilities for Coal Ash”, with nothing much contextually underneath is an indicator. Stick with me now, I am about to go deep and hard on this company. Here is a PR expert, and digital content guru’s assessment of Republic.
“You work hard to manage your coal combustion residuals (CCRs) in an ever-changing industry. We’re here to provide you with effective solutions to meet your needs. We partner with material producers and managers, providing insight and guidance on operations, logistics, technology adoption, and other tools and strategies to broaden the recycling and disposal options for CCRs.”
This dogma means two things. First, CCRs have absolutely no redeeming qualities. And second, all Republic can say about them is; “Pay us, and we’ll find some way to get rid of your shit.” The gibberish laced in between? Well, I have been editing and evaluating similar bullshit 20 years now. The real story here is profit, massive profit for Republic Services. So, it does not surprise me to discover that Microsoft billionaire, Bill Gates was the major shareholder in Republic. It is not even surprising that a teamster protest associated with Wayne County’s plight cast dispersion on Republic and Gates, where the West Lake complex in Bridgeton, Missouri tells of an ongoing underground fire, and tons of illegally dumped radioactive waste. I wish I had space here, I would include details into other Republic Services landfill messes like the illegal fracking waste story from Kentucky, or focus on Berkshire Hathaway (BRKA) boss Warren Buffett! But this angle will have to wait. You can read about this catastrophe from the sources. (Yes, go on and hate me Republic, Obama does already)
The aforementioned report by Janisse Ray informs us that Georgia Power (Southern Company) needs a solution for a coal ash problem, and fast. According to research by The Press Sentinel, the decades old Georgia Power coal-ash lagoons are all done, and the company needs to find a home for 6 million tons of the toxic waste a year. Duke Power up north, is in the same boat.
“North Carolina regulators say Duke Energy must dig up and close all of the more than 30 coal ash basins scattered across the state within the next eight years because of the risk they pose to the public and the environment.” — WRAL Raleigh, NC
Leaking coal ash ponds situated next to coal fired energy plants across the south, they are a mutant catastrophe akin to a nuclear disaster. The energy corporations know this, they are being mandated to excavate and clean up their leeching toxic messes of half a century, and there is HUGE money in solving their problems. While Republic Services claims the lined landfill will contain the arsenic and metals contamination from polluting vital aquifers beneath their site, the fact is the fill has already leaked. With the help of Atlanta Journal Constitution reporter Dan Chapman, the Jesup newspaper discovered that:
“In 2011, beryllium and zinc levels were elevated in one of the test wells on site. In 2015, cadmium exceeded Georgia drinking-water standards. Arsenic levels in the soil were “slightly high.” The EPD detected mercury.”
It’s a Federal Case!
At the time Wayne County Commissioners penned a deal with Republic Services over coal ash dumping, I can guarantee not 10% of Wayne County knew of the landfill’s delicate location. I used to teach geography in the middle school in Jesup, and geology is not a strong suit among Wayne County residents. The Republic Services dump “sits directly atop the Miocene and the Floridan aquifers — underground streams. A creek runs through the Republic property on its way to the coast at Darien, headed toward the Golden Isles, St. Simons and Little St. Simons,” to quote Ms. Ray once again.
Money, and train-loads of it, that’s what this Wayne County landfill epoch is about. According to the reports, Republic Services and the Wayne County Commission came to terms still in effect, that the county would be paid $1.80 cents per ton for taking the ash waste. But considering the drastically increasing costs of processing ash waste, the figure is ludicrous, and for a number of reasons. First and foremost, this is a tiny fraction of what Georgia Power and others should really be paying to have this material disposed of. This Power Engineering report gives us more clues as to why my hometown in the Deep South is being made a waste dump. The real cost of genuinely sustainable ash waste disposal is in the neighborhood of $20 to $40 dollars per ton. Here in Germany, for instance, 97% of coal ash is reused rather than put into dumps. And in the Netherlands, landfills are not even allowed at all.
Republic Services has to turn a profit, of course, and the power companies can only transfer the expense of sustainable solutions to customers (which is what should happen). The problem arises when bigger profit margins are the goal. Georgia Power and the others lobby for anything that lowers their costs. If they could dump coal ash in the ocean, they would. The reader should find it interesting to note that Republic Services has a new technology for further purifying ash from existing landfills, and from shipments of incinerated ashes via transport. This company press release tells of a 1 million ton per year Republic Services landfill ash metal recovery facility now in operation at the Roosevelt Regional Landfill in Klickitat County Washington. The absence of this partial solution for Wayne County’s woes is fairly simple. It costs too much to filter this waste.
And too, Georgia is not willing to emulate Washington state, known for its environmental record. Besides, Wayne County’s streams and rivers don’t flow down to the Columbia River, and to Portland or Astoria. But Georgia should try and emulate, and if not, the Federal Government, which is where this current case should be in the first place. While I am not privy to all the Press Sentinel is, where the contract terms of here are concerned, it seems to me that new EPA mandates and the previous leakages bear scrutiny. This is especially true if those EPA guidelines (since the 2011 leaks) re-educate commissioners on toxins etc. Maybe someone should seek a federal injunction?
Sustaining “Home” at Any Cost
Now we arrive at the crux of my argument (for this week) – regulators, rules, and jurisdiction. Wayne County is a poor county compared to so many. The main reason Republic Resources is even there, is to take advantage of a dying infrastructure. It’s also fair to assess, Wayne County’s commissioners are partly to blame, for selling Jesup’s economic illness to the corporate dragon. For years, Jesup and towns like it have been in steep decline. The “Walmart effect” ruined the town, as did reliance on ITT Rayoneer for too much of the city’s former prosperity. The railroad is now gone, shops are almost all closed, the farmer’s market is only an echo, and many residents have been forced to move off. The people struggle, where once towns in this region thrived. Standing back a bit, from where I am, I cannot even express how sad all this is. As I editorialize the Washington insanity over US hegemony elsewhere, my countrymen in the south experience a second “reconstruction” – only this time the future is putrid and polluted. If we let these companies reign, the south damn sure won’t rise again.
In the UK a recent re-classification of coal ash was proposed. Though big energy won out in preventing the ash being categorized as hazardous, the lesson of higher taxes on landfill waste is there. If Georgia legislators, for example, were to slap a fat tax on coal ash, then a huge market for coal ash refining and alternative use would emerge. And here is a case for the Wayne County Commission to consider (with their lawyers). I will also guarantee, that not one of the commissioners is fully versed on new developments in this area. A thorough re-visitation of the contract with Republic Services would surely reveal “stipulations” as to “discovery”, and issues like “future solutions” etc. Opponents are looking at “technicalities” over a rail spur into the dump, as one loophole out of the situation, and certainly there have to be others.
In many ways, what Southern Company, and Republic Services is doing to Jesup, Georgia is medieval. These are the same people that denied acid raid first, and then climate change. Their strategies are always Machiavellian, always profit-centric, and seldom in the public interest. It is the Wayne County Commission’s, the Georgia Legislature’s, and the Federal Government’s responsibility to protect citizens first, and companies second. But this is a deeper constitutional argument. On coal ash seepage fouling water aquifers in my homeland, there is really no defense for these corporations. Sooner or later these toxins will enter the water table, and no big business entity on this Earth can prove otherwise. As sure as the Titanic sank, and just a the Army Corps of Engineers messed up the New Orleans levies, people are going to be in harm’s way. Jesup is being picked on, because corporations love kicking the little guy when he is down.
Hopefully, the good people or rural America, will not let Wayne County be taken advantage of. Hopefully America will consider how valuable “home” really is.
Stay tuned, for when I have more time.