Two local legislators — Alan Powell and Tom McCall — have introduced a bill to ban the burning of creosote-treated railroad ties as a fuel source.
The action follows months of outcry from citizens in Madison and Franklin counties about the danger of burning of creosote-treated railroad ties at new biomass Georgia Renewable Power (GRP) plants in Colbert and Carnesville.
Bill 857 proposes: “Permits issued for industrial biomass boilers shall prohibit the use of wood
products treated with creosote compounds or treated with naphthenate compounds for purposes of commercial electricity generation."
GRP had no comment this about the proposed bill.
Powell said he initially wanted to see local governments given more right to determine what could be burned in their communities, but he said such action wouldn’t hold up in court. He decided to take legislative action after attending a recent citizens’ meeting in Franklin County about the power plants.
“It struck me, they (GRP) came in with one business model and it didn’t include creosote,” said Powell.
The state says only 20 percent of the wood burned at the plants can be railroad ties.
“But how do you audit this?” asked Powell, who added that he is troubled by water runoff problems at the facilities, not just the emissions.
Powell, who was also joined by Rep. Rick Jasperse as a sponsor of the bill, said getting the legislation through the General Assembly will take work. He urged those supporting the bill to make their wishes known to other legislators with a short email in favor of the action.
“I’ve been around long enough to know that even the simplest bill is never easy,” he said.
McCall and Powell both note that GRP facilities in Colbert and Carnesville are the only two businesses burning railroad ties in the state.
“I had no idea you could even do that,” said McCall.
McCall said he was first contacted about the problem by a farmer concerned about the creosote emissions on his produce, but then the floodgates opened and he began hearing from more and more citizens.
He said the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) maintains that the crossties can be safely burned, but
both Powell and McCall voice skepticism about the ability to burn such a substance without affecting local residents and the environment.
State Senator Frank Ginn, who also serves as executive director of the Madison County Industrial Development and Building Authority, said he feels science is there to validate the burning of the ties, but he said there is a clear public perception of harm. He added that he will support the bill if it reaches the Senate.
“If it gets through the House, I’ll get it through the Senate,” he said.
However, Ginn added that state action on outlawing the burning of the ties may ultimately be overridden by federal law.
Drago Tesanovich, co-chairman of the Madison County Clean Power Coalition, praised the legislative action.
“I want to thank Representatives Alan Powell, Tom McCall, and Rick Jasperse on their efforts to introduce legislation that will prohibit the burning of chemically treated wood products, including rail road ties, as fuel for power generation,” said Tesanovich. “After talking to Representative Powell today I realize that the proposed bill has a lot of hurdles to go through before it can become a law. This legislation would go a long way towards protecting all the citizens of Georgia from a practice that endangers everyone.”
Tesanovich urged the public to contact state legislators to support the bill.
“Your health, your neighbor's health and your children's health are worth our concerted effort to make HB 857 the law in Georgia,” he said.
Ruth Ann Tesanovich, secretary and treasurer for MCCPC, said she’s proud of concerned citizens who have cried out for action.
“I am proud of all of the concerned citizens who have worked so hard to make their voices heard,” she said. The EPD air, water and land divisions responded promptly to our many complaints, investigated, and issued violations when warranted. Our House Reps Alan Powell and Tom McCall worked for us! Our fight is not over however. Now we have to write to our legislators across the state in support of HB 857. Hopefully, this bill will pass both House and Senate and become law. Then we will continue to work on other issues related to the GRP plant such as noise and light pollution.”