Railroad ties

Creosote-treated railroad ties are pictured outside of Georgia Renewable Power in October.

Legislation to stop the burning of creosote-treated wood as a fuel source for biomass power plants in Georgia is working its way through the Georgia General Assembly — and it passed through the House of Representatives by a unanimous vote Thursday. It will now go to the State Senate.

House Bill (HB) 857, sponsored by District 32 Rep. Alan Powell and District 33 Rep. Tom McCall, was considered on the floor of the Georgia House of Representatives Thursday after passing out of the Natural Resources and Environment committee and the House rules committee.

Now the bill will cross over to the Senate, where it will go through the same committees before going to a vote on the Senate floor. If it passes out of the Senate, it will go to Gov. Brian Kemp’s desk to be signed or vetoed. The law would take effect once signed by Kemp.

District 47 State Sen. Frank Ginn has said he will support the legislation to ban the burning of creosote treated wood as a biomass fuel source.

Residents around Georgia Renewable Power (GRP) biomass power plants in Colbert and Carnesville have protested for months about the company’s practice of burning creosote-treated railroad ties as a source for generating electricity. Creosote is a known carcinogen. The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has ruled that creosote-treated railroad ties can be used as a fuel source for biomass plants. But many neighbors of the plants say this practice endangers their health and the environment. Company officials have countered that the practice is safe and well regulated.

The legislation includes an amendment to exempt forestry processing plants from the regulation, leaving the rule applying only to commercial electricity generation.

The initial legislation stated: “Permits issued for biomass boilers shall prohibit the use of railroad ties treated with creosote compounds or treated with naphthenate compounds for purposes of commercial electricity generation.”

But amended legislation would tack the following clause to the end of that statement: “unless the boiler also provides steam or electricity to any co-located forest products processing plant.”

Powell said that amendment would apply to an existing forestry plant in Dublin.

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