House Bill 857 will soon become law in Georgia.

By MJ Kneiser, WLHR

House Bill 857 will soon become law in Georgia.

Thursday afternoon, the Georgia Senate voted unanimously to pass the bill that bans the burning of creosote-coated railroad ties to generate power.

State Representative Alan Powell of the 32nd District and State Representative Tom McCall of the 33rd District along with Rick Jasperse of the 11th District dropped the bill in the House on February 1 after it was discovered Georgia law said local governments had no authority to stop GRP’s operations.

Before the vote, lawmakers heard from State Senator John Wilkinson of the 50th District who urged senators to pass the bill.

Wilkinson told the Senate the bill will prevent the Georgia Environmental Protection Division from issuing permits for the burning of creosote-coated railroad ties to generate fuel. “When the plants were constructed it was illegal to use anything that had been treated with creosote as a source of fuel. It contains carcinogenics. These plants were constructed in residential areas where people had the understanding that they were going to use wood chips, wood products, and forest bi-products to generate electricity. They have been generating power by using railroad ties treated with creosote. It has become a problem we feel for the safety of constituents in the counties that we need this bill.”

State Senator Frank Ginn also spoke on behalf of HB857.

Ginn said when the owners of Georgia Renewable Power first approached him about building the plants in Comer and Carnesville, he was for them because of the jobs and property tax revenue they would generate for both Madison and Franklin counties.

But he said that was before the Federal Environmental Protection Agency changed the law in 2016 to allow the burning of railroad ties to generate power. “This started as a great opportunity. They wanted to build a power plant. Everything was good, they were going to use wood chips and clean waste as their fuel stock. I looked at this power plant as a real opportunity and the investment into the county. Then the laws got changed. For me, when they changed the federal regulations the plant looked at it as an opportunity. It changed from the time they came and talked to us until they started operation, and I need your help to get this bill passed. I want to send a message. I would like it to pass unanimously from this body. It passed unanimously in the House, we need it to pass unanimously here. I ask for your favorable consideration on this vote.”

HB857 passed unanimously in the House in March just before the General Assembly was halted due to COVID-19.

The Bill now goes to the Governor’s desk for his signature.

State Representative Alan Powell, who authored the bill, tells our sister station WLHR News the ban will take effect immediately and all burning of creosote-coated railroad ties at both Georgia Renewable Power plants must stop.

He said if it doesn’t, they will be cited by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division and shut down.