Senate Bill to ban burning creosote-coated railroad ties clears committee

By MJ Kneiser, WLHR

A bill that would ban in Georgia the burning of creosote-coated wood products to make electricity has cleared the State Senate’s Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee and could come up for a vote this week.

SB385 and HB857 both target the Georgia Renewable Power plants in Comer and Carnesville, which are bringing in truckloads of old railroad ties to chip and burn.

Residents of Madison and Franklin counties descended on the state Capitol last week to support HB 857 and Senate Bill 385.

According to Capitol Beat News Service, Senator John Wilkinson who sponsored the Senate bill, told the Committee GRP needs to be burning the material they said they would burn, namely clean wood chips.

In testimony before the Senate committee last week, David Groves of Veolia Energy, who manages the two plants for GRP, told the committee the complaints from neighbors were the result of start-up issues surrounding the plants’ operation.

Groves said more than $1 million is being spent on conditioners to reduce fly ash and silencing systems that will reduce the noise coming out of the plants.

Terri Lyndall is a lobbyist representing Georgia Renewable Power.

Lyndall told Capitol Beat News the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has classified creosote railroad ties as a legitimate form of biomass.

That happened in 2016 – a year after Terry Williams, VP of construction for GRP came before the Franklin County Board of Commissioners and promised the biomass Company would only be burning, “clean wood products.”  Alabama Company Plans Wood Biomass Plants in Comer, Carnesville

When Rep. Alan Powell dropped HB857 earlier this month, he told WLHR News he hopes the bill, if passed, will force GRP to honor their original business plan.

“After meeting with the EPD and the citizens in Carnesville last Sunday, it struck me that those plants made a commitment in 2015. The federal government didn’t allow the burning of creosote-treated wood until 2016, and that’s when they jumped into it. So, if we ban creosote they can’t say that it would alter their original business model of burning clean wood by-products.”

Lyndall said both the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Georgia Environmental Protection Division have declared burning creosote ties the most “environmentally friendly” way to dispose of them.

However, both the EPA and the EPD have limits to the number of railroad ties biomass plants can burn.

The EPA limits it to 40% a year and the EPD set an even tougher standard at just 20%.

According to the RailstoTrails Conservancy Web site, railroad ties can be coated with a number of different chemicals that are hazardous to the environment and groundwater. (

One is creosote, which is an insecticide, sporicide, miticide, and fungicide that penetrates deeply into pressure-treated wood for a long time.

The Conservancy said on their web site that if the railroad ties are old, creosote may ooze out, leeching into the soil and killing plants, insects, and small animals. Creosote also pollutes the local watershed and can be dangerous to health with prolonged or frequent contact.

Another chemical they said is used to treat railroad ties is chromated copper arsenate or CCA, which appears green, but can be even more dangerous to the environment than creosote.

“CCA protects against rotting with chromium, copper, and arsenic, and it is a common alternative to creosote for treating railroad ties. The arsenic in the wood is toxic, making it a danger to plants and wildlife that have prolonged contact with it,” the Web site said.

WLHR News has no indication or confirmation that either GRP plant is burning cross ties coated in CCA.

Franklin County Commissioner Eddie Wester, recently pointed out the County has no way of knowing if GRP is honoring the EPD’s 20% rule.

In January, the Franklin County Board of Commissioners voted to ban any future biomass plants or plants that burn creosote wood from locating in the County. However, Powell noted local governments have no authority to pass such bans, it must be done at the State level. That’s why he and Wilkinson submitted their respective bills.

Senator Frank Ginn told the Committee last week the plant in Madison County is generating $4.7 million a year in tax revenue. But he said it must be operated responsibly.

The committee also approved an amendment to the SB385 Thursday essentially carving out a similar biomass plant operated by WestRock near Dublin, GA.

However, Lauren Curry, deputy director of the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, told Capitol Beat News the Dublin facility does not burn creosote and has been around longer and, thus, is not experiencing the same start-up challenges.