ATLANTA, Ga.—Billy Lovett could scarcely believe what he was reading. Here was the state commissioner of natural resources, Joe Tanner, telling a civic club in Tifton, Ga., “If we are going to continue enjoying anything resembling the lifestyle you have today we are going to have to have nuclear power in this country for the next 50 years, and we are going to have to continue generating hazardous waste materials and these materials can be stored safely.”
As a commissioner on the Georgia Public Service Commission, Billy Lovett was aware that Tanner’s comments were not idle opinions. Lovett knew that they were part of a plan to expand nuclear power in Georgia and establish storage sites for dangerous wastes.
The plan was launched in 1979 when Gov. George Busbee secured passage through the state legislature of an unpublicized bill which prevents local government from exerting authority over hazardous waste dumps. All authority now is in the hands of state government.
Early this year, an official in Tanner’s Department of Natural Resources resigned and created a corporation to construct a hazardous waste facility in Heard County, a rural agricultural area on the Alabama border.
This is no small proposal. Company plans call for an initial daily waste delivery equivalent to 15 tractor-trailer loads. These deadly radioactive and other toxic wastes will be shipped largely through Atlanta on interstate highways.
Not surprisingly, the local people are opposed. Hundreds of upset citizens appeared at a public meeting to express their opposition and to protest the way the governor stripped them of any authority over the situation. The Busbee administration says that such a dump is needed to draw new industry into Georgia. Lovett counters by asking what kind of industry the governor wants. Love Canal? Three Mile Island?
What is surprising is that the local chamber of commerce, along with the Area Planning and Development Commission, also is against the proposed superdump.
Utility regulatory commissions are beginning to realize that the costs of nuclear power need to receive closer scrutiny if ratepayer interests are to be protected. So the Georgia Public Service Commission had public hearings on the evenings of Nov. 5, 6 and 7 and another during the day today. A wide variety of business and consumer interests will be represented.
If adequately covered by the Atlanta media, these hearings should illuminate many important issues about atomic energy, its costs and dangers and the alternative and superior ways of producing electricity.
The Busbee administration has been shockingly casual in its attitude toward hazardous sites. An abandoned nuclear reactor site formerly operated by Lockheed was decommissioned and then the area was opened as a hunting and camping place by Joe Tanner. A local scientist found that there were high levels of cobalt and other dangerous materials. Similar instances have led to more Georgians mobilizing to ask what is happening to their state. Will it become another chemical toxic sink like New Jersey? Are corporations taking advantage of rural people and using urban and suburban legislators to deprive them of essential police-power rights over their own communities’ safety?
The hearings in Atlanta may convey the need for permanent consumer organization around electric utility issues, as the people of Wisconsin have done with the creation of the Citizen Utility Board by the state legislature. The pioneering Wisconsin law requires utilities to insert in several of their monthly bills a notice inviting people to join this statewide consumer group with a full-time staff of advocates to represent their interests.
Billy Lovett and other consumer advocates should take a cue from the Wisconsin model and do the same in Georgia.