In welcome and exciting news, the Georgia state court Judge, Ronit Walker, ruled Thursday that the proposed coal-fired Plant Washington air permits are inadequate to protect public health and the environment. According to the ruling, the permit for the proposed 850-MW facility violated Clean Air Act safeguards to limit harmful and toxic air pollution. GreenLaw and the Southern Environmental Law Center challenged the state air quality permit in court on behalf of the Fall-line Alliance for a Clean Environment, Ogeechee Riverkeeper, Sierra Club’s Georgia Chapter, and Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.
The Georgia Environmental Protection Division must now reconsider the permits in order to set safe limits on harmful emissions from the plant, including dozens of hazardous air pollutants that can cause cancer, birth defects, heart disease, developmental disorders, and other serious injuries. While this development is welcome news to hold Power4Georgians (the team of 5 EMCs lead by Cobb EMC) accountable to the letter of the law on protecting air quality, it is one of many major flaws in the proposal to build a new coal plant in Georgia.
Not only would Plant Washington be an unfortunate contribution to Georgia’s already poor air quality, it would have no means whatsoever to control the major global warming pollutant carbon dioxide (Plant Washington is estimated to emit over 6.5 Million tons of CO2 annually once constructed).
Moreover, the financial risks of constructing new coal plants when we have more affordable energy alternatives at our fingertips is simply irresponsible and make Plant Washington a very costly mistake for these EMCs who have yet to fully explore viable alternatives. Utilities around the country are scrapping plans to build new coal plants as they realize the financial burden their customers will endure from such misguided investments. Most recently, the East Kentucky Power Cooperative (EKPC), which planned to expand its Smith Plant, settled with advocacy groups to pursue energy efficiency plans instead of new coal.
The Judge’s ruling is indicative of the problems with coal, and is writing on the wall for Power4Georgians that they are pursuing a dirty business fraught with costly challenges. Many utilities are turning away from coal due to increased costs from existing and pending regulations (like EPA’s consideration of new coal ash regulations) intended to internalize the costs of an inherently unclean business, and protect our air and water.
Below are quotes in response to the judge’s ruling from our staff and allies in the Georgians for Smart Energy coalition:
“The air permit for Plant Washington failed to uphold protection for the citizens and environment of Georgia from the dangers of air pollution,” stated Ulla Reeves, regional program director for SACE. “We are pleased that the court ruled favorably to control toxic air pollution and we hope that Power4Georgians takes another big hint from this decision that coal is the wrong energy answer for our state.”
“The Plant Washington permit flouted basic Clean Air Act laws established to protect people and the environment from highly toxic air pollutants,” said John Suttles, a senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center who argued the case before the court. “By holding this massive coal-burning plant to the letter of the law, today’s ruling is a landmark victory for clean air and the health of Georgia residents.”
“This is a huge victory for the residents of Washington County and surrounding areas who have long been concerned that limits set by EPD were not adequate to protect public health,” said Katherine Helms Cummings, director of the Fall-line Alliance for a Clean Environment. “We appreciate Judge Walker’s careful consideration of the evidence and testimony and her adherence to what the law requires.”
“This ruling is an early Christmas present for our families,” said Chandra Brown, executive director, Ogeechee Riverkeeper. “We are thrilled that the judge ruled in favor of protecting the people who would be forced to breathe the hazardous air pollution from this proposed dirty coal plant. Now, if only the state environmental regulators would quit wasting tax payers money by defending permits that allow illegal levels of pollution, we will be celebrating happy New Year and progress for Georgia’s communities.”
“This decision further highlights that the push for this plant by Cobb EMC, which already charges members some of the highest energy rates in the state, is a looming financial pitfall,” said Colleen Kiernan Director of the Georgia Chapter of the Sierra Club. “Co-ops can meet their energy needs with cost-effective energy efficiency and we look forward to working with them on bringing this inexpensive energy to members.”