ATLANTA - A Fulton County Superior Court judge today issued a decision that blocks construction of the first coal-burning power plant proposed in Georgia in more than 20 years. The judge ruled that the new plant must limit its emissions of the heat-trapping gas carbon dioxide.
This is the first time any court has applied to an industrial source an April 2007 ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court recognizing that carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas responsible for global warming, is a pollutant under the federal Clean Air Act.
Judge Thelma Wyatt Cummings Moore overturned the ruling of an administrative court approving the Georgia Environmental Protection Division's decision to issue an air pollution permit for Dynegy's planned Longleaf power plant south of Columbus, Georgia.
In a challenge to the air permit brought by two environmental groups, Judge Moore held that the state environmental agency must limit the amount of carbon dioxide, CO2, emissions from the Dynegy power plant.
In June 2007, Friends of the Chattahoochee and the Sierra Club filed suit challenging the Dynegy Longleaf permit allowing a 1200 megawatt coal-fired power plant to be built in Early County on the banks of the Chattahoochee River.
The groups challenged the permit because it failed to include any limitations for carbon dioxide.
Now, Dynegy cannot begin construction of the 120 megawatt plant unless it obtains a permit from the Environmental Protection Division, EPD, that complies with the Judge Moore's ruling.
"In a case that is being watched across the country, Judge Moore has sent a message that it is not acceptable for the state to put profits over public health," said Justine Thompson, executive director of GreenLaw, the Atlanta public interest law firm that represented the environmental groups.
"This ruling goes a long way toward protecting the right of Georgians to breathe clean air and sends a message to EPD that it must tighten the standards it uses to approve air pollution permits for companies seeking to build any more coal-fired power plants in this state," Thompson said.
Healthcare providers and patient advocacy groups around the state spoke out against the proposed plant and submitted supporting briefs in the case. The Medical Association of Georgia issued a resolution opposing any new coal-fired plants in the state.
The permit also was challenged because the plaintiff groups say it failed to set safe emission limits for sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, particulate matter and sulfuric acid mist - pollutants that contribute to smog and acid rain.
Fine particulate matter has been known to cause sudden death, premature birth, lung cancer, lung disease, asthma, bronchitis, heart disease, heart attacks and chronic respiratory diseases.
"I am thrilled that the judge understands our concerns about public health and global warming here in Early County. Coal plants are a bad idea all around, they hurt our lungs, they hurt our land, and they hurt our livelihood," said Bobby McClendon, a leader of Friends of the Chattahoochee.
This plant would produce nine million tons of carbon dioxide pollution annually, an amount the plaintiff groups say is equal to adding 1.3 million cars on Georgia's roads every year. A typical plant produces 3.7 million tons annually according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.
In addition, the Longleaf plant would violate the U.S. EPA's air quality standards for fine particulate matter where the plant is located, the groups alleged.
"The Clean Air Act was enacted by Congress to protect public health and with Judge Moore's decision that is what is finally going to happen here in Georgia, said Patty Durand, Georgia Chapter director of the Sierra Club.
"Our state can find other ways to produce cleaner, more economically beneficial energy," said Durand. "Other states are doing it. Why can't we?"
Dynegy provides wholesale power, capacity and related services to utilities, cooperatives, municipalities and other energy companies in 14 states in the Midwest, the Northeast and on the West Coast. The S&P 500 company's power generation portfolio consists of more than 19,000 megawatts of baseload, intermediate and peaking power plants fueled by a mix of coal, fuel oil and natural gas.
Dynegy has the most proposed coal-fired power plants of any company in the United States. An appeal of Judge Moore's ruling is expected, but for the moment, the plaintiff groups are celebrating.
"Coal-fired power plants emit more than 30 percent of our nation's global warming pollution," said Bruce Nilles, director of the Sierra Club's National Coal Campaign. "Thanks to this decision, coal plants across the country will be forced to live up to their clean coal rhetoric."
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008