Georgia Judge Blocks Coal Power Plant

Published September 1, 2008

In yet another skirmish involving arguments over human-induced global warming, a Georgia judge has halted construction of a coal-fired power plant.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Thelma Wyatt Cummings Moore invalidated a state-issued permit for the $2 billion, 1,200-megawatt Longleaf Energy Plant.

Moore’s decision, handed down July 1, stated Dynergy must first obtain a permit from state regulators limiting the amount of carbon dioxide the plant would be allowed to emit.

In April 2007 the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-to-4 decision, ruled the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate carbon dioxide (CO2) as a pollutant. Moore’s ruling marks the first time the Supreme Court’s decision has been applied to an industrial source of CO2.

Activists Celebrate

Environmental activists, who have waged a long and expensive campaign against all fossil fuel-based energy sources, hailed the decision.

“Coal-fired power plants emit more than 30 percent of our nation’s global-warming pollution,” Bruce Niles, director of the Sierra Club’s National Coal Campaign, claimed in a press statement. “Thanks to the decision, coal plants across the country will be forced to live up to their clean coal rhetoric.”

Niles said his organization and attorneys from other environmental groups plan to bring similar challenges against some 30 other coal plants slated for construction across the country.

Ongoing Battles

The plant’s developers, LS Energy and Dynergy, said they would appeal the decision to the Georgia Supreme Court.

Moore’s ruling comes just a few months after Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (D) blocked the construction of two new coal-fired power plants in her state, arguing their emissions would contribute to global warming and harm agriculture.

Sebelius has been prominently mentioned as a possible vice presidential running mate for Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, the presumptive Democratic standard-bearer.

The Longleaf Energy Plant is proposed for rural Early County in southwestern Georgia. In addition to serving the county’s 12,000 residents, the plant would supply electricity to neighboring counties in Alabama and Florida. Nearly a quarter of Early County’s residents have household incomes below poverty, and the plant was expected to have between 100 and 125 full-time employees.

“Judge Moore’s ‘zero-tolerance’ approach to CO2 only serves to restrict Georgia’s economic growth and can subject the state to California-style energy shortages,” said Jeff Edgens, Ph. D., president of Eco Solutions, a consulting firm.

Bonner R. Cohen ([email protected]) is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research in Washington, DC.