Energy policy in Georgia isn’t made by the State legislature. Nor is it made by Governor Nathan Deal. Indeed, energy policy in Georgia isn’t made by any public official in the State. Instead, the most important energy decisions in Georgia are rendered by unelected EPA bureaucrats and environmentalist lawyers.
Welcome to energy policymaking in the Obama age.
Georgia is one of the fastest growing States in the nation. With more people necessarily comes higher demand for electricity. In order to meet the State’s growing need for power, a consortium of non-profit local utilities known as Power4Georgians (P4G) planned on building two 850 megawatt coal fired power plants, one in Washington County and the other in Ben Hill County.
P4G intended to build the Washington County plant first, but the project has been held in up for two years in the courts by relentless anti-coal environmentalist litigation organizations led by the Sierra Club’s “Beyond Coal Campaign.” This is demonstrated by the following brief timeline:
- On April 8, 2010, the Georgia Environmental Protection Division issued the final air permits for Power4Georgian’s proposed coal-fired power plant in Washington County. They were immediately challenged by environmentalist litigants led by the Sierra Club.
- On December 16, Georgia Judge Ronit Walker ruled in favor of the environmentalist petitioners and rejected the air permit for Power4Georgians’ proposed coal-fired power plant in Washington County.
- On November 21, 2011, Georgia environmental regulators re-issued an air permit for the proposed coal-fired power plant in Washington Country.
- On December 16, 2012 the Southern Environmental Law Center and GreenLaw challenged the Georgia Environmental Protection Division’s air quality permit in the Georgia Office of State Administrative Hearings on behalf of the Fall-line Alliance for a Clean Environment, Ogeechee Riverkeeper, Sierra Club’s Georgia Chapter, and Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.
EPA acted as a de facto intervener on behalf the environmentalist petitioners. As this blog has explained repeatedly, EPA is now waging a regulatory war on the coal industry. The Agency is imposing a series of senseless regulations that serve no public health purpose, and whose only function seems to be to price coal out of the electricity market.
In particular, the challenges brought by Sierra Club et al. relied on EPA’s ridiculous Mercury and Air Toxics Standard. By EPA’s own estimate, the mercury regulation would cost $10 billion annually, and its purpose is to protect America’s supposed population of pregnant, subsistence fisherwomen, who consume more than 300 pounds per year of self caught fish from fresh, inland water bodies. EPA fails to identify any of these purported victims. Rather, they are modeled to exist.
Earlier this week, the environmentalist obstructionists in Georgia announced that they would drop their latest legal challenge, based on the Mercury and Air Toxics Standard, in exchange for P4G’s commitment to install additional controls at the Washington County plant. In addition, P4G agreed to abandon its plan to build a second coal fired power plant in Ben Hill County.
To be sure, Sierra Club and its cohorts were not acting in good faith. They even admitted as much. In this week’s settlement, the environmentalist litigants agreed to drop its challenge predicated on the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, but, at the same time, they announced they would continue to object to the plant based on EPA’s recently proposed Carbon Pollution Standard*. That regulation, a proposal of which was published in today’s federal register, would effectively ban the construction of new coal fired plants. In an interview about the settlement in Wednseday’s Energy and Environment GreenWire, Jenna Garland of the Sierra Club said that, “Sierra Club and our other organizations believe that Plant Washington should need to pursue carbon pollution compliance.”
To recap the madcap: In order to meet the Peach State’s growing demand, a consortium of local utilities decided to build two coal fired power plants. Twice, Georgia public officials approved air permits for one coal fired power plant in Washington County. And twice, these State decisions were effectively invalidated by environmentalist lawyers, who challenged the permits based on nonsensical anti-coal regulations issued by President Obama’s EPA. As a result of this legal wrangling, the utility consortium agreed to cancel plans for its other planned power plant in Ben Hill County. Now, the environmentalists will launch a fresh attack in the courts on the remaining plant.
President Eisenhower wisely and presciently warned against a then-gathering (and long since entrenched) military industrial complex. A similarly sinister force is fast arising in the Obama age–the anti-industrial legal complex. Legions of environmentalist lawyers, backed by EPA’s outrageous mandates, are overwhelming local authority on energy policy with endless petitions. Only a decade ago, local officials and business decided how to invest in electricity generation; today, alarmingly, those decision are made by environmental lawyers and federal bureaucrats.
*My colleague Marlo Lewis recently wrote this excellent blog on the strangeness of the Carbon Pollution Standard.