Environmental groups fight Ga. coal power plant

A coalition of environmental groups asked a state judge Monday to overturn the permit allowing a coal-fired power plant to be built in middle Georgia because they said it would produce too much pollution and its approval was legally flawed.

The groups want Administrative Hearings Judge Ronit Walker to strike down an air permit that the Georgia Environmental Protection Division approved for Plant Washington in April. Their case, which began Monday, is expected to last up to three weeks and is the latest litigation over the power plant proposed for Sandersville, about 125 miles southeast of Atlanta.

“This case is about one of the biggest sources of pollution ever devised by people: coal-fired power plants,” said John Suttles, an attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center, during opening statements at the court’s headquarters.

The environmental groups backing the legal challenge said the state-issued permit to develop Plant Washington does not require the plant to use the best available controls to protect against the creation of sulfuric acid mist.

Suttles also faulted state regulators for failing to take into account so-called fugitive emissions from the plant, or fine debris from sources other than the plant’s smokestack, and said the state relied on bad climate data when it analyzed a model of potential air pollution from the plant.

Diane DeShazo, a senior assistant attorney general, said Georgia’s environmental regulators were within the law when they approved the permits for Plant Washington. She said regulators in Georgia have set extremely low emission rates for two major plant pollutants, nitrogen oxides and sulfur oxides, and added that calculations produced by witnesses for the plant’s opponents are wrong.

The power plant is backed by a consortium of six power supply cooperatives and a developer, Allied Energy Services. Its backers say Plant Washington is necessary to power an energy-hungry state and could meet the electricity needs of 500,000 to 700,000 homes annually.

During the hearing, consortium attorney Patricia Barmeyer said individual pollution limits in the permit were reached after roughly two years of review and cannot easily be decreased.

“No one limit can be lowered without considering what impact that will have on the other limits,” she said.

Legal challenges are forcing state regulators to redraft permits for a second project, called the Longleaf Energy Plant, developed by LS Power for rural Early County. Georgia depends on coal-fired power plants for the majority of its electricity.By Ray Henry

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