ATLANTA — A state judge on Thursday rejected an air permit that allows the construction of a new coal-fired power plant in central Georgia – a decision that cheered environmentalist groups and dealt the project’s developers a stinging setback.
“This ruling is an early Christmas present for our families,” said Chandra Brown, the executive director of the Ogeechee Riverkeeper, an east Georgia environmental group. “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.”
The decision by Administrative Law Judge Ronit Walker found that state environmental regulators must reconsider the permit issued to Plant Washington’s developers because it failed to set limits on hazardous pollutants and harmful emissions from the plant.
Four environmental groups challenged the permit issued by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, arguing that it didn’t force Plant Washington to use the most effective controls to protect against sulfuric acid mist and didn’t do enough to curb other hazardous pollutants.
“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,” said John Suttles, a senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center who argued the case before the court.
The proposed plant would be built in Sandersville, Ga., and produce enough power to supply more than 500,000 homes each year when it starts operating later this decade. The developers of the plant, a consortium called Power4Georgians LLC, said it was reviewing the 69-page decision before deciding what to do next.
“None of this is insurmountable. We think we have options and our plans are still moving forward,” said Dean Alford, the consortium’s spokesman. “It’s a setback, but by no means is the ball game over. We recognized from day one it would be a struggle but at the same time I think we’ve done everything according to federal and state law.”
The project’s backers say Plant Washington is crucial to supplying power to a growing – and energy-hungry – population that’s in desperate need of more jobs. But local groups worry that the economic benefits would come at the cost of their health.