Georgia Power Must Clean Up Dangerous Coal Dust at Five Power Plants

State Regulators Allowed Company to Pollute Beyond Safe Levels

Environmental and public health advocates won a clean air victory today when the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ruled that state regulators allowed Georgia Power Company to operate outside the bounds of the Clean Air Act and will now need to reduce toxic coal dust pollution and provide a plan to meet the standards of the Clean Air Act at five coal-fired power plants in Georgia, including Plant Scherer in Juliette, the state’s largest coal plant.

The Georgia Environmental Protection Division (GA EPD) issued air quality permits to Georgia Power for Plant Scherer, Plant Hammond near Rome, Plant Wansley near Carrollton, Plant Kraft near Savannah and Plant McIntosh near Savannah, that allowed the company to produce more soot pollution than is allowed by federal clean air standards. The permit required Georgia Power to use ‘reasonable measures’ to control and limit dust from coal piles, but did not require the company to show how it controlled the dangerous dust pollution nor that the soot levels met health standards. The Sierra Club and GreenLaw challenged GA EPD’s permit, prompting today’s legal victory.

“Coal is dirty from cradle to the grave, and toxic coal dust hurts people and the environment,” said Seth Gunning, Beyond Coal organizer with Sierra Club. “Coal is shipped over hundreds of miles on trains and on barges, polluting all the way to the coal plant, and then hazardous dust pollution blows on to homes, cars, playgrounds, trees and waterways as its moved and stored at the coal plant. The folks living by each of these coal plants have been subjected to dangerously-high levels of this dust pollution. Now, thanks to the Environmental Protection Agency, these families will get some relief.”

Coal dust is made of fine particulate matter which contains toxic chemicals and due to its small size is especially harmful to our health. People with heart or lung diseases, children and the elderly are especially vulnerable to coal dust pollution, which can trigger asthma attacks, cause irregular heartbeats and non-fatal heart attacks, or even cause premature death. People living near or downwind of Plant Scherer are most at risk, as are Georgians who fish or boat on Lake Juliette. 

"This is just another example of how using coal to produce electricity is bad for human health and the environment. We are encouraged that the US Environmental Protection Agency saw the flaws in the permits, and hope that GA EPD will work quickly in revising the permits to ensure that they protect the health of those who live around the plants," said Ashten Bailey, attorney with GreenLaw.

Georgia Power will now need to provide a plan to reduce dust pollution at the plant to state regulators and/or the Environmental Protection Agency. Plant Scherer is the largest coal-fired power plant in Georgia and one of the largest in the nation, regularly topping the list of the country’s largest producers of carbon pollution. Carbon pollution is the largest contributor to climate disruption that threatens Georgia with increased drought conditions and extreme weather events. Since 2010, 164 coal-fired power plants have been locked in for retirement as wind and solar power have powered more homes and businesses than ever before. Georgia is now leading the Southeast in solar power projects and clean, imported wind power.

 

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GreenLaw is GreenLaw is a Georgia-based nonprofit law firm serving environmental and community organizations that have been adversely impacted by pollution. Since 1992, GreenLaw has achieved these goals by providing free, high-quality legal and technical assistance to environmental organizations and community groups throughout Georgia. For more information, visit www.greenlaw.org and follow @greenlaw_GA on Twitter.

The Sierra Club is America's largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization. Inspired by nature, we are 2.4 million of your friends and neighbors, working together to protect our communities and the planet. Read more at http://www.sierraclub.org