BLAKELY, Ga. — King coal put up a hard, decadelong fight in Southwest Georgia, but it has apparently finally given up.
According to Bobby McLendon, president of Friends of the Chattahoochee, the struggle to prevent LS Power Group LLC from building and operating the Longleaf Energy Station near Blakely was the country’s longest-running campaign against a new coal plant construction.
The legal battle over the plant construction made national and international news when Fulton County Superior Court Judge Thelma Wyatt Cummings Moore issued a ruling that the plant’s air quality permit was illegal because it failed to provide any limits on emissions of CO2. While Moore’s decision was later overturned, the EPA adopted much of the legal reasoning of the decision in promulgating rules to limit CO2 emissions from larger industrial facilities.
The ultimate victory came as a part of a legal agreement between LS Power and the Sierra Club, which also requires LS to abandon its proposed Plum Point 2 coal plant in Arkansas and imposes strict new limits on air pollution from the new Sandy Creek coal plant in Texas. LS will withdraw all requests for permits in Georgia and Arkansas, and any issued permits will be rescinded or revoked.
“When we found out the truth about what this plant would do to our lives, we had no choice but to oppose it,” McClendon said. “Helping to stop this plant is probably the most important thing I have ever done for my family, my community and the Earth.”
According to McClendon, there was scientific research supporting a variety of health risks to be expected from coal plant emissions, including nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide, mercury and particulate matter. McClendon said the plant, if allowed to be built, would have emitted up to 158 pounds of mercury, a powerful neurotoxin, into the atmosphere each year. Mercury is known to travel up the food chain and dissipates slowly, if at all.
McClendon said also that much of the particulate matter generated from the estimated 150 flatcar loads of coal burned each day would have been small enough to penetrate “our natural defense systems” and cause heart or respiratory problems.
Joining forces with McLendon’s group was the Sierra Club, a nationwide environmental organization. The victory marks the 160th proposed coal plant canceled since Sierra Club launched its Beyond Coal campaign in 2005, and is particularly noteworthy because of the struggle’s length, the numerous hearings and appeals involved in the fight, and the sustained local opposition by hundreds of Georgia residents in Early County and elsewhere.
Playing a smaller, yet significant roll in the fight against Longleaf was Flint Riverkeeper, a nonprofit, mostly volunteer organization dedicated to protecting the waters of the Flint River and the larger Chattahoochee, Flint, Apalachicola river basin. Gordon Rogers, the executive director of the organization, said the plant, if completed, would have pulled at least 20 million gallons of water each day from the Chattahoochee arm of the combined watershed, competed with prescribed burns on game plantations and agricultural lands, and raised mercury levels in Flint River fish. Rogers cited Riverkeeper’s contribution to the legal victory as independent “small but meaningful side actions” filed over the course of the conflict.
“This is a victory for all Georgians, who are now safe from a major new source of toxic air pollution,” said Colleen Kiernan, director of the Georgia chapter of the Sierra Club. “This victory represents our best work: combining the power of the courts, the power of the people and the power of the press.”
“Coal is in the past,” said Justine Thompson, executive director of GreenLaw, the nonprofit Atlanta legal organization that represented the Sierra Club in its fight against LS Power Group. “(Coal plants) are no longer economically or environmentally viable.”