Clean air advocates and environmental groups won a victory today when Power4Georgians (P4G), the only company trying to develop expensive new coal plants in Georgia, agreed to cancel the proposed Ben Hill coal-fired power plant. The company also agreed to comply with critical new safeguards against mercury pollution and invest $5 million in energy efficiency and renewable projects. The Sierra Club, the Fall Line Alliance for a Clean Environment (FACE), Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE), and the Ogeechee Riverkeeper, represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center and GreenLaw, successfully challenged the permit for Plant Washington issued by the Georgia Department of Environmental Protection, and the settlement agreement is pending approval by each group. If built, Power4Georgians’ Plant Washington will have to meet the much more protective emission standards for mercury and other air toxins.
“Before we challenged the permit, Plant Washington was going to send forty times more mercury into our air and water each year, endangering our most vulnerable citizens,” said Colleen Kiernan, director of the Georgia Chapter of the Sierra Club. “We knew the law was on our side, we challenged Power4Georgians, and now Georgia’s air, water and people will be protected.”
Plant Washington now faces its steepest challenge yet, as U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently announced the carbon pollution rule for new coal-fired power plants, which will require new coal plants to reduce or capture their harmful carbon emissions. Power4Georgians had not considered carbon capture technology in the original Plant Washington proposal. In the rule, EPA identified Plant Washington as a potential “transitional” source whereby it could be exempt from the rule if there is a final permit and construction commences within a year of when the rule is published. The carbon pollution rule is expected to be published later in April.
“Plant Washington continues to lack a complete and legally effective permit that authorizes construction, and it won’t have one until the mercury permit amendment is issued, which will take another 30 days at least,” said Kurt Ebersbach, staff attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center. “Based on filings by Power4Georgians in this case, it is clear that they have not done engineering, selected the boilers, lined up investors, or met any of the criteria that EPA is looking at to exempt a new source from complying with the carbon pollution rule.”
Power4Georgians is a consortium of four remaining electric membership cooperatives in Georgia, after six additional co-operatives left the consortium citing cost concerns. Cobb EMC, the largest and most prominent investor in P4G, withdrew funding and support for the consortium and the Plant Washington proposal in January of this year, leaving a very small base of ratepayers to shoulder the full $2.1+ billion cost of building the plant. Financial experts have questioned whether the current membership of Power4Georgians is sufficient to finance the plant’s construction.
“We’ve fought this plant from day one, because this major new source of air pollution will also guzzle up to 16 million gallons of water a day from our already stressed water resources,” said Katherine Helms Cummings, director of the Fall Line Alliance for a Clean Environment and Washington County resident. “It’s doubtful that Plant Washington will be built. The demand for electricity just isn’t there, and since the plant was announced over four years ago, cheaper electricity from natural gas and renewables is now readily available. Still, any proposed coal plant must do the maximum to reduce toxic pollution and risk to Georgians. Nothing less is acceptable.”
“Today’s agreement is great news for Georgia ratepayers, who will now avoid $2.3 billion in costs from Plant Ben Hill and reduce their monthly utility bill through new energy efficiency programs,” said Amelia Shenstone of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. “It also sends a message to those who continue to support Plant Washington: you can’t ignore the public health costs of dirty energy sources any more. We hope the remaining EMCs involved in Plant Washington will look into cleaner, cheaper ways to provide electricity to their members.”
The cancellation of Plant Ben Hill marks 168 total coal plant proposals cancelled across the U.S. due to changing market conditions, legal challenges and local opposition. In December 2011, New Jersey-based LS Power cancelled the Plant Longleaf coal plant proposal, which would have been built in Early County, Ga. Further, 106 coal plants have been scheduled for retirement, including two units at Plant Branch near Milledgeville that were recently approved by the Georgia Public Service Commission.
“The cancellation of Plant Ben Hill is just one more sign that coal is declining,” says Justine Thompson, attorney for GreenLaw that has been working with the community adjacent to the proposed Plant Ben Hill to oppose the construction of the plant. “Georgia has a promising future—but to be a serious player in the global economy while also ensuring that we have clean air and water, Georgia needs to embrace energy efficiency and more renewable sources of energy. We are now moving one step closer to that goal.”
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Yet another former Trump administration staffer has come out with an endorsement for former Vice President Joe Biden, this time in response to President Donald Trump's handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.