Atlantans Spoke Out at EPA Hearing in Favor of Carbon Emissions Limits
(APN) ATLANTA — The numbers are in. Atlanta along with Washington, DC, boasted the highest attendance of four national hearings hosted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in July 2014 to solicit public comments on the historic proposed Clean Power Plan designed to cut carbon emissions.
309 people testified at the Atlanta hearing held at the Omni Hotel and an additional 411 attended but did not speak. The EPA also hosted hearings in Denver, Colorado; and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
A coalition of environmental and public interest groups organized a full day of events around the hearing on July 29 to highlight the need for climate action. The day started with an an early morning prayer breakfast at Central Presbyterian Church followed by a rally at Woodruff Park with live music, children’s activities, and a lineup of speakers from across the South including faith leaders, coal miners, clean jobs advocates, and local environmental organizers. This culminated in a one thousand person march down Marietta Street to Centennial Olympic Park.
“The coalition of faith leaders, Civil Rights veterans, labor, business leaders, environmentalists, and the environmental justice community, which came together to show support for the Clean Power Plan, demonstrates that there is broad, diverse, and growing movement to demand solutions to climate change that lift all boats,” Seth Gunning, Sierra Club Beyond Coal Organizer, told Atlanta Progressive News.
Many groups praised the EPA for their leadership on carbon reduction. Sections of the rule, however, support the use of nuclear power to comply with carbon reduction goals including providing for taxpayer subsidy of nuclear projects; and allowing cap and trade policies where power from nuclear plants can be sold to offset carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants.
Local advocates spoke out against these provisions, saying nuclear power should not be included as clean energy.
“We are calling for those [nuclear] provisions to be removed from the final rule,” Glenn Carroll, Coordinator of Nuclear Watch South, said.
“Nuclear power is an outmoded, poisonous power source and impacts the environment heavily with steam emissions [steam is a global warming gas] and intensive water use and heating. At its worst, nuclear is capable of accidentally radiating the Northern Hemisphere with radioactive pollution,” she said.
“We are at a critical juncture, not only to save the atmosphere from further ruination from carbon emissions, but to shift into a power base supportive of a long-term future, namely to commit to harness the benign planetary forces of sunlight and wind,” she said.
The nuclear provisions will also have major environmental justice implications, according to Becky Rafter, Executive Director of Georgia Women’s Action for New Directions.
“The South has the nation’s dirtiest energy infrastructure. We also have the highest population of people of color, low-income people, and people who have not graduated from high school. This is no coincidence,” Rafter said.
“Communities lacking adequate political power to protect themselves cannot keep toxic industries out of their neighborhoods. The rule would be a win for communities living near coal plants, but not so much for communities near current or targeted for future nuclear power sites,” she said.
Georgia Power, which is constructing the first two new nuclear reactors in the U.S. in thirty years in Burke County, Georgia, says they want credit for the power generated from the prospective reactors, something that may not happen.
“The guidelines penalize Georgia for taking early action in constructing new nuclear,” Ron Shipman, Vice President of Environmental Affairs at Georgia Power told Creative Loafing Atlanta.
Company representatives say not getting credit for the new units at Vogtle will make it more difficult for Georgia to meet compliance goals.
“My understanding is that when you look at the rule as proposed it’s counting Vogtle 3 and 4 [as preexisting power sources], being that they’re already under construction. In that we were an early starter, it’s going to make our overall goal that much higher because it’s counting Vogtle 3 and 4 as already in the mix, that’s my understanding,” Kevin Green, spokesperson for Georgia Power told APN.
WHAT IT WILL MEAN FOR GEORGIA
With the rule still under consideration, it will be months before the public has a clear idea of the on the ground implications for the plan, but overall benefits are clear.
“In Georgia, the plan will mean less sick-days, asthma attacks, and disease caused by air pollution from existing coal-fired power plants,” Gunning said.
“But, how Georgia makes those changes is in the hands of our state Environmental Protection Division (EPD). If EPD decides to meet the historic standard by encouraging more investment in upgrades to outdated coal technology, development of new nuclear units, or reliance on volatile natural gas, then Georgians are likely to see stagnant economic growth and a continued rise in electricity bills,” he said.
“If, on the other hand, our State officials craft a plan that strengthens the cheapest cost, greatest potential, highest employing energy resources–like solar, and energy efficiency–Georgians can expect to see the creation of thousands of new jobs and a decrease in utility bills,” he said.
EPD says until the rule is finalized, the agency cannot begin looking at exactly how they’ll recommend for the State to comply.
“We really aren’t focusing on what will Georgia’s plan look like. We’re focusing on how is the rule structured and where are we in regard to what the goal is in 2015 then we’ll look at how to we get from where we are now to where EPA wants us to be in 2020 and 2030 and we’ve just begun the process of looking at that,” Karen Hayes, Manager, Policy and Radiation programs in the Air Protection Branch of EPD, told APN.
For now, EPD is soliciting comments from stakeholders through a series of meetings, the first of which was held August 07, 2014, at the EPD offices at 4244 International Parkway. The hearing drew about fifty people including representatives from Southern Company, municipal electric companies, and several environmental groups.
“We were really pleased with the wide range of people. As we get closer and closer once the rule is final, I think the interest will continue to increase,” Hayes said.
The next stakeholder meeting is slated for September 19, 9am, at 4244 International Parkway.
The rule is open to public comment until October 2014, and is slated to be finalized by June 2015. Each state will then have until June 30, 2016 to develop their own compliance plans.
There are provisions for extensions and for regional plans, which are likely there to foster cap and trade programs such as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative implemented in nine states in the Northeast U.S..
While the EPD is far from releasing a plan for Georgia, Georgia Power asserts the rule will result in a rise in electricity rates.
“Electricity rates will go up, something acknowledged in EPA’s own estimates. Just how much rates will increase depends on natural gas prices and other unknowns. But make no mistake, this proposal will impact every Georgian’s electricity bill,” Georgia Power said in a company statement.
Public comments on the rule can be submitted to the EPA through October 16 via the web http://www2.epa.gov/carbon-pollution-standards/how-comment-clean-power-plan-proposed-rule