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EPA Mercury Hearing: Young Peoples’ Powerful Voices

On Thursday, May 26, US EPA held one of three national public hearings on its proposed mercury pollution regulation, which will be the first time mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants have been regulated in the United States.

Southern Energy Network partnered with multiple organizations to help turn folks out to the event and recruit individuals to testify, and it worked! More than 100 people testified to EPA staff during the hearing, and the vast majority of those testifying were there in support of the mercury regulations.

We heard powerful testimony from Simon M., a thirteen year-old from Kentucky who is a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee, as well as a college senior who is five months pregnant and who spoke powerfully about the health of the child in her womb and the mercury pollution from coal plants near her home.

Simon M., 13 years old

Speaking in opposition to the regulations were the usual suspects: Georgia Power and Southern Company, as well as Benita Dodd from the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, a “market-oriented think tank,” according to Ms. Dodd’s testimony.

In my opinion, the testimonies from GA Power, Southern Company, and Ms. Dodd of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation were shameful. They claimed that mercury is not as serious a pollutant as EPA and the public fears, there are no recorded incidents of mercury poisoning from fish in Georgia, and that this regulation will be the most costly regulation on business in years.  The representative from Southern Company focused especially on how his business did not have time to prepare for these regulations, in spite of these regulations being in the works for nearly twenty years.

In spite of the opposition from the utilities, Georgia Youth for Energy Solutions had a strong showing at the hearing, with more than a dozen students and young people attending the hearing. Jessica Spruill, a rising sophomore at the University of Georgia, testified in the late afternoon, expressing her support for the measure on behalf of students at UGA and GA YES.

I also testified in the evening, though I changed my testimony shortly before I spoke. I decided that I would not offer anything new from what I had already heard; I could not present any new scientific data, and the personal stories presented were extremely compelling.  I did want to speak to the fact that those opposing the mercury regulations do not represent my opinion or the opinion of those I work with at SEN. Georgia Public Policy Foundation is not a grassroots or member-driven organization, so to hear Benita Dodd say, “Georgians don’t want this regulation,” doesn’t fly with me.

The main point I wanted to communicate with my testimony is that Southern Company is one of the largest energy company spenders on federal lobbying nationally; they spent $65 million lobbying Congress in 2008. They support and donate to the same Senators and Representatives who want to de-fund EPA and strip the Agency of its power to regulate pollutants under the Clean Air Act. I don’t find their arguments particularly trustworthy.

I am so thankful for the opportunity to speak to the EPA and give our student leaders the opportunity as well. We’ll need to remain alert to ensure that EPA follows through in finalizing and enforcing mercury pollution regulations.

 

June 7, 2011 at 3:14 pm Leave a comment

Join SEN in Atlanta on May 26 to Support EPA Regulation of Mercury & Air-Toxics

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently proposed a rule to set a national emissions standard for the mercury pollution from coal-fired power plants, the largest source of mercury pollution in the country. Tomorrow, the EPA is holding a public hearing in Atlanta – giving the Southeast an opportunity to testify in support of the new rule. Join SEN at the hearing to take action and support the new mercury emissions standard and stand up for the health of Georgia’s communities!

WHEN: May 26, 2011, 9:00 am – 8:00 pm

WHERE:  Sam Nunn Atlanta Federal Center

61 Forsyth St. SW
Atlanta, Ga. 30303-8960

CONTACT: Jenna Garland, SEN Georgia Organizer – jenna@climateaction.net

If you are unable to attend the hearing tomorrow, take action by signing the petition in support of the mercury and air toxics regulation!

Coal-fired power plants are the primary emitter of toxic mercury pollution in the US, and Georgia’s own Plant Scherer is the 7th highest emitter of mercury in the country. Mercury is a dangerous neurotoxin that has particularly harmful effects on the nervous systems of fetuses and children. It’s estimated that 20% of women in their child-bearing years have mercury levels in their hair that exceed federal health standards.

Humans are primarily exposed to mercury through consuming contaminated fish that come from polluted rivers and lakes. The mercury pollutants emitted by coal plants typically fall within a 60-mile radius, and with 12 coal-fired power plants in the state, Georgia’s rivers and lakes are at extremely high risk for mercury pollution. To learn more about the dangers of mercury and coal-fired power plants, read the 2011 report from the Environmental Defense Fund.

Join us at the EPA hearing in Atlanta to support the proposed mercury and air toxics emissions standards. In addition to mercury, other toxins emitted by coal-fired power plants stand to be regulated, like arsenic, chromium, nickel and acid gases. The EPA estimates that regulating these pollutants could prevent “as many as 17,000 premature deaths and 11,000 heart attacks a year.”

If you are unable to attend the hearing, you can take action by submitting written comments to the EPA until July 5, 2011 and by signing the petition here. For more information on how to make public comment, visit the EPA website. The EPA states that they will finalize the rule in November 2011.

May 25, 2011 at 4:52 pm Leave a comment

US EPA Holds Mercury Hearing in Atlanta – Join us May 26!

US EPA is holding a public hearing in Atlanta, GA on May 26, giving us the opportunity to testify in support of a new rule to regulate toxic mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants. Sign up here!

A few weeks ago, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a proposed rule to set national emissions standards for mercury pollution from coal-fired power plants. The environmental community has been waiting for nearly 20 years for this rule. It’s a necessary step toward reducing toxic mercury emissions from coal plants nationwide.

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May 4, 2011 at 3:50 pm Leave a comment

Court Rules Against LS Power’s Longleaf Coal-fired Power Plant

From our friends in the Georgians for Smart Energy Coalition!

EPD Permit for “Minor” Source Sent Back to Agency

ATLANTA – A Georgia administrative law court handed a victory to opponents of a proposed 1200 megawatt coal-fired power plant in Blakely, Georgia. According to the ruling issued on April 19, the state permit did not sufficiently limit harmful air pollution that will be emitted by the plant.

The Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) must reconsider its permit after the court found flaws in provisions designed to make Longleaf a “minor” source of pollution for toxic air pollutants. EPD had previously determined that the plant would be a “major” source of such pollutants.

EPD’s permit would allow New Jersey-based LS Power to build the largest coal plant in the nation to be classified as a “minor” source of pollution, a strategy that would circumvent the stricter pollution controls required for a “major” source of pollution under the law. EPD defended the permit on the basis that it contained safeguards to ensure that the plant would emit at “minor” source levels. The court found, however, that the permit’s monitoring and reporting scheme could “miss” many tons of toxic air emissions each year, including emissions of known carcinogens like formaldehyde. The court also found that the permit did not account for toxic air emissions from the entire facility. The court remanded the permit to EPD to address these issues.

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April 25, 2011 at 5:25 pm 1 comment

President Obama Meets with Youth Leaders from Energy Action Coalition at Power Shift 2011

On Friday, April 15, 2011, a group of 15 young people representing the Energy Action Coalition met with Senior White House staff, and were surprised but pleased when President Barack Obama joined the group for 25 minutes to discuss the Obama Administration energy policies.

The meeting came after Energy Action Coalition contacted national media about Power Shift 2011, stating that “10,000 young, forgotten Obama voters” were coming together in Washington, DC to learn key organizing skills to move beyond dirty energy and advance the clean energy economy. After interest from several major media outlets, the Obama Administration began taking seriously Energy Action Coalition and the youth climate movement it represents.

The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and Washington Post have all covered the story, quoting Southern Energy Network Organizer Jenna Garland and Development Assistant Kelsea Norris.

Photo Credit: The White House, Pete Souza

After the 1-year anniversary of the BP Oil Disaster last week, which devastated the Gulf of Mexico and further devastated the lives of Gulf communities, President Obama needs to dream bigger and commit to the promises he made during the 2008 campaign.

President Obama’s message for Energy Action Coalition and the youth climate movement was that we need to lead grassroots organizing across the country, especially targeting Congress. After Congress failed to pass meaningful climate legislation and the UN Climate negotiations failed, many have turned back to their states and communities, looking to make change happen locally.

Young people are leading the movement beyond dirty energy to a clean, just energy economy. From shutting down coal plants to building clean energy infrastructure, young people have demonstrated where the future lies, and how we must act in the present to achieve our goals.

Here’s a great summary of the meeting from Glenn Hurowitz at Grist.

April 25, 2011 at 5:14 pm Leave a comment

US EPA Hears from Packed House in Atlanta: Greenhouse Gas Regulation is a MUST!

On Tuesday, the US EPA held its second of five listening sessions at the Sam Nunn Atlanta Federal Building in Atlanta, Georgia. The conference room was completely packed and the audience spilled over in to the next room. Dozens of people wore “I <3 Clean Air” stickers, and children held signs that said “EPA Protect My Future.”

 

This session focused on bringing stakeholders in the environmental and environmental justice movements together to speak to EPA staff, including Gina McCarthy, Assistant Administrator at the Office of Air and Radiation. In five total hearings, the EPA will hear feedback and opinions from various stakeholder groups, which will inform the rulemaking process EPA is undertaking this year.

The EPA is preparing to regulate greenhouse gas emissions through a New Source Performance Standard (NSPS). The potential impact of this rule is huge: Congress has failed to enact legislation that will address greenhouse gas emissions, and in Georgia where developers are attempting to build 3 new coal-fired power plants, this rule could prevent these proposed plants from moving forward. It could also help transition Georgia’s existing coal plants into retirement. This is one of the reasons why so many community members came to the listening session during the middle of the workday – there is a lot riding on this rule.

NSPS is a regulatory tool EPA is authorized to use under the Clean Air Act, a key piece of environmental legislation that is currently under attack from big polluters. As Seandra Rawls summarizes in her blog about speaking at the Session on Tuesday,

“The Clean Air Act requires EPA to establish a list of sources of dangerous air pollutants and to set standards for such sources. In 2007 the United States Supreme Court ruled that GHGs are air pollutants under the Clean Air Act.”

For a full summary, see Seandra’s post at Clean Energy Footprints.

Currently, House and Senate Republicans are working to defund the EPA. Challenges to EPA’s authority under the Clean Air Act were seen in the 111th Congress and are already circulating in this Congress.

EPA’s NSPS will be focused on electricity-generating power plants and refineries. In the South, we consume the most electricity per capita and emit the greatest amount of greenhouse gases in the United States. We also have a huge fleet of aging, polluting coal plants in the Southern states.

When EPA proposes its draft rule in July 2011, we can expect the rule to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through multiple strategies, including providing incentives for old and polluting coal plants to retire and increasing energy efficiency nationally and in the South.

There was some disagreement in the room around how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Kurt Waltzer with Clean Air Task Force spoke about the importance of Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS) technology, also known as clean coal technology, in reducing greenhouse gas emissions from coal plants. As many in the Power Shift generation know, there is no such thing as clean coal. Even if we were able to harness every last atom of CO2 from burning coal, we’d still need to extract it, process it, and operate inefficient plants to burn it. CCS technology doesn’t address co-pollutants, things like mercury and other toxic chemicals that are released into the air when we burn coal for power. Extracting coal to burn for electricity is also extremely destructive. In Appalachia, community members are fighting for the lives and culture as mountaintops are blown off with dynamite to expose coal seams, and what was the mountaintop is then dumped into stream and river valleys. A dynamic movement opposing Mountaintop Removal coal mining has grown in Appalachia and spread to other parts of the country.

During the Listening Session, more than a dozen groups were given the opportunity to speak with Ms. McCarthy, including Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, Southern Environmental Law CenterNational Wildlife Federation, The Reverend Gerald Durley from Providence Mission Baptist Church and Interfaith Power & Light,  the Gulf Coast Fund, the New Jersey Environmental Justice Alliance, Sierra Club, Environmental Defense Fund, the Environmental Justice Leadership Forum on Climate Change, Environmental Justice Advocates of Minnesota, Natural Resource Defense Council, Environment Northeast, Conservation Law Foundation, WE ACT for Environmental Justice, the Clean Air Task Force, and the US Climate Action Network.

Though the panelists were knowledgeable and powerful in their statements to EPA, SEN would have liked a young leader to offer comments as well.  Several students from Georgia Tech and Georgia State University came to the session between classes, but we would like to see future sessions take place at a time more convenient for students and young people.

Luckily, EPA is accepting public comments through March 18, 2011, and you don’t need time during the middle of the day to participate! Here’s how you can comment:

  • Comments on the greenhouse gas NSPS for petroleum refineries must reference Docket ID: EPA-HQ-OAR-2011-0089
  • Comments on the greenhouse gas NSPS for utilities must reference Docket ID: EPA-HQ-OAR-2011-0090

The easiest way to submit a comment is to email it to: a-and-r-Docket@epa.gov. Please cc info@climateaction.net for the comments you submit!

 

 

 

February 18, 2011 at 4:41 pm Leave a comment

News Round-up: Cobb EMC CEO Indictment

On Thursday, January 6, Cobb EMC CEO Dwight Brown was indicted on 31 counts of theft by taking, racketeering, conspiracy to commit fraud, and making false statements. Cobb EMC is an Electric Membership Corporation providing power to close to 200,000 customers in the northwestern suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia.

The indictment brings years of legal wrangling to a head, as Cobb EMC members have accused the Cobb EMC Board of Directors and Mr. Brown of wrongdoing, secrecy, and mismanagement of EMC funds previously.

Mr. Brown and the Cobb EMC Board of Directors are also known for being leaders in Power4Georgians (P4G), a consortium of several EMCs from across the state. P4G is the developer in two proposed coal plant construction projects, which will be member funded and could cost more than $2 billion a piece.

Here’s a round up of some of the best local news coverage concerning Mr. Brown’s indictment:

Electric Co-Op CEO Accused of Massive Thefts

Lisa Coston, Courthouse News

http://www.courthousenews.com/2011/01/18/33392.htm

EMC’s Brown indicted for theft, racketeering

Brandon Wilson, Marietta Daily Journal

http://www.mdjonline.com/view/full_story/10914123/article-EMC’s-Brown-indicted-for-theft–racketeering?

EMC Hopefuls call for more transparency

Brandon Wilson, Marietta Daily Journal

http://www.mdjonline.com/view/full_story/11054052/article-EMC-hopefuls-call-for-more-transparency?instance=home_news_special_coverage

Cobb EMC case raises questions on coal plant

Dave Williams, Atlanta Business Chronicle

http://www.bizjournals.com/atlanta/print-edition/2011/01/21/questions.html

Attorneys file to derail prosecution of Cobb EMC chief

Margaret Newkirk, Atlanta Journal-Constitution

http://www.ajc.com/business/attorneys-file-to-derail-818204.html

We’ll have more coming soon about the connections between Dwight Brown and the fight against Plant Washington.

January 31, 2011 at 5:04 pm Leave a comment

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