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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 –

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.


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.


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: Please cc 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

EMC’s Brown indicted for theft, racketeering

Brandon Wilson, Marietta Daily Journal’s-Brown-indicted-for-theft–racketeering?

EMC Hopefuls call for more transparency

Brandon Wilson, Marietta Daily Journal

Cobb EMC case raises questions on coal plant

Dave Williams, Atlanta Business Chronicle

Attorneys file to derail prosecution of Cobb EMC chief

Margaret Newkirk, Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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

Power Shift 2011: It’s Happening

That’s right. Power Shift 2011 is happening. Mark your calendars now to spend April 1-4 at RFK Stadium in Washington, DC with thousands of your closest friends from across the country.

If you didn’t have the chance to attend Power Shift 07 or 09, this is your chance to be part of a transformational, awe-inspiring event. Previous speakers have included Van Jones, Ralph Nader, and my hero, Majora Carter. In 2009, activists attending Power Shift took part in the Capitol Coal Action, where Bill McKibben and Jim Hansen led the charge in shutting down the Capitol coal plant, which burns toxic coal to power Congress.

The first step in the journey to Power Shift 11 is to sign up as a Power Shift Coordinator. Coordinators help spearhead recruitment efforts on campus and in their community, which is one of the most important ways you can help get tons of folks to this amazing event. You can sign up here, and myself or Dan Cannon will be in touch with you soon to get things running on your campus.

You’ll also need funds to get there.  Now is a great time to ask your family members to contribute to your Power Shift fund for the holidays! Starting in January 2011, we’ll also be rolling out additional resources to help with fundraising.

Perhaps most importantly, we’ll be voting each and every day to help Power Shift win $50,000 from the Pepsi Refresh content. These funds will be earmarked specifically for travel stipends and scholarships for students to attend Power Shift.

In order to win, we need your help!  Will you commit to voting each and every day?  Here’s how you do it: Starting January 1, you’ll text, use Facebook, and vote via the Pepsi Refresh website. We’ll send out the codes closer to January 1, but you can go ahead and sign up for the Progressive Slate, which helps Power Shift win,

I wouldn’t ask you to do this if it wasn’t important.  When you roll out of bed at noon on New Year’s Day, check your mail and start the year off right by voting to get $50k for Power Shift.

I can’t wait to see YOU in D.C. for Power Shift 2011.


GA Organizer, Southern Energy Network

December 16, 2010 at 4:58 pm Leave a comment

How much will Plant Washington really cost?

Reposted with permission from Clean Energy Footprints, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy’s blog.

In 2008, ten Georgia Electric Membership Corporations (EMCs) joined under the banner “Power4Georgians,” and went public with a proposal to build a new coal-fired power plant in Sandersville, GA, known as  Plant Washington.  From our perspective, this has been a bad deal for EMC members and the environment from the start, but considering recent trends, the deal is looking worse and worse.

Costs are rising and demand is falling – both of these trends put EMC members at even greater risk of high rates.  Many U.S. utilities are forecasting much lower growth rates due to the economic downturn; Power4Georgians has yet to revise their growth projections for an accurate update since 2008.  The official price tag for meeting this unclear energy need with a coal plant?  $2.1 billion. That estimate – more than two years old – sounds like a lot of money,  and it is.  Considering recent trends in coal plant construction costs, you know this is one of those “too good to be true” deals.

Power4Georgians needs to update the price tag of this coal plant and immediately revise demand growth projections. Nationally-renowned energy forecast expert David Schlissel reviewed Power4Georgians’ single-page Cost Analysis document.  He found that Power4Georgians was low-balling their cost estimate:

“A number of factors suggest that this Cost Analysis was heavily biased in favor of a coal plant and against renewable alternatives…. The range of coal plant construction costs used by Cobb EMC was unreasonably low compared to recent cost estimates for other proposed coal-fired power plants.  In particular, there is no reason to expect that Plant Washington will be able avoid the soaring price increases being experienced by other coal-fired power plant construction projects.”  Read the whole report

The estimate may have been low to begin with, and with nearly two years passed since the original cost projection, we’re more than a bit suspicious that $2.1 billion is outdated.


Rising costs, customers paying the price

Costs at other coal-fired construction projects have continued to rise.  For example, the projected cost of building AMP-Ohio’s proposed 960MW coal plant in Meigs County skyrocketed from $1.2 billion in 2005 to nearly $4 billion in Nov. 2009 before it was cancelled.  Fortunately, with cancellation, the bulk of those costs were averted – but the 81 communities that originally signed on are still trying to figure out how to pay the  $200 million already spent on development.

In one case where a new coal-fired plant did make it to completion, the Michigan Public Service Commission (PSC) decided in July 2010 that customers of We Energies, a Wisconsin utility, will pay $23 million for it, despite arguments that demand trends have changed and the power is not needed.  That works out to a rate increase for customers of 18%.

A few short months before, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment denied the air permit for another plant based on the PSC’s assessment that it would have raised rates 60%.

Unfortunately, Georgia’s PSC does not regulate EMCs so members can’t count on oversight. Because EMCs are “self-regulating,” it is up to the members of these co-ops to stop Plant Washington before the costs rise any further.

Uncertainty makes costs worse

Uncertainty about the cost of construction is a major factor. Construction costs are rising due to increased demand for materials and expertise worldwide.  As one utility exec said, “When equipment and construction cost estimates grow by $200 million to $400 million in 18 months, it’s necessary to proceed with caution.”  Contractors are reluctant to sign a fixed-price contract knowing that material costs are rising.

A utility that insists on finding a contractor to sign a fixed-price contract pays a price premium for transferring risks to the contractor.

Then there’s regulatory uncertainty, with a wide range of pollution-cutting enforcement measures under consideration in Washington.  New, tougher regulations will soon be implemented for ozonesulfur dioxide,mercurycarbon dioxide, and even coal ash waste.  That’s a good thing for communities and our planet, because it will make utilities pay more of the actual costs associated with coal pollution so that less will be borne by citizens who are getting sick and facing the consequences of climate change.

These tighter standards also create a financial incentive for clean energy like wind and solar and energy efficiency, placing them on a more even playing field as utilities decide where to invest in a new generation of power supply sources.  Schlissel found in the case of Plant Washington that a price on carbon could double the cost of electricity ( read report).

Wall Street investors consider the risks associated with construction costs and financing costs, and the low-cost financing that gives publicly owned utilities an edge becomes a lot harder to obtain. Wall Street investors are leery of new coal investments, given that no one knows just how much it will cost in the future to emit carbon dioxide.  In August 2010, credit ratings agency Moody’s downgraded its rating of Southern Company, one of the most coal-dependent major utilities, due to “longer-term pressures from potential carbon controls and renewable portfolio standards.”  For Georgia co-ops, high risk assessment by private lenders translates to higher interest rates on loans and, ultimately, higher total cost.

Members’ bills on the line

Members of the remaining EMCs invested in Power4Georgians (Central Georgia EMCCobb EMCSnapping Shoals EMC,Upson EMC, and Washington EMC) would likely foot the bill for Plant Washington.  But they don’t need to pay an exorbitant bill for a coal plant that will add 50 more years of air, water, and climate pollution to our state. Alternatives are available: these EMCs haven’t fully maximized the cost-saving power of energy efficiency and clean, cost-competitive renewable energy.

Power4Georgians needs to come clean about an updated price tag and immediately revise demand growth projections.  New coal wasn’t worth it at $2.1 billion, and the further we go down this path, the worse this deal gets for Georgians.

For more cautionary tales and a handy piece of info to pass out to your friends, check out SACE’s new fact sheet on the costs of coal for Georgia EMCs.






November 8, 2010 at 6:45 pm Leave a comment

Trick out the Vote in the South!

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays: candy, costumes, and in 2010, democracy!

Hundreds of student and community groups around the South are planning Trick or Vote events, with a simple but powerful idea: taking advantage of the one day per year where people expect you to knock on their doors! It’s critical that our generation turn out in record numbers at the polls again like we did in 2008. Holding a Trick or Vote event is an incredibly fun way you can get people out to the polls on November 2nd!

This year, nothing is more important than getting young people out to vote. Scary Oil and Ghastly Coal are haunting the political system by pumping millions of dollars into the election, trying to keep their power in Congress. Luckily, we have people power on our side, and the power of our generation will only grow in this decade. We need to go to the polls sending a strong message to our decision makers: people over polluters and profits.

Come up with a great costume idea, gather several friends, and spend a few hours this weekend fighting off dirty energy’s forces of destruction. You can find a ton of resources, register your event, or find one in your area here:

Feel free to contact one of SEN’s organizers ( with questions.

Happy Halloween!

Jenna Garland

Georgia Organizer

P.S. Remember to take tons of pictures, tag them with #trickorvote, #powervote, and #southernenergy when you upload them to Flickr or other photo sharing websites. If you upload photos to Facebook, tag @Southern Energy Network in the description and we’ll find them.


October 29, 2010 at 4:15 pm Leave a comment

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