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August 19--  A group against construction of a coal-fired power plant in Washington County issued the following after a public hearing in Sandersville this week.

"Sandersville, GA—In the auditorium of the Oconee Technical College near the site of a proposed 850 MW coal-burning power plant, residents, retirees, and activists gathered to speak out against the Georgia Environmental Protection Division’s (EPD) Draft Air Permit for the facility.

“This permit authorizes more toxic pollution, like mercury, to be added to our air and water in an area already overloaded with mercury pollution,” said Sarah Alexander a University of Georgia student and spokesperson for Environment Georgia. “Let’s work to create a Georgia where a healthy environment and a thriving economy go hand in hand—the technologies are out there, we can create energy without this pollution. That’s the kind of place I want my future children to live in.”

The permit is the second air permit issued by the EPD. After a hearing on the original air permit, Administrative Law Judge Ronit Walker ruled that the permit’s limits for hazardous air pollutants failed to meet the Maximum Achievable Control Technology (MACT) standard required by the Clean Air Act. She sent the permit back to the agency to reconsider the permit limits for certain kinds of hazardous air pollutants. 

“EPD says its mission is to protect our environment but in Washington County it is failing miserably,” said Katherine Helms Cummings, Executive Director of the Fall-line Alliance for a Clean Environment, a grassroots group based in the county.  “No matter how you look at it, this permit is flawed and will bring destruction to our air, water, and health. Georgia Power’s Plant Hammond, which was built in the ‘50s and ‘70s, achieves lower emissions than this permit allows for Plant Washington.”

Of 24 speakers in the two-hour hearing, which included two physicians, all but two came to the podium to speak out against the re-issued permit. Several speakers emphasized the dangers of adding more mercury to the local environment. Plant Washington’s mercury limit would allow it to emit 210 times more than the cleanest similar source in the country and the permit limits greatly exceed those in the EPA’s proposed Mercury and Air Toxics Rule which was released in May of 2011.

“Georgia EPD considered proposed new EPA standards in Plant Washington’s particulate matter pollution limit, but failed to extend the application to toxic mercury and hydrochloric acid emissions. It’s EPD’s job to adequately protect public health and ignoring the tighter standards just means more toxins, more health problems, and more costs for the EMCs later down the road to ultimately comply with the law,” said SACE’s Coal Organizer Amelia Shenstone.

The physicians emphasized the health costs that would be associated with the plant. “Exposure to mercury in the early stages of life can cause permanent neurological and brain damage, including reduced cognitive abilities and other developmental problems,” explained Yolanda Whyte, a pediatrician who treats patients in the Middle Georgia area.

“The special chemistry of black water rivers, like the Ogeechee, means they are especially susceptible to mercury pollution,” said Dianna Wedincamp, the Ogeechee Riverkeeper. “We already have advisories on our river that state the limit of what fish you can safely eat. If we add more mercury to the local environment the toxicity levels of these fish will shoot up.”

Cathy Mayberry, a mother whose family pond will be in the shadow of Plant Washington, wore a t-shirt emblazoned with a photo of her 6-year-old grandson holding a seven pound bass caught in the pond. “The levels of toxic pollutants in this permit are not acceptable for my grandchildren or anyone else’s grandchildren. It isn’t acceptable for me to tell him that he and his sister can’t eat the fish they catch in our pond and local rivers, ” Mayberry said.

Several speakers pointed out how the forces behind the plant can be traced back to Cobb EMC in suburban Atlanta. One of the early organizers of the plant was Cobb EMC’s former CEO Dwight Brown, who has been indicted on 35 counts that include racketeering, theft, making false statements, and intimidating witnesses.

“I’m a member of Snapping Shoals EMC, and know we’ve spent millions of dollars in this permitting process. It is astounding to me that we have spent so much of members’ money without our approval as EMC members,” said activist Ab Roesel. His EMC is one of the remaining five that joined Cobb EMC to form Power4Georgians. The group has spent over $27 million on the permitting of the plant. “We are not a third world country. We should be taking advantage of alternative technologies and paying attention to modern science, not investing in technology from the last century.”