Update on the Proposed Early County Coal Plant
By Neil Fleckensteain, TTLC Planner
Tall Timbers Research Station & Land Conservancy’s legal brief supporting the use of prescribed fire is on its way to the Georgia Supreme Court. The brief expresses concern that emissions from the proposed Early County coal plant could place portions of southwest Georgia and north Florida in non-attainment status for particulate matter (PM) and could negatively affect landowners’ ability to use prescribed fire. Some history on this complicated issue follows.
In 2001, LS Power Group and Dynegy proposed to build a 1,200 megawatt coal-fired power plant near Blakely in Early County, Georgia. The Georgia Department of Natural Resources Environmental Protection Division (EPD) granted a permit to construct the plant in June 2007. During June 2008, in response to a suit brought by the Friends of the Chattahoochee and the Sierra Club, a Georgia trial court invalidated the plant’s permit because the permit did not set limits on carbon dioxide emissions, and also based on concerns regarding PM emissions. In August 2008, the Court of Appeals of the State of Georgia accepted a petition for appeal of the trial court’s decision. At that time, Tall Timbers was contacted by one of our members, Kolomoki Plantation owner and attorney Jim Butler, who was concerned that airborne emissions from the coal-fired power plant could adversely affect landowners’ ability to use prescribed fire in southwest Georgia.
In December of last year, the Tall Timbers’ Board unanimously approved filing an amicus curiae (Friend of the Court) brief with the Georgia Court of Appeals. The brief, filed in April 2009, focused on the critical importance of prescribed fire to southwest Georgia and north Florida and outlined Tall Timbers’ concern that the proposed coal power plant could adversely affect landowners’ ability to use prescribed fire in the future.
In July 2009, the Georgia Court of Appeals issued a decision reversing several of the lower court’s rulings but upholding one key ruling. The Court of Appeals reversed the lower court’s rulings that EPD must include a limitation on carbon dioxide emissions and that EPD must consider the petitioner’s modeling that showed the plant would exceed air quality standards for PM 2.5. The Court of Appeals agreed, however, that the Administrative Law Judge who reviewed the state permits gave too much deference to the expertise of the EPD’s staff and thus was not “independent” in her evaluation of EPD’s decision to issue the permit. As a result of this ruling, the plant remains on hold pending an appeal to the Georgia Supreme Court by Friends of the Chattahoochee and the Sierra Club.
Tall Timbers’ amicus curiae brief to the Georgia Supreme Court
Tall Timbers’ concern remains that emissions from the proposed coal plant could place portions of southwest Georgia and north Florida in non-attainment status for particulate matter and could negatively affect landowners’ ability to use prescribed fire. Tall Timbers’ staff believes that filing the amicus brief is a prudent step toward protecting landowners’ ability to continue to use prescribed fire as an ecologically sound land management tool. Should you have any questions concerning this important issue, please contact Lane Green at 850.893.4153, x 239 or Neil Fleckenstein at 850.893.4153, x 335.