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Georgia judge rules to halt construction of coal-fired power plant

Jun 30, 2008 - Greg Bluestein - The Associated Press

ATLANTA (AP) -- The construction of a coal-fired power plant in Georgia was halted Monday when a judge ruled that the plant's builders must first obtain a permit from state regulators that limits the amount of carbon dioxide emissions.

The judge's decision overturned a ruling that allowed the construction of the $2 billion Longleaf Energy Plant, which would become Georgia's first new coal-fired plant in more than two decades.

Environmentalists said the decision marks the first time that a judge has applied a U.S. Supreme Court finding that carbon dioxide is a pollutant to emissions from an industrial source. The court's April 2007 decision required the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas most blamed for global warming.

"We will be taking this decision and making the same arguments to push for an end to conventional coal," said Bruce Nilles, who oversees the Sierra Club's National Coal Campaign.

The plant's developers, LS Power and Dynegy Inc., were reviewing the ruling and did not have an immediate comment.

At a June 3 hearing, lawyers representing state regulators and plant developers said there was no federal standard yet to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, and warned that a ruling to regulate the gas would "short-circuit" legislators' work to develop new rules.

The plant is expected to create more than 100 full-time jobs and give millions of dollars in tax revenues to Early County, where almost a quarter of the 12,000 residents live in poverty. It would power more than a half-million homes through utilities in Georgia, Alabama and Florida.

Each year it would emit as much as 9 million tons of carbon dioxide, worrying critics who say it could cause health problems in a county that already suffers above-average air pollution.

Nilles said he and other environmental attorneys are now preparing similar arguments to delay about 30 coal plants now in active litigation. "The issue is now teed up from Nevada to North and South Carolina," he said.

The decision will force state regulators to reconsider coal-fired power plants and could push state regulators toward cleaner and more efficient energy, said Patti Durand, director of the Sierra Club's Georgia chapter.

"It's a scandal that energy companies are still trying to build coal plants even though they cause global warming," she said. "I can't be more thrilled. It's a huge ruling. This is a new day in the United States, and I'm thrilled."