Junk Science: Georgia Gets Green ‘Justice’

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The Article

Vicki Lawrence’s 1972 hit “The night the lights went out in Georgia” may become the official state song thanks to what passes for justice in the court of Fulton County, Ga., Judge Thelma Wyatt Cummings Moore.

Acting on a petition from the Sierra Club and the Friends of the Chattahoochee, Moore invalidated a permit issued by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division allowing Longleaf Energy Associates to build a 1,200-megawatt coal-fired power plant in Early County.

The key issue in the case is the emission of carbon dioxide from the proposed plant. The permit granted to the plant did not limit CO2 emissions from the plant for the simple reason that the federal Clean Air Act does not include CO2 as an “air pollutant” to be regulated.

While Moore observed that the permit could be upheld if CO2 was not an “air pollutant” subject to the Clean Air Act, she concluded that the Supreme Court had already decided the matter to the contrary in its 2007 decision Massachusetts v. EPA.

“Faced with the ruling in Massachusetts that CO2 is an ‘air pollutant’ under the Act, [Longleaf] is forced to argue that CO2 is still not a ‘pollutant subject to regulation under the Act.’ [Longleaf’s] position is untenable,” Moore wrote.

If anything is untenable, however, it is Moore’s misreading of the Supreme Court’s decision. The court did not, in fact, rule that CO2 was an air pollutant that must be regulated under the Clean Air Act.

The court wrote that, “we hold that EPA has the statutory authority to regulate the emission of [greenhouse] gases from new motor vehicles.”

So the court only ruled that the EPA may regulate CO2, not that CO2 is an “air pollutant” for purposes of the Clean Air Act. Although the 5-4, Justice John Paul Stevens-penned decision bloviated a great deal about carbon dioxide’s causing global warming, in legal parlance this is known as “dicta,” a sort of judicial editorializing.

The court’s decision and legal significance was strictly limited to the majority’s disapproval of the EPA’s process for declining to regulate CO2.

“In short, EPA has offered no reasoned explanation for its refusal to decide whether greenhouse gases cause or contribute to climate change. Its action was therefore ‘arbitrary, capricious … otherwise not in accordance with the law. … We need not and do not reach the question whether on remand the EPA must make an endangerment funding. … We only hold that EPA must ground its reasons for action or inaction in the statute,” the court concluded.

Moore, unfortunately, based her decision on the court’s non-legally binding musings about CO2 rather than the court’s actual ruling. Building on her gross misapplication of the law, Moore went on to essentially impose an impossible-to-meet technology standard on the proposed plant.

In contrast to the traditional method of burning coal to generate steam that drives an electricity-producing turbine, the technology called “integrated gasification combined cycle” converts coal to a gas that is burned to drive the turbines.

IGCC is used by only a few power plants around the world on essentially a demonstration project basis with good reason since an IGCC plant costs nearly three times as much as a conventional coal plant.

The alleged “advantage” of IGCC, if it can be so labeled, is that it reduces CO2 emissions. Because the Clean Air Act requires that air pollutants be regulated by “best available [pollution] control technology,” or BACT, the Sierra Club and Friends of the Chattahoochee persuaded Moore that any permit for the Longleaf plant must be based on emissions limits that could be achieved by IGCC despite that the technology is not really commercially available.

But even if IGCC were commercially available, it’s not at all clear that it would be considered BACT since one of the factors in determining whether a technology is BACT is cost. While IGCC may reduce power plant CO2 emissions, it would substantially increase the emissions of dollars from consumer and taxpayer pockets.

Moore made no effort to do a cost-benefit analysis to see whether IGCC might qualify as BACT. While it may have seemed like a no-brainer to Moore to side with the local green elites against the out-of-state power company that applied for the permit, she actually wound up siding against the working people and economy of her own state.

For no good reason, Moore denied Georgia the many well-paying jobs associated with the $2 billion plant construction and permanent plant operations. There’s also the not-so-small matter of the much-needed energy the plant would have produced.

Watch for this sort of green justice to come your way. A lawyer for the activist group Environmental Defense told The New York Times she hopes other courts would pick up on Moore’s “reasoning.”

Let’s hope, instead, that the next Judge Moore can be persuaded to apply the actual law to real-life facts rather than to impose fantasy emissions limits that can only be met by not-ready-for-prime-time technology.

Steven Milloy
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