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Wednesday, September 30, 2009 - 8:35am

Major Set Back for Environmentalists Opposing Proposed Blakely Coal Plant

The Georgia Supreme Court has refused to hear a case against Longleaf Energy Associates and the state Environmental Protection Division regarding a proposed coal plant in Early County.

Longleaf Energy is the developer behind the proposed plant, while the Georgia EPD is responsible for permitting operations.

They were being sued by several environmental groups, including the Georgia Sierra Club and GreenLaw.

The case focused on three major points:

• Whether the failure to have limits to carbon dioxide emissions violates the U.S. Clean Air Act
• Whether or not Longleaf has to consider modern clean coal technology, like gasification
• Whether or not Longleaf has to consider particulate matter monitoring that shows violation of Clean Air standards

A Fulton County judge sided with environmentalists early on, ruling that CO2 emissions should be limited as they contribute to global warming. It was a first of its kind ruling, yet, it was soon overturned by a state appeals court. A coalition of environmental and social justice groups was hoping the court would settle those questions.

"Without a formal review by the Georgia Supreme Court, there are a lot of questions that are left unanswered that make permitting difficult," says Justine Thompson, executive director of Georgia GreenLaw and counsel on the case. "For example, the court of appeals ruling directly contradicts a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposal five days ago, so the question is, how we work out those issues."

Thompson and other environmentalists were "stunned" to hear the court rejected their case.

Thompson says they could file a motion to reconsider, or go to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, officials at Longleaf could not be reached for comment. They cannot begin construction until other permitting issues are sorted out.

There are still challenges to whether the permits held by Longleaf are valid. The consortium is also having a difficult time finding funding for the project.

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