Will Barnes task force on natural gas plants help?

It took four months, but Gov. Roy Barnes is finally launching a task force that will look at the strain natural gas power plants are putting on Georgia’s environment.

Although natural gas plants are considered to be more environmentally friendly than coal-burning plants, the state is hardly in a position to allow even a minor increase in air pollution. Tougher federal standards scheduled to go into effect in 2003 mean that Columbus, Macon and Augusta could exceed the federal limit, putting federal road funds at risk. Atlanta’s air was named by the American Lung Association the sixth most ozone-polluted city.

Last June, in a letter inviting the Public Service Commission to join the task force, Barnes asked this question about the current boom in proposed natural gas-fired power plants: “Since independent power producers are not required to sell their electricity in Georgia, is it wise to continue to commit Georgia’s air and water resources to them?”

At least 23 new plants are now in some stage of planning.

On Oct. 31, a 23-member group, made up mostly of officers from the biggest power and gas companies in the state, will convene. Barnes picked Sen. Charlie Tanksley (R-Marietta), his floor leader and former law partner, to serve as chairman.

Other members are David Word, assistant director of the state Environmental Protection Division, and officers from Atlanta Gas Light, Georgia Power, Procter & Gamble, Oglethorpe Power and Williams Energy Marketing.

Governor-formed task forces usually meet several times and come up with proposals that the General Assembly may or may not turn into law. The tone of Barnes’ letter to the PSC suggests he wants to rein in the power plant construction free-for-all. But the Big Energy names on the study committee contradict that notion.??

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