Georgia not quite ready to take on polluters

Under George W. Bush, the Environmental Protection Agency's priorities have shifted from chasing down industrial polluters to letting them pollute the air virtually unchecked. Last week, that conversion became all but complete when the EPA announced it would abandon more than 50 investigations into violations of the Clean Air Act.

Attorneys general from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut quickly announced they would fight industrial polluters in court, with or without the EPA's help.

One of the companies targeted by those states is Southern Co., whose power plants spew out pollutants that drift hundreds of miles from Georgia. One might think that Georgia's own attorney general, the Democrat Thurbert Baker, would have been right out there with those other attorney generals, but so far, his office has been quiet.

Russ Willard, Baker's spokesman, says, "The state of Georgia has not made a decision to join any of the lawsuits filed by the Northeastern states." But, Willard says, Baker has not yet met with incoming EPA director Carol Couch, so Georgia's position is "subject to change."

In the past, Baker's office and the state Environmental Protection Division have discussed the rollbacks to the Clean Air Act, according to EPD's chief air enforcer, Ron Methier. "We've gotten inquires over the years from the attorney general's office," Methier says. But "Georgia has historically not gotten involved."

When pressed as to why Georgia waits on the sidelines, the state's environmental officials, Methier included, have offered several different answers. Sometimes the reason was that federal laws are too broad. Another is that a court decision is needed before the state can act, which was the reason given last year when the Georgia Environmental Enforcement Project and Sierra Club asked EPD to review Georgia Power's ability to operate its power plants.

When asked if he thought it was time for Georgia to intervene, Methier answered, "No, I don't." Methier says EPD's internal processes will be enough to keep air pollution in check. Specifically, Methier says, Georgia residents and industries can comment on the new federal rules before the rules are implemented.

Meanwhile, while EPD's glacial bureaucracy moves forward, Georgia Power's Plant Bowen belched more carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide than any other power plant in the country in 2002, according a U.S. Public Interest Research Group report compiled from EPA data. Another Georgia Power plant, Scherer, just outside Macon, placed second out of all power plants in the nation for carbon dioxide emissions.

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