How to be both angry and sad at the same time

For the past 17 months and six days, people have said that I am handling suddenly being widowed with grace. Being furious and raging wasn’t going to unwind the fact that a careless driver killed my husband while he was riding his bike. I have limited reserves of energy, and I knew that walking around being angry wasn’t going to get me very far.

Last Thursday I was both angry and sad. If David Cummings was alive, I would have put down whatever work project had my attention in Atlanta just before 2:00, gotten in my car, and driven back to Sandersville, Georgia to celebrate with him. As I have told friends before, it was David who helped me connect the dots not too long after the boondoggle Plant Washington was announced.

I didn’t know much about energy production before the end of January 2008 when Dean Alford was presented to the business leaders of Washington County in an invitation only presentation at the Washington EMC. As I learned more, I became very concerned. It’s handy to be married to a geologist who can explain the water tables and such when a coal plant is going to draw down 16Million gallons of water per day, and your household water source about eight miles from the plant site is also drawn from a well in that same geologic plain.

FACE Board members and earliest supporters with certificates of recognition from President Obama

I’ve always credited David for helping me find my way on responding to Plant Washington. On one of the first beautiful spring days in 2008, the kind that makes you want to find any reason to go outside, I told David I wished there was someone who lived near the proposed plant site that I could talk to, because surely they would be concerned about the threats of coal ash emissions, access to water, safety, and property values. He casually said that long-time family friends Randy and Cathy Mayberry had a cabin adjacent to the site, that maybe I should talk to them.

That sunny afternoon I went out to walk, and after about an hour, sweaty and kind of worn looking, I knocked on the Mayberry’s front door. Cathy answered, and while I told her I didn’t want to interrupt their day, and I surely wasn’t fit to sit down with anyone to talk, maybe sometime we could have a conversation about the risks posed by Plant Washington. From the living room Randy called out, “Come on in.”

From there Cathy and I met on someone’s porch with Lyle Lansdell, Pat, and Sonny Daniel, Paula and John Swint. Jennette Gayer came drove down from Atlanta. Seth Gunning, a student at Valdosta State who was light years ahead of the rest of us about energy and the environment, drove up for a meeting. Larry Warthen, whose church was founded after the Civil War, where unmarked graves of enslaved and free people are just yards from the plant site perimeter, stepped up to help lead in the work. The lawyers and partner organizations came to us to teach us, guide us, and become champions for our community too.

David was a certified stream monitor for the Ogeechee Rverkeeper. Our grandchildren Chase and Ella went with him one afternoon to learn about stream monitoring.

David didn’t go to those early meetings, but he listened to me, counseled me when I thought my head would explode as I learned more about the convoluted way coal plants are developed, permitted, and financed. He signed the petitions and went to the hearings. He phone banked when volunteers across the state came together to help return Cobb EMC to the rightful control of the member-owners. He used a few vacation days to attend court proceedings and EPA public comment sessions. Later he agreed to serve on the board of the small grassroots organization, the Fall-Line Alliance for a Clean Environment (FACE), that came together after the first few community meetings. Because he grew up fishing, canoeing, and swimming at our family’s farm on the Ogeechee River, he became a certified stream monitor.

Summer vacation in Maine, 2010, as I was beginning to realize fighting Plant Washington was the work I needed to do full-time

In the summer of 2010, when I knew to my core that quitting a job as a rural health advocate, where I excelled, instead of working nights, weekends, and burning through vacation days to fight Plant Washington, was my true calling, David supported me. When I worked 12 hours a day, he walked the dogs and cooked dinner. When I had cancer and was exhausted from radiation treatments, and the work required to fight Plant Washington totaled at least one thousand hours each week among our partners, he supported me. When Plant Washington’s funders backed out, and the truth in what FACE and our partners had said all along became clearer and clearer, David celebrated with me. And when the work of fighting Plant Washington wasn’t a full-time job any longer, because winning meant I would work my way out of a job, David supported me while I looked for work that would tap all the passion and experience I had garnered since 2008. He was always there.

Thursday evening I had plans to meet Atlanta friends who don’t know me as coal-plant fighting activist. One of them said she wanted to hear the story of my work as we began walking through the Atlanta Botanical Gardens. I told her I couldn’t compress it well at the moment, as it began in 2008 and changed me forever.

So we toasted a long-awaited victory, one they know matters to the health of the small rural community where my husband and children grew up, where some of my grandchildren live now, the community that helped FACE leaders become the best and truest versions of ourselves.  We toasted to doing work that matters and benefits everyone on this one planet, and to those whose bodies have been returned to it.

 

The arc of justice is long

Dean Alford

Earlier this afternoon the Atlanta Journal Constitution sent out a news alert concerning the resignation of Dean Alford, a member of the Georgia University System’s  Board of Regents. Alford was recently reappointed to the Board by Governor Brian Kemp.

The newspaper details that the Georgia  Attorney General and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation issued arrest warrants for Alford for creating a fraudulent invoice submitted to the state, and for forging the signature of a university employee.

What did Alford do?

The paper’s coverage includes, “Alford is accused of creating a fraudulent invoice acknowledgement form, dated Sept. 24, to submit to a company called Versant, state officials said. The document is alleged to have falsely asserted that the University of Georgia would pay Versant $487,982.88 to satisfy a debt owed to Alford’s own company, Allied Energy Services, LLC, located in Rockdale County.”

That’s not the biggest amount of money, according to the AJC. The article continues with, “He’s also suspected of transmitting fraudulent documents to Versant to make the company believe he had legitimate purchase agreements and accounts receivable with various entities, state officials said. Alford was attempting to sell such accounts receivable to Versant in exchange for $1,798,327.06, investigators said. ”

Alford purchased Allied Energy Services for pennies on the dollar when a judge ordered Cobb Energy holdings, a private shareholding company spun off from the nonprofit Cobb EMC, to be dissolved. Alford’s “haul” at Cobb EMC, the electric membership co-op in the north Atlanta suburbs, was close to $18Million according to 2015 news coverage.

But there’s more. Much more.

Allied Energy Services was awarded a no-bid contract to develop Plant Washington, a $6Billion proposed coal plant that soaked up millions of dollars from EMCs in Georgia under the umbrella of Power for Georgians. The electric co-op in Washington County, Washington EMC, sunk $1Million of member-owner dollars into the boondoggle plant, slated to be built just miles from my home, and the homes of a small group of local citizens who became the Fall-Line Alliance for a Clean Environment (FACE). Alford never secured financing, power purchase agreements, or customers. FACE has never wavered in its grassroots committment to protecting our natural resources and the health of our families and friends.

January 25, 2012

The adventures of FACE, and those of others in Washington County, have been detailed on this blog since Plant Washington was proposed in January 2008. The saga involves seeing fellow citizens for who they truly are, or are not. FACE leaders earned the rights to our story through hard work and selfless determination.

I’ll close here by adding that FACE and our partners have waited years to throw the biggest celebration to ever happen in Washington County. We’ve got a party to plan and invitations to send to those who stood with us.

Another hurdle for “dormant” Plant Washington

The Carbon Pollution Standards for new power plants announced by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on August 3rd confirm that Plant Washington will not get a “pass”, adding yet another hurdle to the development of one of the last proposed new coal plants in the country.

The new standards rely on partial capture and storage of carbon dioxide emissions. Plant Washington project spokesman Dean Alford has said that such a standard will result in cancellation of the coal-fired project because it was not designed to meet the standard. To avoid that outcome, the project developer, Power4Georgians, LLC (P4G) sought to convince EPA that the project had “commenced construction” when the standards for new sources were first proposed in January 2014.  Under such circumstances, Plant Washington would be considered an existing source exempt from the new standards

Dean Alford
Dean Alford

But as Alford and P4G are now finding, there’s a difference between saying something and proving it.

Almost two years ago, in the draft version of the standards, the EPA specifically addressed Plant Washington and another proposed coal-fired plant in Kansas. The agency took the developers at their word that the plants were under construction and therefore qualified as existing sources.  But EPA also said that if either plant failed to qualify as an existing source, and was therefore classified as a new source, the agency would consider granting special standards due to the unique circumstances that both already had their construction permits.  The idea was that these two sources, the last two coal plants still supposedly under development in the country, would get special treatment – perhaps a standard less stringent than that applied to other new sources.  Otherwise the two lingering plants might not get built despite their “sunk costs.”

But last week, in the final rule, EPA said it is “unaware of any physical construction that has taken place at the proposed Plant Washington site,” and noted that a recent audit of the project had described it as “dormant.” EPA said it appears that Plant Washington did not commence construction when the new source rule was proposed, and would therefore likely be considered a new source should it ever be constructed.
 

The EPA pointed out that in October 2014, P4G received an 18-month extension on Plant Washington’s air permit from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division. The EPA went on to say that the possibility of Plant Washington being built and operating is “too remote” to merit an exemption from the new carbon emission standards.

So Plant Washington is not an existing source.  But what kind of carbon standard will it get? Remember that EPA said it would give Plant Washington and the Kansas project their own new source carbon standards.  Well, on this point, EPA punted.  Why?  Because the agency views it as so unlikely that these projects will actually go forward that it doesn’t want to spend the time coming up with individualized standards.  In the agency’s words, “because these units may never actually be fully built and operated, we are not promulgating a standard of performance at this time because such action may prove to be unnecessary.”

Ouch. 

EPA puts the ball P4G’s court, telling the developer that it must formally request a determination of its status — new or existing —  before EPA can decide whether and what kind of standards should apply to its carbon emissions.

P4G has had the ability since January 2014 to seek this so-called “applicability determination,” which would clear up once and for all the question of its status under the new standards.  In fact, under Alford’s leadership, P4G sought such an “applicability determination” from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, but later chose to withdraw that request before the state agency could respond. Rather than clarify the project’s status, Alford opted to pursue an 18-month extension of the construction deadline under Plant Washington’s state-issued air permit. Alford got the extension, but this did little to convince EPA of P4G’s claim that the project had commenced construction in January 2014.  Instead, EPA arrived at the opposite conclusion: that Plant Washington is going nowhere fast.

Thanks to EPD’s generosity, Plant Washington still has 8 months left on its deadline to construct under the air permit.  But the project’s water discharge permit, another critical piece of the project, expired in March of this year. P4G failed to timely file an application to renew the permit prior to its expiration, prompting EPD to fine P4G.  EPD gave P4G thirty days to cure the defect but P4G missed that deadline as well.    These are not the actions of a project developer intent on meeting its construction deadline. 

And here in Washington County, there are no signs the coal-fire project is going forward, even at a snail’s pace. No ground has been broken, no Power Purchase Agreements have been announced, and no financier willing to pour the necessary billions into the project has emerged.

The EPA was correct in its refusal to exempt Plant Washington from the new carbon emission
standards.  The plant is not needed and would be a major source of carbon emissions.

Over 8.5 years have passed since this boondoggle plant was first announced, and its future is not one bit brighter than it was on the cold, gray, January day when it was unveiled. If Mr. Alford returns for yet another permit extension next year, the state would be wise to tell him that the final buzzer has sounded and no more time can be added to the game clock

Sleeping with the Enemy

The Friday Photo
June 26, 2015

Not a photo this week, but a fond remembrance, in two parts, of a campaign where a picture and few words told the story (It won a national marketing award for “Best Villian.” I wish I could claim the idea as my own.)

Sleeping with the Enemy frontSleeping with the Enemy back

The Fat Lady is looking through her sheet music

After 8.5 years, a lot of questions about Plant Washington, Cobb EMC, and Cobb Energy, a for-profit company created by Dwight Brown while he ran the state’s largest electric co-op, have been answered after a forensic audit conducted for Cobb EMC was released by Channel 2 News in Atlanta last week. (A forensic audit is a type of financial audit that is conducted concerning possible fraud or misconduct.)

The document, which includes a 150+ page Executive Summary, also shines a bright light on Plant Washington, which Washington EMC leaders spent $1Million pursuing. Allied Energy Services, run by Brown’s crony Dean Alford, holds a no-bid contract to develop Plant Washington.

The audit includes some big numbers. Dwight Brown and his wife Mary Ellen, received over $20Million in payments, loans, benefits, and preferred stock from Cobb EMC and Cobb Energy, a for-profit company, established in 1998 under Brown’s directive.

Brown’s private business partner and Vice-President at Cobb Energy, Dean Alford, hauled in about $18Million in payments and benefits, according to the audit.

Alford was selected by Brown to serve on the Cobb Energy Board. From there Alford landed CEO appointments to Allied Utility Network and Allied Energy Services, both owned by Cobb Energy. The auditors wrote that they, “found no evidence that Cobb Energy reviewed or approved any business plan for any of the businesses it acquired or created.” The audit states that, with the exception of perhaps two entities, neither of them being Allied Energy Services of Allied Utility Network, “all of the Cobb Energy spinoffs lost money, some on a grand scale.”

Cobb Energy gave Allied Utility Network $5.9M by moving money from the nonprofit Cobb co-op to Cobb Energy, the for-profit company that, according to the audit, was anything but a profit generator. The audit reports that Cobb Energy general ledger entries totaling $4M appear to have funded Allied Energy, but the bookkeeping isn’t precise (lack of clear bookkeeping records is just one of the many criticisms raised in the audit).

So what about Allied Energy Services, Plant Washington, and the group of co-ops, including Washington EMC, that organized Power4Georgians (P4G) to support Plant Washington (and another coal-fired plant to be located in Ben Hill County) that Brown and Alford were touting years ago?

Allied Energy Services, led by Alford, secured the no-bid contract to develop coal-fired Plant Washington, even though, as the audit states, “neither Alford nor Allied had any experience building or developing a coal-fired power plant, and witnesses indicated he was hired on the basis of a recommendation by Dwight Brown.”  Alford also heads P4G, which continues to promote Plant Washington even though all of the original EMCs that made up the consortium have ceased funding the project. P4G has already dropped plans for the second facility, which would have been called Plant Ben Hill.

Large tracts of land for both coal plant sites have been bought or tied up in contracts by several companies in amounts that totaled in the millions.

Where all that money came from is among the audit’s more interesting findings.

Monies paid to Cobb EMC by its members went to more than the for-profit companies owned by Cobb Energy. Both Alumni Properties LLC, which was involved in land acquisitions for the Ben Hill coal plant, and Buster and Brown, LLC, another private real estate venture, are linked to Dean Alford and his boss at Cobb Energy, Dwight Brown.

But there were even more land companies, including Ben Hill Timberland, LLC and Washington Timberland, LLC. Washington Timberland, LLC, as readers of Rural and Progressive may remember, has a history of late property tax payments in Washington County.

Dean Alford and P4G cancelled Plant Ben Hill over three years ago, but the audit raises questions about whether it was ever a real project.  The audit says that “Senior Cobb EMC officers…advised that Plant Ben Hill was a ‘decoy” designed as a subterfuge to keep land prices lower in Washington County.”

Which raises troubling questions about Plant Washington and whether it was ever a viable proposal, or merely a scheme designed to enrich P4G.  In January of 2012, Cobb EMC Board members ceased funding Plant Washington following a presentation by Alford, during which he said, “P4G never intended to build Plant Washington” and that, “P4G’s goal has always been to obtain the permits needed and then sell them to any interested party that could build the plant.”  Unfortunately, it took many more months before Washington EMC followed Cobb EMC’s lead.

I happened to attend the invitation-only announcement for Plant Washington at the end of January 2008. The event was attended by former Washington CEO Frank Askew, then CFO and now Washington EMC CEO Wendy Sellers, Washington County Industrial Development Authority Chair, and Sandersville Railroad stockholder Hugh Tarbutton, and other Tarbutton family members.  At that time, Alford was clear in stating that Plant Washington would be built, owned, and operated by P4G members to provide affordable power to co-op members.

“Senior Cobb EMC officers interviewed advised that Plant Washington is now dormant,” according to the audit.

There’s a lot of information to digest in the 150+ page audit, which was requested by the Cobb EMC Board members elected after Brown and his cronies were ousted from the electric co-op almost four years ago. Last week Cobb County Prosecutor Don Geary told Channel 2 News in Atlanta that additional criminal charges could result from the findings.

The audit concludes with this statement, “This report has clearly demonstrated that how the former CEO made business and accounting decisions from which he and his friends profited. There was no effective compliance and ethics program and no oversight on the part of the Board of either entity, Cobb Energy or Cobb EMC to stop the activities perpetuated by the former CEO.”

It is time for Washington EMC leaders to come clean with its members and the larger community about the waste of member resources that Plant Washington has been from the beginning. Members expect and deserve the truth. We must hold them, and all our county leaders, accountable for the boondoggle they signed us up for over 8.5 years ago.

Two boxes, 8.5 years

The Friday Photo
May 29,2015


We’re downsizing today. These two boxes are filled with documents spanning 8.5 years (and counting) of some of the most difficult, rewarding, and meaningful work I will ever do.

Plays with matches

The Friday Photo
March 20, 2015

FullSizeRender (2)

This pendant was made for me by Life is a Verb Camper Jen Land. I wear it everyday as a reminder to be invested and to speak up. And to choose carefully when using matches.

Home Office

The Friday Photo
November 14, 2014

Rose Hill, est.1852, Lockerly Arboretum, Milledgeville, Georgia
Rose Hill, est.1852, Lockerly Arboretum, Milledgeville, Georgia

For over four years I’ve worked from a home office. There are a lot of great things about working from home: laundry gets done, soup simmers for lunch, no one walks by and distracts you from the task at hand, and the dress code is pretty flexible. There are still deadlines, meetings, and convincing the printer to print, but working from home has been a really good situation for me.

I’m still working from a house, but not the one I live in. Just as Life Is a Verb Camp approached, the place where I hoped to figure out the questions to finding a job for life after fighting Plant Washington, I was offered a job.

Now I’m working from an above ground basement office in a fabulous Greek Revival house built in 1852, Rose Hill, surrounded by Lockerly Arboretum, a public garden in Milledgeville, Georgia, as the Executive Director.

I’m no less committed to stopping Plant Washington, but due to the determination and success of FACE and our partners, the demise of the ill-fated coal plant is now a matter of time. No one who opposes Plant Washington is letting their guard down, but the writing is on the wall and our work locally will continue as it always has.

Being an environmental activist in a small community has been one of the most difficult, and exciting, things that I have ever happened upon. I knew if we won, one outcome would be working myself out of a job that had changed my life for the better.

I didn’t make a habit of inviting people to come see me in my home office, but I’d be glad for anyone to stop by and see the house where I am working in now.

Declaring Victory

Goal Met

I had no idea what the response would be to launching a Go Fund Me campaign asking people to help me go to a camp for grown ups. The time was just too ripe for me to get to this camp led by Patti Digh, and so I decided to be my own advocate. I’ve asked people to sign comments  to support clean air and water, marriage equality, access to health care, and other issues, but IU’ve never done a “help me personally” type of ask.

This has been a humbling experience for many reasons. I’ve not told my story for myself, and for that purpose alone the experience is valuable. As a participant in other campaigns I have been amazed at people stepping up because there was value in the need and ask. I wasn’t sure that would happen for me, and every time it did I had to catch my breath.

I’ve got a lot to do between now and the time I leave for Life Is A Verb Camp 2014. Right now I am letting such unexpected generosity soak in. I am appreciative of the what everyone did to make this happen, from sharing the link to the campaign to actually typing in a donation amount.

Thank you.

 

My first sleep over camp

Most readers of Rural and Progressive have followed the work I have been lucky enough to be part of to stop a proposed coal plant in my rural Georgia community. None of us knew what was ahead almost seven years ago when we came together to speak up for the health of our community except that it would require strong backs, patience, strong partnerships, and grit.

The ugly part of this work has been the tearing apart of decades-long friendships and splintering of families. Sometimes when people stand up for what they believe is right, no matter how difficult that may be, communities become divided.

Four years ago I made what was probably the hardest decision I have made since I heard the announcement for coal-fired Plant Washington: I stood my ground for my values and integrity when I was asked to sit on my hands. Given the choice of sitting in silence and keeping my job, or speaking up for what I believe in, I chose my values and beliefs.

I took on a job that, if we won, would put me out of a job. Fighting Plant Washington full-time required a commitment to a much smaller paycheck, and sometimes no paycheck at all. Environmental activists don’t get rich fighting the fossil fuel industry.

Plant Washington opponents won’t stop until the project is cancelled, but the writing on the wall is in all capital letters for this coal plant. That means it is time for me to figure out what I will do next.

The scars and experience I’ve accumulated can’t be boxed up and put away. The challenge now is finding a way to put them to work for a community or organization that needs an advocate/activist to help in their work.

Can I find a way to cobble together work that will pay my bills without requiring me to move away from my family? What could that work be? Where do I look and how do I do that with clarity and focus? Who might help me and how do I make the right ask?

At 53 years old, I am ready to go to a sleep over camp for the first time in my life-
a “camp for grown camp fireups.” Life is a Verb, a three day camp/workshop/retreat will challenge me to find the questions I need to ask, and begin to work towards the answers.

Patti Digh wrote this about the camp she is leading, “Camp is a place where people of all walks of life come together to explore what it means to be fully human and what it means to live life fully, as an active and not a passive, verb. To live, and live fully. To love, and love well. To let go, and let go deeply.”

As an advocate I’m not used to asking for myself, but I am trying to let go of that stumbling block now. I set up a Go Fund Me account because I simply am not able to cover the costs of going to camp and finding a sustainable way to what is next for me.

My goal is to cover the costs of camp and traveling back and forth. I’ll arrive there ready to do the work at hand and maximize every minute. What I learn will help me step into the unknown that is knocking on my door.

My life has truly been an action packed adventure since I stepped into a huge unknown almost seven years ago. Now I have skills and experience I want to share with people and communities who have challenges of their own. What I have learned is meant to benefit others, not be put on a shelf and collect dust.

I’ll write about my adventures at Rural and Progressive as I prepare to leave and when I return (letting go for me also includes less time with electronics).

I hope you’ll support my first-ever camp experience with a donation. Any amount will help send a 53 year old advocate/activist to camp for the first time.

Tarbuttons are big funders for Gov Deal

There’s no doubt that money follows power. When your primary measure for the most important appointments is “who has money and who will give it to me” then you have a government like Nathan Deal’s, which is dominated by a few major donors instead of reflecting the diversity of Georgia’s citizens.

Last week the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported that, “Three powerful Georgia boards help to bankroll Gov. Nathan Deal.” The three boards reviewed include Washington County’s own Tarbutton family.

As noted by the AJC, Ben Tarbutton, III, often referred to in conversation as Ben III by people in Washington County, currently sits on the Georgia University System Board of Regents .  Ben III is a former Chair of the Board of Regents and was appointed by Gov Deal for a second term in 2013. He will sit on that Board until 2020. The AJC reports that Ben Tarbutton, III has donated $158,100 to Deal’s campaign since 2009.

The AJC quoted Ben III  describing his donations as part of  “modern day politics.”

During Ben III’s first term on the Regent’s Board he was joined by Dean Alford, who holds a no-bid contract to build a coal-fired coal plant in Washington County called Plant Washington.

Alford’s second wife, Debbie Dlugolenski Alford, was appointed to lead the Georgia Lottery in October 2012.  The AJC reported that Ms Alford was the sole finalist for the job. She had no previous experience running a lottery. One Lottery Board member, Frances Rogers, resigned because she thought Gov Deal had interfered in the process for selecting someone to lead the Lottery.

Just a few months after Debbie Alford was appointed to lead the Lottery, Benjamin R Tarbutton (Benjie to folks in Washington County) was appointed to the Georgia Lottery Board. I don’t know if Benjie filled the seat held by Ms Rogers. Benjie is Ben III’s cousin.

Benjie’s father is Hugh Tarbutton, Sr. Hugh Sr. was re-appointed to the Georgia Ports Authority two years ago by Gov Deal. He had served 20 years on the Ports Authority Board but former Gov Sonny Perdue wouldn’t extend his term. Hugh Sr. has donated $157, 200 to Deal’s campaign according to the AJC’s infographic  and he is back on the Ports Authority Board. (Hugh Sr. has a son who is also named Hugh, hence the use of Sr. here.)

It gets even cozier.

The Tarbuttons own Sandersville Railroad, a short-line railroad, that would move hundreds of cars of coal every week to Alford’s proposed Plant Washington, if the plant is ever built. They also own B-H Transfer, a trucking company based in Washington County. The Tarbuttons have a vested interest in transportation, and Georgia’s ports are tied to transportation.

Plant Washington will also require thousands of acres of land. The proposed plant site include large tracts of land owned by Hugh Tarbutton, Sr. A few tracts of Plant Washington land that don’t belong to Hugh Sr. are connected to Washington Timberland, LLC. That LLC is registered to Dean Alford. According to county tax records (Tuesday, August 26, 2014), property taxes due in December 2013 by Dean Alford’s LLC are still unpaid, and are subject to auction next month at the Washington County courthouse.

Oh yeah-Debbie D. Alford’s daughter Sasha Dlugolenski, is Governor Deal’s Press Secretary. A complaint was filed against Sasha Dlugolenski  earlier this summer concerning her Tweeting in support of her boss, Gov Deal.

People may think Atlanta is the center of power in Georgia, but it seems to tilt towards Washington County and the checkbooks of a few campaign donors.

The rules of the game are changing

The Friday Photo
August 8, 2014 20140808-074453-27893384.jpg This looks like a lot meetings do, with PowerPoint presentations and charts that are hard to read from the back of the room. It was the first public meeting held by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division to discuss how Georgia will meet the EPA’s carbon pollution rule. Georgia’s Plant Scherer is the biggest carbon spewing coal plant in the country, so the task ahead of the state’s regulatory agency is steep. They didn’t seem very enthusiastic.

For those of us who have spent years advocating for reducing carbon pollution, yesterday was no ordinary meeting. The rules of the game are changing, literally.

Didn’t you get that dress in 2008?

Dwight Brown's mug shot
Dwight Brown’s mug shot

Monday was a “Monday” in every sense of the word for Plant Washington and its developer, Power4Georgians. Before the EPA could announce a long-awaited carbon pollution rule, the Georgia State Supreme Court ruled that the 30+ indictments against former Cobb EMC CEO Dwight Brown will not be dismissed. That clears the way for Brown to have to defend himself against numerous charges of racketeering, theft, and making false statements (layman’s term is lying).

Who knows what type of complicated web might be unraveled in a trial involving federal racketeering and such? Plant Washington’s developer, Dean Alford, worked as Brown’s Vice-President at Cobb EMC when he secured the no-bid contract for Power4Georgians’ coal plant. Could he and many others be called to testify in Brown’s trial? Will co-op members across the state who found themselves obligated to a multi-billion dollar, back room deal coal plant camp outside the courthouse in order to secure a seat during the trial?

The court ruling came out hours before EPA Director Gina McCarthy could announce, and then sign, proposed carbon pollution rules for existing power plants.

McCarthy didn’t disappoint: the proposed regulations will require  a 30 percent reduction in 2005 carbon emission levels. Plant Washington wasn’t even announced until January of 2008, and Allied Energy Services CEO Dean Alford stated in community meetings since then that the plant can’t go forward if it has to control for carbon pollution.

Alford hoped for an exemption by signing a boiler contract in the spring of 2013, but there’s no magic in just signing the document. Allied Energy hasn’t yet demonstrated to the EPA that it met the stringent requirements to be placed in a special category of projects that would emit carbon.

But now it won’t matter whether Plant Washington is determined to be an “existing” or “new” source of carbon pollution because controlling carbon emissions will have to happen for all power plants emitting carbon.

Plant Washington isn’t the “It Girl” any more. It’s dress is out of style, the hem has been stepped on, and the corsage is wilted. Now everyone wants to dance with Renewable Wind and Free Sunshine. Fortunately they never seem to run out of energy.

 

 

 

Why carbon pollution is a B.F.D.

Over the weekend The New Republic posted an article, “Obama’s New Rules are a B.F.D. The Ensuing Political Fight May Be Even Bigger” about carbon pollution rules (Greenhouse Gas or GHG) the Environmental Protection Agency will release On June 2 next week. These rules will be directed toward existing sources of carbon pollution, the majority of which are coal-fired power plants.

Recognizing and acting on carbon pollution has been a long time coming in the United States. We’re the last car on the train of developed countries acknowledging and acting upon the mounds of scientific and economic data pointing to the damage that has been done, and continues to grow, by unfettered coal fueled carbon pollution.

There’s another story to tell about coal plants, but it isn’t be told often enough, or loudly enough. Why?

Coal plants aren’t found in gated communities, middle class neighborhoods, or private schools campuses. Coal plants aren’t problems for elected officials or businesses unless the issue is air quality or water resources, or until those who bear the weight of coal show up at government or shareholder meetings demanding action. Coal plants are stashed away in communities of color, low income, low education levels, poor health status, and rural America.

Facing South said this about who we are:

  • Number of Americans who live within three miles of a coal-fired power plant, which coal-plants-wastetypically stores toxic coal ash waste in unlined pits that aren’t currently subject to federal oversight: 6 million
  • Their average per capita income: $18,400, average per capita income for U.S. residents overall: $21,587
  • Percent of people living within three miles of a coal plant who are people of color: 39
  • Number of the nation’s 378 coal-fired power plants that received an “F” in a 2012 report because they’re responsible for a disproportionate amount of pollution in low-income and minority communities: 75
  • Average per capita income of the 4 million people who live within three miles of those failing coal plants: $17,500, percent who are people of color: 53
  • Average per-capita income of people living within three miles of Duke Energy’s Dan
    photo from Catawba Riverkeeper
    photo from Catawba Riverkeeper

    Plant near Eden, N.C., where a Feb. 2 coal ash spill has contaminated the waterway  for 80 miles downstream: $15,772

  • Percent of the residents of Danville, Va., a community downstream of the spill that draws its drinking water from the Dan, who are people of color: 53.3
  • Risk of cancer for people living within a mile of unlined coal ash pits: 1 in 50
  • Number of times that exceeds what the Environmental Protection Agency considers an acceptable risk: 2,000
  • Number of times more likely it is for someone living near a coal ash pit to develop cancer than someone who smokes a pack of cigarettes per day: 9

Coal plant communities didn’t choose to be the dumping ground for America’s dirtiest energy source.

The renewable energy revolution and putting the brakes on climate change won’t be led by industry and government alone.

We’ve had enough. And we’re making it a B.F.D.

 

 

 

Today’s EPA deadline

The Friday Photo
May 9, 2014

pine trees
mature pine trees in our front yard

I had other plans for The Friday Photo today but spent more time than I expected crafting my comments to the EPA about proposed carbon pollution rules for existing power plants and why Plant Washington isn’t an existing source of greenhouse gases. The deadline was today at 5:00 p.m.

My comments included this:

“On a sunshine soaked afternoon in September 2013 while Power4Georgians was announcing its intent to request permit extensions from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, crews hired by the current land owners were preparing the proposed plant site for planting timber. Growing timber is an investment in time and money, as my family knows from timber management on our family farm. Growing trees requires patience as it takes several years before even a thinning of the growth is necessary, with significant harvesting sometimes requiring 20 years of patient waiting and watching.”

Just like growing timber, fighting Plant Washington has required time and patience, and some watching and waiting. The investment for those of us who steeled ourselves and stood up in our community has been worth the effort. We won’t have to wait decades for the return on our investment.

Climate, kidnapping, and GPB

20140507-072428.jpg
This is good Mr President but why not step up and stop Keystone XL now? We won’t get the oil, Americans and First Nations will be forced to give up their private property to a foreign company, spills are sure to happen in our backyards, and all of us will suffer the climate effects of the dirtiest oil in the world. If you truly belief what you are preaching, act now.

20140507-073509.jpg
Why did the world sit on its hands for over two weeks before beginning to address the 300 girls kidnapped for the purpose of being sold as child brides? It is because they are black? Because they are Nigerians? I am holding Hamatsu Abubakar in The Light until she and all her friends are returned safely to their families. Abubakar means “noble.” Bring Back Our Girls

Email-Chip-Rogers-Nathan-Deal
There are two big news items from Georgia Public Broadcasting (GPB) and we’re only three days into the week. Chip Rogers was fired for violating GPB’s employment policies for much of his stint at the public broadcasting network. While Rogers stated his $150K per year job at GPB, the network hired a radio professional with decades of experience to produce his show. Did Rogers need help with his 30 minute show because he was also busy working as the Vice-President for Government Affairs at the Asian American Hotel Owners Association?

WRAS
Yesterday the Atlanta Business Chronicle announced that Georgia State University’s 100,000 watt, student-run radio station WRAS, will broadcast GPB’s programming from 5 a.m.to 7 p.m. The station’s Album 88 programming has a strong following, but those listeners will have to stream Album 88 during the day until it switches back to over-the-air broadcasting after 7 p.m.

And that’s not all. GPB is switching to a news and information format with programming piped in from National Public Radio, American Public Media, and Public Radio International.  A GPB produced talk show will debut in the fall of this year.

GSU has a license to operate the student programmed station but didn’t involve WRAS management and staff in the decision making process to fundamentally change the programming format. WRAS posted this on its Facebook page,”WRAS management and staff have had no part in the decision made by the university regarding our partnership with GPB. As a completely student-run/managed station, the administration of GSU acted unilaterally in making this decision. A statement from the staff on the matter will be made public soon.”

Enough is enough

The Friday Photo
May 2, 2014

20140502-072805.jpg
I posted this photo on January 25, 2012 after Cobb EMC abandoned Plant Washington and resigned itself to a likely $15M loss on the proposed coal plant it had bankrolled with co-op owner/member dollars.

Almost 6.5 years after it was announced as a “done deal,” Power4Georgians has asked for a permit extension for this because P4G chose to delay construction.

Today is the last day to tell the Georgia EPD that Power4Georgians has had plenty of time.

We’re all living on the same small spinning piece of real estate sharing the limited water and air that has to sustain all of us. Every one of us have skin in this game.

Sign and share this message to the Georgia EPD TODAY and say that after almost 6.5 years, “enough is enough.”

 

Um no, not really

This letter was submitted to newspapers sold in the Washington EMC area:

Um, no. Not really

There is a critical error of fact in a press release issued by Power 4 Georgians last week. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has NOT stated that Plant Washington is exempt from any of the proposed carbon, or greenhouse gas (GHG) rules proposed by the agency, for existing or new power plants. In fact, it has become even clearer that, if built, Plant Washington will be subject to carbon pollution standards.  The only question is how protective those standards will be.

Plant Washington’s developer Power4Georgians has requested yet another extension from Georgia’s Environmental Protection Agency for his dinosaur-fuel based project. Southern Environmental Law Center attorney John Suttles commented that, “If Power 4 Georgians commenced construction a year ago like they said, they wouldn’t need additional permit extensions.”

Power4Georgians is choosing to delay construction.

With no announced Power Purchase Agreements or billions in required financing announced, of course the project requires extensions. If the project was fully funded and coal stacks of moneycustomers were waiting for power, wouldn’t the plant already be under construction?

The arguments against Plant Washington continue to grow larger and stronger with time. More energy producers are switching to renewable fuel sources due to reduced costs. Ratepayers are demanding more power produced by sunshine and wind. Major financiers have abandoned coal projects. A similarly speculative project, the Longview Power Plant in Maidsville, West Virginia, began operations in December 2011 and filed for bankruptcy less than two years later.  Meanwhile, ratepayers for power plants like the Prairie State Energy Campus have seen their monthly bills go up by as much as 51 percent due to the soaring costs of coal plants.

We’ve never needed Plant Washington in the first place. If you don’t believe me, drive out 300px-Solar_panelsto the 10 megawatt solar farm in Davisboro and see where Cobb EMC in Marietta is buying clean, affordable electricity generated right here in our own community.

Katherine Cummings
FACE Executive Director
Washington EMC owner/member