Georgia Court Tests Mass. v. EPA

But where’s the press?

In April, I wrote that the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that the Environmental Protection Agency has the authority to regulate carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, under the Clean Act set “an ambitious menu for the press.”

As momentous a decision as it was, I reported, appraising the full extent of its impact would have to wait. Challenges to the ruling’s applicability would surely crop up-and they did.

Last Friday, a Georgia judge rejected environmentalists’ argument that the state’s first new coal-fired power plant in twenty-five years must curb its carbon dioxide emissions. George Hays, an attorney for the Sierra Club, had attempted to use the Supreme Court’s April ruling, Massachusetts v. EPA, to force the power plant’s developer to abide by the Clean Air Act’s “best available control technology.”

State judge Stephanie Howell’s rejection of that argument is “among the first legal tests to the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling.” However, as far as an “ambitious menu for the press” is concerned, nobody’s tucking into the dish down in Georgia.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution had, until last week, done a good job of covering the proposed plant. Residents of the southwestern county where it will be built, one of Georgia’s poorest, are excited about employment and tax break opportunities. “Locals rolled out the red carpet years ago,” the Journal-Constitution reported in July. The paper also ran an op-ed by the plant’s project development director, talking up the need for more power and his company’s attention to emissions control. But the rest of the state seems divided on the issue. Journal-Constitution reporters and columnists have called the deal a double-edged sword and a Faustian bargain.

Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. What is certain, however, is that last week’s ruling in state court is an important challenge to what many environmentalists had hoped would be a more weighty Supreme Court decision. Unfortunately, the Journal-Constitution—and the national media, for that matter - have not deconstructed this latest development and explained the consequences. It’s time for somebody to get in there and tell us what it means for the future of the Georgia power plant, as well as the future of environmental law.

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Curtis Brainard writes on science and environment reporting. Follow him on Twitter @cbrainard.