In a ruling believed to be unprecedented, a Georgia judge halted the construction of Dynegy's Longleaf coal-fired power plant because it had not made provisions for reducing its emissions of carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas most widely implicated in man-made global warming.
The judge ruled that the plant must limit its pollution, according to the Sierra Club, which has been waging a campaign against Dynegy, an energy company with plans to build more coal-fired power plants than any other.
The Supreme Court has ruled that carbon dioxide can be regulated under the Clean Air Act, but the state judge's ruling applies that decision to a specific plant before any state or federal regulations have been set in place. For that reason, the impact of the decision is unclear, according to the New York Times.
Still, environmentalists trying to slow the nation's greenhouse gas pollution were emboldened by the decision; they said it should influence permitting of power plants around the country. It almost certainly will be appealed by the Hosuton-based company and/or state regulators, which had not put limits on carbon dioxide when it permitted construction.
"Coal-fired power plants emit more than 30% of our nations global warming pollution," said Bruce Nilles, Director of the Sierra Clubs National Coal Campaign. "Thanks to this decision, coal plants across the country will be forced to live up to their clean coal rhetoric."
If that's the case, Fulton County, Ga. will have a place in the history books.
More likely, it will go down as one volley in a long battle over the future of the nation's energy supply. While coal is relatively cheap (though the cost has nearly doubled in recent months), it is among the dirtiest forms of energy. Limits have been imposed to restrict pollution related to acid rain, toxic mercury and smog, but reining in carbon dioxide has proved not just a regulatory and political challenge, but a technological challenge. Whether and how to use coal in the future is a fundamental question not only for the United States, but for the world, as China in particular is using coal to fuel its economic rise.
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