New pollution limits spur debate in Georgia

State environmentalists hailed Monday’s new limits on carbon pollution, while a Georgia Power Co. spokesman said that new federal mandates aren’t needed.

Coal and gas power plants will pollute 32 percent less nationwide, and clean energy sources such as solar will meet more of Georgia’s electricity needs, a statement from Environment Georgia said.

“The Clean Power Plan is the single biggest action the U.S. has ever taken on climate and is great news for Georgia,” said Jennette Gayer, Environment Georgia’s director. “Cracking down on coal and gas while ramping up wind, solar, and other clean energy sources will protect our families’ health today and ensure a safer climate for the future.”

In 2012, Georgia’s electric power sector emitted 54.8 million metric tons of carbon, the equivalent of 11.7 million cars, Environment Georgia said. It also cited Plant Scherer in Monroe County as the single largest global warming polluter in the country.

The plan sets state-by-state limits on heat-trapping emissions of carbon dioxide from power plants, the largest single source of such pollution in the country. Under the plan, each state determines how to meet its pollution cap.

Not everyone agrees that the new limits are needed, though.

In an email statement, Georgia Power spokesman Jacob Hawkins said the new rules crossed the line into state responsibilities.

“The implications of the overreaching rules directly impact national energy policy and impede states’ authority to act in the best interests of customers,” he said.

He also pointed out that, since 1990, Georgia Power has invested $4.3 billion in environmental compliance measures. Last year, the company brought in $500 million to cover such costs, about 6 percent of the average resident’s monthly bills.

“Without federal mandates, we achieved greenhouse gas emission reductions almost 20 percent below 2005 levels, while providing clean, safe, reliable and affordable power to customers,” Hawkins said.

To reach writer Jeremy Timmerman, call 744-4331 or find him on Twitter