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SAV goes to ATL to campaign for climate
Over 700 people came from all over the Southeast to send a powerful message to the EPA. - photo by Vicki Weeks

MORE THAN 50 concerned local citizens got on a bus to travel to Atlanta for the National Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) hearings recently on The Clean Power Plan put forth by the Obama Administration.

The unprecedented proposal would reduce carbon emissions from power plants to an average of 30 percent below their 2005 levels.

The Georgia Chapter of the Sierra Club along with Sierra Coastal Group Chair Karen Grainey and lead activist Yeou-Rong Jih joined forces with veteran coastal activists Vicki Weeks and Claudia Collier to rally the forces locally.

“Coastal cities around the world are particularly vulnerable to the devastating effects of climate disruption such as flooding and erosion due to sea-water rise, as well as increased frequency and intensity of hurricanes and tropical storms,” says lead organizer Yeou-Rong Jih. “During these Clean Power Plan hearings, the EPA and the Georgia Sierra Club have provided Coastal Georgians with critical opportunities to speak out on how climate disruption directly and negatively affects us.”

Historically, ice core samples show that carbon levels have never before passed 290 parts per million for 800,000 years. In recent years, atmospheric carbon levels have soared to nearly 400 parts per million and are continuing to rise at ever-increasing rates. This increase is already causing a precipitous rise in sea level, ocean acidification, and atmospheric heating and climate disruption that far exceed the most extreme predictions made only a few years ago.

This Clean Power Plan provides a critical opportunity in which the US can help change the course of history. According to the EPA, power plants produce approximately 1/3 of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, and are the largest source of domestic carbon pollution.

As the U.S. is currently the second largest producer of carbon pollution in the world, cutting carbon pollution in our domestic power sector by 30 percent or more may help significantly mitigate the worst effects of climate disruption.

“I was very pleased to see so many coastal folks make the effort to go to Atlanta to attend the hearing since coastal communities are particularly vulnerable to climate disruption which will bring more severe storms and flooding from sea level rise,” says Coastal Sierra President Karen Grainey.

Seth Gunning, the director of Sierra’s “Beyond Coal” campaign, estimated over 700 people came from Louisville, Lexington, East Kentucky, Memphis, Nashville, Knoxville, Chattanooga, Asheville, Greenville, Columbia, Charleston, Savannah, LaGrange, Augusta, Athens, Florida, Alabama and around metro Atlanta to send a powerful message to the EPA on the first day of its public hearings.

The same day, the Koch Bros.-and fossil-fuel funded Americans for Prosperity held a “Rally to Stop the EPA Power Grab” with about 30 people in attendance.

“There was a striking contrast between the small number of well-paid industry representatives who opposed the proposed regulations, and the many, many, citizens who traveled—sometimes hundreds of miles—to support those regulations despite the loss of a day’s wages to do so,” says organizer Vicki Weeks.

“Almost without exception the industry spokesmen focused on short term concerns about lost profits. Whereas, supporters--black, white, brown, rural and urban, male and female, old and young, called for making the regulations much stronger in order to respond to this unprecedented threat to our way of life and that of future generations. With this kind of unanimity and passion, we are finally going to start controlling carbon pollution.”

Key morning speaking spots at the EPA hearings were slotted for Georgia legislators, utility leaders and members of the Public Service Commission who warned of a rise in electric rates. Because Georgia Power is a regulated company, only the regulators can permit these increases and make these predictions come true.

Georgians must be wary and make sure political deals are not made and that their rates are not changed disproportionately from the national average, whatever that may be. Furthermore, Power, the most widely read power industry magazine, predicts that the impact of the proposed regulations on electricity generation costs will be minimal.

Some opposition speakers claimed agriculture may suffer from higher fertilizer production costs due to the Clean Power Plan. Supporters of the proposed regulations countered that the recent “water wars” might be more important to farmers, with coal, nuclear and fracking gas electrical generators taking the lion’s share of Georgia’s ever-diminishing fresh water supplies.

“I was so moved by the testimony given by people from Kentucky and Tennessee who live in the King Coal areas and whose families have relied on this industry for generations,” says co-organizer Claudia Collier.

“They pleaded with the EPA and the Obama Administration to give their children and grandchildren better choices for their livelihood and careers, as well as safer, healthier living conditions.”

She adds, “We heard, sometimes for the first time, about the environmental accidents that were kept secret through media payoffs and intimidation, which have literally destroyed the land these people love and have protected for hundreds of years. It was very, very moving and I can only hope the EPA will hear their voices, as I did.”

“It is true that the United States cannot solve the world’s imminent global warming catastrophe by itself, but neither can it lead from behind,” Georgia Sierra Vice Chair Steve Willis notes. “If America moves forward with significant reductions in carbon emissions, it can regain the international respect and good will it must have if it is to be accepted as a world leader throughout the 21st Century.”

According to Jih, in the past month, Coastal Georgians have written over a hundred comments to the EPA, recorded dozens of EPA video testimonies, and made up a significant portion of the Atlanta Climate March.

“I’m especially grateful to the 51 riders from Coastal Georgia who took the time and energy to travel up to Atlanta and engage the EPA directly. I think all of us who were on that bus can proudly say that we have made our voices heard and we are making a difference.”