The Heat Is Online

Southern Company Buys Its Way Out of Pollution Controls

US power company linked to Bush is named in database as a top polluter


The Independent (U.K.), Nov. 16, 2007


An American power company with close financial links to President George Bush has been named as one of the world's top producers of global warming pollution.


The first-ever worldwide database of such pollution also reveals the rapid growth in global-warming emissions by power plants in China, South Africa and India. Power plants already produce 40 per cent of US greenhouse gas and 25 per cent of the world's.


But it is the enormous carbon footprint of Southern Company -- among the largest financiers of Republican Party politicians -- which has raised eyebrows. Southern's employees handed George Bush $217,047 to help him get elected, and they and the company have contributed an extraordinary $6.2m to Republican campaigns since 1990.


A single Southern Company plant in Juliette, Georgia already emits more carbon dioxide annually that Brazil's entire power sector. The company is in the top two of America's dirtiest utility polluters and sixth worst in the world.


Apart from vague promises by the Democratic presidential hopefuls, there is no pressure on this or any other power company to clean up their act and cut back on CO2 emissions.


Politicians from both parties fear the influence of Southern, which spends huge sums both on lobbying and on political campaigns and is among the biggest power players in Washington. It has seen off numerous attempts to impose controls on the amounts of pollution it pumps out.


The link between massive cash contributions by America's power companies and political arm-twisting in Washington has rarely been put into such sharp relief. Environmentalists have long suspected that President Bush's dogged refusal to sign up to international agreements to control global warming was linked to campaign contributions.


Yesterday's report has finally identified the impact these power companies are having on global warming. Southern, which earned $14.4bn in revenues in 2006, is using its influence to block the introduction of wind, solar, biomass and other renewable energy sources on the grounds that it would eat into its profits.


Haley Barbour, one of the main lobbyists for Southern Co when President Bush took office, played a crucial role in persuading him to back away from his original campaign promise to reduce CO2 emissions when he first ran for president in 2000. Mr Barbour is a former chairman of the Republican Party, and was reelected governor of Mississippi last week.


According to FrankO'Donnell of Clean Air Watch, after Mr Bush became president, "he was got at by Haley Barbour, who said, 'Hey, Mr President we didn't elect you to have high energy costs'".


Mr O'Donnell said: "Southern Company Lobbyists treated the president as if he was someone to give orders to and he took them. The upshot is that America's biggest polluters used their chequebooks effectively to block actions to stop global warming."


The detailed breakdown of the worst polluters comes in the form of an on-line database, compiled by the Center for Global Development (CGD), an independent policy and research organisation that focuses on how the actions of the rich world shape the lives of poor people in developing countries.


It lays out exactly where the worst CO2 emitters are and how much greenhouse gas they are pumping into the atmosphere. The globe's most concentrated source of greenhouse gases are the CO2 emissions of 50,000 power plants worldwide.


The database clearly shows the US as the world's biggest carbon dioxide producer from electricity generation  emissions that are continuing to grow.


At present electricity companies pump out 2.8 billion tons of CO2 each year. But China, with 2.7 billion tons, is about to overtake the US. The new report also reveals that power plants in other developing countries including South Africa and India emit more than the worst US plant.


A spokesman for Southern Company, Mike Tyndall said the pollution is high "because of the size of the plants which are serving an ever-larger population".


The company opposes the idea of any legally enforceable cap on emissions, but Mr Tyndall said: "We're at the forefront of developing new technology to address CO2 emissions."


Asked about the huge financial contributions of the company's employees to Republican party politicians, he said: "We don't influence them, but I think it's a good thing that we are involved in the political process."