Coal Plant Developers Confront The Future of CO2 Controls -- And Freak.

This week a state court judge in Georgia issued the first court ruling in the country concluding that power plant developers and state regulators must establish permit limits for CO2 pollution from new coal-fired power plants, based upon "best available control technology" under the Clean Air Act.

The judge further ruled that coal plant developers and regulators must fully evaluate alternative energy production processes, like integrated gasification combined cycle ("IGCC").

The proposed Longleaf Energy Plant in Early County, Georgia, a joint venture of Dynegy and LS Power Group, would be a 1,200 MW pulverized coal-fired power plant expected to cause as much as 9 million tons of harmful CO2 pollution each year.

The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE) issued a statement decrying the court ruling and calling for a "prudent Federal climate policy" to prevent similar rulings.

It was entirely predictable that ACCCE would rebuke a judge for being so rude as to apply the law correctly against a coal plant developer's economic preferences. What was more remarkable was the alacrity with which ACCCE called for effective national climate change legislation to control global warming pollution from coal-fired power plants.

Don't bet on the word "effective" in that last sentence. "Prudent Federal climate policy" is just as likely utility industry code for Congressional or EPA intervention to save power plant developers from application of the existing Clean Air Act; code for federal preemption of state global warming action; or even national legislation but founded on windfalls for utility companies by giving away the right to spew global warming pollution into the atmosphere for free. 

ACCCE for its part has 12 lengthy and demanding conditions that must be satisfied before its members will support federal legislation, and those conditions echo some of the explanations for the code above.

ACCCE's press statement reacts with thinly veiled alarm to the court ruling for good reason: this judge's opinion is the first to really engage and consider some basic legal disputes at issue in almost all of the pending controversies over conventional coal-fired power plant permits.

And you know what? The judge reached the most sensible conclusions based upon the most obvious reading of the relevant Clean Air Act language. There is nothing in her ruling that is a stretch.

Coal power plant developers have taken comfort thus far in the fact that political agencies at the state and federal level have gone to whatever lengths are necessary in order to avoid being the first jurisdiction -- or a jurisdiction -- willing to regulate global warming pollution from power plants under rather obvious Clean Air Act authorities.

So this court decision terrifies coal plant developers not just because it is the first adverse ruling, but because it truly is rooted in the most obvious reading of the law and heralds more judges reaching the same conclusion.

You can bet on that.