Environment

Vogtle Critics Want More Information In Legal Challenge To Nuclear Expansion

Advocacy groups say the Georgia Public Service Commission was wrong to give Georgia Power approval to keep building two nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle. They are appealing the decision in court.
Advocacy groups say the Georgia Public Service Commission was wrong to give Georgia Power approval to keep building two nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle. They are appealing the decision in court.
Credit Georgia Power
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Critics of the nuclear expansion at Plant Vogtle want more information about private meetings they say took place between Georgia Power and state regulators.

It’s part of their legal appeal of December’s Public Service Commission decision to allow the expansion project to continue. It’s now the sole nuclear construction project in the nation.

Advocacy groups say the Georgia Public Service Commission was wrong to give Georgia Power the go-ahead to keep building two nuclear reactors, and they’re appealing the decision in court. The PSC had voted on the future of the project after the lead contractor went bankrupt.

In a motion last week, the groups asked for more details on closed-door meetings they say took place after the public hearings the PSC held on whether or not to continue the project.

“What we’re seeking is information that would supply more detail regarding the extent and substance of those discussions and, in particular, how they may have influenced the final decision, which overwhelmingly favors Georgia Power at the expense of its customers,” said Kurt Ebersbach, senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center.

The expansion project at Georgia’s Plant Vogtle is now the sole nuclear construction project in the nation. (Georgia Power)
The expansion project at Georgia’s Plant Vogtle is now the sole nuclear construction project in the nation. (Georgia Power)

Georgia Power says it complied with all rules during the proceedings. Last month, it filed a motion to dismiss the case.

“We believe the decision by the Georgia PSC to continue the Vogtle project was well within its authority and complied with all applicable laws,” said Georgia Power spokesman Jacob Hawkins.

Meanwhile, the judge in the case is planning to retire. A state panel called the Judicial Nominating Commission will meet Friday to interview replacements. The 22-member panel is co-chaired by an attorney with Troutman Sanders, an international law firm whose Atlanta office represents Georgia Power. The attorney, Pete Robinson, is recusing himself.

“Because of the unique circumstances involving this vacancy, and to avoid the appearance of a conflict, Mr. Robinson will not participate in the interview process scheduled for Friday,” a spokeswoman for the firm told WABE.

An attorney for Georgia Power, Meredith Lackey, is also on the panel. According to Georgia Power, she is also recusing herself from this week’s interviews.

Hearings on progress at Vogtle happen every six months, but the round that ended in December was unusual because beyond just approving six months’ worth of costs, the PSC also took a “go-no go” vote on the future of the project overall.

Opponents like Ebersbach say that vote should have been separate from the regular spending hearings. Georgia Power, in its motion to dismiss, points out that since the vote was rolled into the regular spending hearings, the opponents shouldn’t be able to appeal the decision.

Mindy Goldstein, director of the Environmental and Natural Resources Law program at Emory Law School, said it’s rare to see a challenge to a PSC decision go to court.

“Disagreeing with the Public Service Commission’s finding of facts is not enough really to get you into court, but if you claim that they made a legal error, that’s enough to get you into court, and that’s what we have here,” she said.

Goldstein is not involved in this appeal, or with any of the environmental groups involved, but she has challenged elements of the project on a federal level.

The appeal in Fulton County Superior Court is progressing as the PSC considers the next round of Vogtle spending hearings.