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EPD re-issues final Plant Washington permit

ATLANTA -- The state's Environmental Protection Division has re-issued the air permit for a proposed coal-fired power plant in Georgia after the plant addressed issues identified nearly a year ago by a judge.

Backers hope to begin construction on Plant Washington in 2012 or 2013. The plant is expected to take four years to build and construction could generate over 1,600 jobs and $250 million in wages and benefits.

Once complete, the plant could create at least 120 new full-time jobs and up to 300 secondary jobs in supporting businesses and industries.

Plant Washington would be built in Sandersville, about 60 miles east of Macon, and backers say it would produce enough power to supply more than 500,000 homes each year when it starts operating later this decade. Supporters said the plant is crucial to supplying power to a growing population in need of jobs and energy.

Four environmental groups challenged the permit, worried that the economic benefits promised could come at the cost of the health of local residents. The groups argued that the EPD permit didn't force the plant to use the most effective controls to protect against sulfuric acid mist and didn't do enough to curb other hazardous pollutants.

Southern Environmental Law Center attorney Brian Gist said in a statement Monday that the center had not yet obtained a copy of the reissued permit, but would review and discuss it with their clients.

Administrative Law Judge Ronit Walker in December ordered that state environmental regulators reconsider the permit because it failed to set limits on hazardous pollutants and harmful emissions from Plant Washington.

Dean Alford, spokesman for the utility cooperative consortium developing the plant, POWER4Georgians, said the group is committed to ensuring that Plant Washington has the best permits in the country.

"We were pleased to work with EPD to address the particular issues identified by the judge as well as other concerns raised by petitioners," Alford said in a statement released Monday. "We have committed to building one of the cleanest facilities of its kind in the world and the requirements of this air permit attest to that. Now that these issues have been addressed, we are anxious to move forward."