On Tuesday, the New York Times published an extensive investigation into Southern Company’s Kemper coal plant in Mississippi, an expensive effort to create a coal plant that is “clean.” Years behind schedule and billions of dollars in the hole, the project has failed, spectacularly.
The entrenched political interests at play in this sordid corporate tale run deep—Mississippi’s former governor was previously Southern’s lobbyist. And according to the Times, the Obama administration’s interest in getting the coal industry on board for its environmental agenda led to federal regulators’ willingness to look the other way.
A whistleblower brought much of this story to light. For years, Brett Wingo reported to regulatory agencies, auditing firms, and even Southern’s senior leadership that Southern was lying to investors and the government about the cost and schedule of the project. Mr. Wingo was a self-proclaimed believer in the clean coal cause, but found Southern’s focus on “optics” over safety and honesty to be too much to bear.
The full fallout from the Kemper plant disaster remains to be seen. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is investigating and customers are suing. The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed rules for new power plants are currently on hold after a Supreme Court stay, and may be affected by the public outrage over Kemper. The Obama administration has also started slowly backing away from clean coal, cutting its spending on the technology by 3%. The continuing Kemper saga may well encourage the next administration to abandon clean coal as a compromise approach to combatting climate change.
What do you think? Will the Kemper coal plant disaster be the death knell of “clean coal”?
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