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All burned up over Southern Co. 

Georgia Power's parent company is yet again taking heat over its dirty-coal power plants.

Environmentalists have for years blasted the Southern Co. for extending the life of older power plants, including several near metro Atlanta, that generate more sulfur dioxide and other pollutants than would newer plants. The old plants emit more pollution than generally is allowed under the federal Clean Air Act, but a grandfather clause placed in the legislation at the behest of utility lobbyists allows the plants to continue operating.

Now, an environmental group is complaining that Southern Co. leads the nation in emissions of four key pollutants: sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, mercury and carbon dioxide.

"While the public chokes on smog and soot pollution, eats toxic fish and faces the real-life consequences of global warming, Southern Co. refuses to clean up its act," argues Jennifer Giegerich, a Georgia-based staffer for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

U.S. PIRG arrived at its numbers by compounding preliminary reports from electric utilities to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for 1999. The aging plants, including two in Cobb County, emit 2.5 to nine times the amount allowed for newer plants, according to the report.

Southern Co. officials counter that they've invested heavily already — more than $4 billion in the 1990s — in pollution-reducing technologies. They also note that Southern Co. is a large utility, so naturally its emissions would be on the high side.

"What the report doesn't look at is pollution per megawatt hour," says company spokeswoman Janni Benson. "Southern Company is the largest electrical generator in the U.S. Any time you look at something in aggregate, it's going to be disproportionate."

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