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The Dirty Dozen 

Southern Co.

We played with the idea of giving Southern Co. some sort of lifetime achievement award as the dirtiest of the Dirty Dozen. The parent company of Georgia Power might even be the nation's biggest air polluter.

Among its many prized possessions, the company owns and operates coal-fired Plant Bowen, which is 50 miles from downtown Atlanta and is the dirtiest power plant in North America. Southern -- and particularly its Georgia Power subsidiary -- is either No. 1 or right up there in particulate matter emissions, nitrous oxides, sulfur dioxide and carbon dioxide. In 2000 in fact, Southern released more "respiratory toxics" than did any other company in the country, emitting 91,964,317 pounds of chemicals that the EPA keeps track of through its Toxic Release Inventory -- a full 16 million pounds more than the runner-up.

Epidemiological studies indicate that hundreds if not thousands of children, senior citizens and other Atlantans die prematurely because of Southern Co. emissions.

The company's politics are just as toxic. Southern gives more money to congressional campaigns and spends more money on lobbying than does any other electric utility. And no other utility has been as blatant and underhanded (at the same time -- go figure) at undermining the fed's half-hearted attempts to reduce Southern's deadly emissions.

Avanti Motors

Villa Rica-based Avanti's new XUV (Extreme Utility Vehicle) is a monstrosity on wheels. It makes conventional gas-guzzlers look green.

It's 6 feet, 8 inches wide and 18 feet long (two full feet longer than the Hummer H2). It weighs 5,900 pounds. Avanti claims the XUV consumes 17 miles of gas per gallon in the city. We're skeptical: That number hasn't been verified by the U.S. EPA, and the smaller and lighter H2 gets only eight to 12 miles per gallon.

We're sure the privately owned carmaker will rumble all the way to the bank with its "in" new vehicle (that's if the company survives an infringement lawsuit brought by GM, the makers of the Hummer).

At a time when soldiers are dying to protect U.S. oil interests, Avanti's glorification of gasoline consumption in the same breath that it exploits military imagery is obscene. Every dime that went to the Sept. 11 terrorists -- to pay for their rent, their flight school classes, even their airline tickets -- came from the sale of oil. In this age, making cars and trucks that revel in bad gas mileage isn't just anti-environmental -- it's anti-American.

General Electric Co.

Just two weeks ago, GE had to send a crew to retrieve and dispose of a 55-gallon drum of PCBs that turned up next to a Rome family's barn. It had been sitting there for at least 30 years.

America's fifth-largest corporation ran a Rome transformer plant for decades, and the company flung PCBs, a highly toxic group of chemicals, around the Northwest Georgia city like birdseed. Some homes have 24,000 times the concentration of PCBs that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says should trigger a cleanup. The chemicals made fish caught in the Coosa River inedible downstream to the Alabama line. There are 12 lawsuits against the company for property damage caused by PCBs leaking from GE's property. And now, the company is refusing to fund blood testing to answer local folks' questions about whether they've been exposed.

GE's mess may prove as difficult to undo as is a similar swath of the company's PCB pollution along New York's Hudson River. The EPA says the Rome situation "poses a significant threat to public health and the environment." In a letter to the EPA, state Environmental Protection Division Director Harold Reheis confessed that, "Despite all the efforts of EPD, contamination on and off the plant site remains largely unaddressed."

In Rome at least, maybe America's fifth-largest corporation needs a new slogan: We bring good things back to life.

Jim Wooten

Once upon a time, Wooten was a journalist. But he's tossed aside any regard for truth in favor of spreading the kind of demagoguery more often found among talk-radio hosts. Just one example: Ever-mounting evidence shows that car and power plant emissions trigger asthma attacks, and even cause people to develop the disease. Yet Wooten uses his column in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution to huff-and-puff cynical impersonations of a Southern Co. PR agent.

This passage is preciously ironic (our comments in italics): "More politically skewed misinformation exists in the public domain on children's asthma than probably any other health or environmental issue (particularly from you, Jim). The most common misinformation ties the dramatic increase -- reported incidences almost tripled between 1980 and 1999 -- to outdoor air pollution. Yet it has occurred as outdoor air became cleaner. (not exactly: In some ways, it's cleaner; in other ways, it's worse) It's a serious problem that deserves more scientific research and fewer interest group agendas. (precisely, Jim: fewer agendas)"

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