ATLANTA - Environmental activists announced Monday the formation of a nine-state Southern coalition to fight large utilities which they say pollute the air with carbon dioxide and contribute to global warming.
The announcement of creation of the Southern Strategy for Energy and Environmental Renewal came a day before a conference on air quality in Atlanta, where federal officials and representatives from utility giants will discuss the cost of environmental protection.
Environmentalists say they fear global warming in the South will permanently damage the ecosystem and threaten humans with the spread of tropical diseases such as malaria and encephalitis.
They called on President Clinton and U.S. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., to force companies to reduce carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is a byproduct of fossil fuel burning. Utility companies burn coal, a fossil fuel, to create electricity.
"We will be the first to experience impacts with the sea level rising, extreme weather, flash floods, droughts and the spread of tropical diseases," said Steve Smith of the Tennessee Valley Energy Reform Coalition.
"Our Southern utilities, especially the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Southern Co., are emitting enormous quantities of carbon dioxide and other pollutants," he said.
The coalition is made up of environmental activist groups including Public Citizen of Texas, the Alliance for Affordable Energy from Louisiana and the Campaign for Prosperous Georgia.
A Natural Resources Defense Council study ranked Southern Co. and TVA first and third respectively in emissions of carbon dioxide, Mr. Smith said.
Environmentalists are often misleading when talking about the electricity giant's record, Southern Co. spokesman Chuck Griffin said.
"All that says is that Southern Co. is the largest producer of electricity in the United States ... If it were broken down into our subsidiaries, there would not be so much focus on us," Mr. Griffin said.
"These groups lead people to believe we are violating some standard or regulation. We are in compliance" with federal regulations, he said. Southern Co. owns Georgia Power and Savannah Electric and Power Co.
Global warming is believed to come from burning fossil fuels and a decrease in forestation. The combination helps trap heat in the atmosphere, thus warming the planet's water - which causes extreme weather.
Southern Co. officials will be on hand today and Wednesday at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's regional conference on global warming.
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