Public Service commissioners ignore Georgians asking for safer, clean energy future

Georgia Public Service commissioners, from left, Fitz Johnson, Tim Echols, Tricia Pridemore, Lauren "Bubba" McDonald Jr., and Jason Shaw. (PSC livestream image May 2023)

The Georgia Public Service Commission is charged with ensuring that Georgians have access to safe, affordable, reliable electricity. They hold the key to our clean energy future, which is critical to our health and safety. Just five people regulate Georgia Power’s monopoly of electricity generation for most of the nation’s eighth-largest state.

In a time when the worldwide medical and scientific community is calling for rapidly eliminating the use of fossil fuels for electricity generation, Georgia Power and the PSC staff have agreed to new methane gas turbines and extended use of coal, which will emit dangerous air pollution associated with heart attacks and other heart disease, asthma and emphysema, and other lung diseases, dementia, strokes, cancer, and premature birth.

As pediatricians, we recognize that phasing out the burning of fossil fuels is critical to protecting the health of today’s children. We have spoken at several hearings in the last few years to educate PSC commissioners about the health effects of climate change and air pollution caused by burning fossil fuels like coal. During those hearings, we have heard many Georgians express their concerns about climate change. We’ve seen mothers tear up with worry about their kids’ future, citizens concerned about soaring electricity costs, and young people express unease about bringing children into this world because they are fearful about the future.

Despite the fact that the PSC‘s function is to ensure safe and reliable power for Georgians, and public hearings are an opportunity for them to hear from their constituents, these commissioners have openly and repeatedly responded during the public comment period by discrediting the very people they are sworn to protect. Citizens’ requests to require more renewable energy over fossil fuels have been met with deflection, disparaging comments, and disrespect. This is all a matter of public record.

Through their questions, commissioners insinuated that the constituents’ concerns were invalid and irrelevant when nothing could be further from the truth. Climate change is considered the greatest threat to human health, and youth especially will be forced to bear the health consequences over their lifetime in a warmer and more erratic climate. Youth deserve to be concerned and heard because decisions made today will affect their safety and health over their lifetime.

Already, the current generation is faced with a higher lifetime risk of extreme weather exposure from climate change. Survey data indicate that most Georgians are, in fact, concerned about a changing climate and think the governor and local officials should do more to address climate – 73% believe that carbon dioxide emissions should be regulated as a pollutant. PSC commissioners are supposed to be guarding the safety of the sources of electricity for the public interest. In fact, however, they openly minimize and dismiss constituents’ legitimate concerns, allowing Georgia Power to make record profits at the expense of all of our health.

For the safety of all Georgians, it is imperative that our Public Service commissioners heed the medical and scientific community in saying that fossil fuels are not safe for human health. They should include climate scientists and health experts on their staff to address one of their core missions, which is to ensure that Georgians have safe electricity sources.

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