Court of Appeals sends Plant Vogtle challenge back to lower court

Construction of two additional nuclear reactors underway at Georgia Power’s Vogtle plant, southeast of Augusta, Georgia. (© Ron Sherman)

Groups challenging the Georgia Public Service Commission’s (PSC) decision to continue the Vogtle nuclear expansion project despite billions in cost overruns will have another chance to make their case that the decision was procedurally flawed and unlawful.

In a decision issued late yesterday, the Georgia Court of Appeals sent the case back to the Fulton County Superior Court, which earlier dismissed the challenge on the basis that the decision wasn’t final, without addressing the merits of the suit.

The appeal was brought by the Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of Partnership for Southern Equity and Georgia Interfaith Power and Light, and the Barnes Law Group on behalf of Georgia Watch.

The groups are arguing they should not have to wait until after the project is completed to press their claims that the commission’s December 2017 vote to continue the project was both legally and procedurally improper. The groups argue that deferring their appeal until after 2022 would deny Georgians the opportunity to properly scrutinize the significant changes to the project’s budget and timeline before it’s too late.

The Court of Appeals vacated the part of the Fulton County Superior Court’s ruling that declined to address the challengers’ contention that postponing review would irreparably harm customers. The Court of Appeals returned the case to the Fulton County Superior Court with direction to determine whether the groups had met their burden to show that postponing their appeal until after the project is finished would not provide them an adequate remedy.

“We’re glad to have another day in court to show that the commission’s decision to continue Plant Vogtle despite dramatic changes to the cost and schedule and increased risk to customers was rushed and procedurally improper,” said Senior Attorney Kurt Ebersbach. “We will make our case that the only way to undo the enormous harm to customers resulting from that decision is for the superior court to hear this case now.”

“After threatening to abandon the project unless the commission caved to its demands, Georgia Power turned around and argued that this same decision wasn’t consequential enough for a court to look at it now,” said John F. Salter of the Barnes Law Group. “For judicial review to be meaningful, a decision of this magnitude must be tested now – and not in three or more years when the project is finished and nothing good can be done.”

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