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Green Tea Coalition seeks to build on common concerns

Posted: September 17, 2013 - 11:02pm

ATLANTA — An unlikely alliance of groups from opposite poles with the name Green Tea Coalition seeks to alter the state’s political calculus.

It consists of some conservatives, tea-party activists and Libertarians who joined environmental and self-appointed watchdog groups in a push for ethics reform and a solar mandate and in opposition to the transportation sales tax and the new stadium for the Atlanta Falcons.

“The Green Tea Coalition strives to find common ground among members from across the political spectrum to educate and empower American consumers, advocate for common-sense energy policy, and unlock the full potential of America’s energy future,” it said in a recent press release.

Whether its members continue to find common concerns to rally around remains to be seen. At least for now, the coalition’s next target is Georgia Power.

It has scheduled a rally on the Capitol steps this week in support of what it terms a consumer’s bill of rights aimed at eroding the utility’s monopoly and trimming its profits on construction overages at the Plant Vogtle expansion.

Currently, the company’s rates are designed to earn it a profit of about 11.25 percent on its invested capital. That would include capital spent on adding two nuclear reactors to Vogtle beyond the budget approved by the Public Service Commission.

Rep. Jeff Chapman, R-Bruns-wick, is sponsoring legislation that limits the profit potential on the overage capital. His bill went nowhere in the last session of the General Assembly, but the coalition leaders hope their nudge will make the difference.

However, those participating in the coalition must contend with grumbling from their natural allies. For example, more environmental groups supported the transportation tax than opposed it, and more conservatives objected to the PSC imposing a solar mandate on Georgia Power than favored it.

The solar mandate created a dust-up between the Atlanta tea party and the local chapter of Americans for Prosperity. It reached the point where each was accusing the other in social media of being bought off.

Debbie Dooley, one of the founders of the Atlanta tea party, issued a statement in her own defense.

“Since I began to advocate for all forms of energy to be allowed to compete on the free market – including solar, I have had one or two people accuse me of becoming a liberal and being in bed with the ‘tree huggers,’” she wrote.

Her defense tossed a few barbs at her conservative critics by accusing them of being beholden to their corporate sponsors.

“These conservative groups advocate on many issues and have different agendas and interests and do really great things for the conservative cause, but when it comes down to issues important to their corporate benefactors, they have to toe the line, so to speak,” Dooley wrote.

It’s not new for environmental groups like the Sierra Club, which is in the Green Tea Coalition, to oppose the utility. And power company representatives have conditioned conservative politicians to blame such opposition for higher consumer prices.

What is new is for a conservative, grassroots group to join forces with the environmentalists. It could lead to a shift in Georgia politics if others follow their lead.

(Walter Jones is the Atlanta bureau chief for Morris News Service. Follow him on Twitter @MorrisNews and Facebook or contact him at walter.jones@morris.com and (404) 589-8424.)

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