WASHINGTON, DC – May 24, 2011 – On the eve of Southern Company (NYSE: SO) holding its annual meeting of stockholders in Pine Mountain, GA., the nonprofit Green America released a report today ranking the major U.S. power producer as “the United States’ most irresponsible utility.”
Titled “Leadership We Can Live Without: The Real Corporate Social Responsibility Report for Southern Company,” the Green America analysis assigns letter grades to seven major U.S. utilities on four fronts: reliance on coal; pollution; reliance on and expansion of nuclear power; and lobbying expenditures. Southern came in dead last with straight “F” grades in all four of the categories.
The rest of “The Dirty Seven” were ranked as follows: (1) Exelon; (2) Entergy; (3) Dominion; (4) TVA; (5) Duke and (6) AEP (Southern Company is 7th). Green America’s full report is available online at http://www.greenamerica.org/go/southerncompanyreport/.
Green America Corporate Responsibility Director Todd Larsen said: “Southern Company is one of the nation’s largest utilities, with 4.4 million customers in the American Southeast. Southern Company prides itself on its relatively low rates and its consistent payment of dividends to shareholders. But while ratepayers and shareholders may appreciate these limited economic benefits, they come at a high price: the extraordinary pollution produced by Southern Company, which harms the communities it operates in, as well as fueling global warming, and the risks posed by the company’s increasing use of nuclear power and growing coal ash ponds. The real price of Southern Company’s strategy include: asthma, heart disease, lung disease, air and water pollution, global warming, and the potential for catastrophic accidents.”
Green America is far from being alone in taking a downbeat view of Southern Company. Another measure of Southern Company’s weak record on the environment and steps to reduce its impacts, is the company’s low score on the Newsweek 2010 Green Score list, which ranks the Fortune 500 based on environmental performance. Southern Company ranks 494 out of 500 on the Green Score list. Out of the 32 utility companies included in the rankings, Southern Company ranked 30th in overall Green Score. They were also ranked 30th in the Environmental Impact Score (496th overall). They are 32nd amongst utilities on the survey reputation score (486 overall).
Consumers nationwide who want to encourage Southern Company to take action to be a true leader can do so at: http://www.greenamerica.org/takeaction/southern2011/.
WHY SOUTHERN WAS RATED THE WORST
According to Green America, while many U.S. utilities have major environmental drawbacks, Southern Company stands out as a leader overall in irresponsible practices:
* Clean Air Task Force data shows that Southern Company’s coal-fired power plants cause 1,224 deaths, 1,710 heart attacks, 20,770 asthma attacks, and 752 cases of chronic bronchitis per year. The total annual cost of all of this damage is over $9 billion.
* According to CARMA, Carbon Monitoring for Action, Southern Company is one of the top five utility emitters of carbon in the world. Southern Company’s Scherer plant emits an astonishing 26 million tons of carbon dioxide every year, making it the biggest power plant emitter of CO2 in the U.S.
* Three of Southern Company’s coal plants made Environmental Integrity Project’s top 10 list of most polluting plants in the country for their emissions of NOx, SO2, mercury, and CO2.
* Southern Company creates enormous demand for coal, which endangers the lives of miners, and puts entire communities at risk from mountain top removal mining.
* All those coal plants produce vast quantities of toxic waste. Southern Company currently has at least 22 plants that utilize “wet” storage facilities for coal combustion waste — including at least one site that the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found has polluted ground and surface waters.
* Southern Company is taking the lead in building new nuclear power plants in the United States, and the nuclear plants it is planning to use have raised serious safety concerns from an expert at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
* According to Open Secrets, Southern Company is the leader amongst highly polluting utilities in spending millions of dollars every year on lobbyists to ensure that the status quo stays in place.
NEEDED REFORMS AT SOUTHERN
Southern Company needs to take dramatic steps to improve its corporate responsibility. Green America and its individual and business members are calling on the company to:
* Increase the proportion of energy from truly renewable sources, such as wind and solar, from the current near zero to 20 percent in the next decade and at least 80 percent by 2050.
* Phase out its existing coal plants, with a 50 percent reduction over the next decade and a 100 percent reduction by 2050.
* End the construction of new nuclear power plants, and retire existing plants within the next decade.
* Increase its outreach to its customers to improve energy efficiency, such that the states in which Southern Company operates are all in the top ten in energy efficiency in the country within the next ten years. With sufficient investments in energy efficiency, ratepayers’ total electric bills can remain low in costs.
* Take steps to radically reduce the release of CO2, NOx, SO2, and mercury to reduce environmental and health impacts locally and globally. Southern Company should seek to reduce its carbon emissions by at least 20 percent, and other pollutants by 80 percent, in the next decade. Carbon emissions should be reduced by at least 80 percent by 2050.
* Southern Company should end any lobbying efforts that oppose federal EPA regulations of pollutants, climate change emissions, and coal ash deposits, and should support the transition to a clean energy economy.