On the eve of Southern Company's (NYSE: SO) annual stockholders meeting in Pine Mountain, GA., the nonprofit Green America released a report ranking the utility as the most irresponsible in the US.
In "Leadership We Can Live Without: The Real Corporate Social Responsibility Report for Southern Company," Green America assigns letter grades to seven of the largest U.S. utilities on four fronts: reliance on coal; pollution; reliance on and expansion of nuclear power; and lobbying expenditures.
Southern comes in dead last with straight "F" grades in all four categories.
"The Dirty Seven" are ranked as follows:
(7) Southern Company
"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," said Todd Larsen, Green America Corporate Responsibility Director.
Newsweek also gave Southern Company a low score on its 2010 Green Rankings list, which ranks the Fortune 500 based on environmental performance. Southern ranked 494 out of 500.
Out of the 32 utility companies included in the rankings, Southern Company ranked 30th.
If you'd like to encourage Southern Company to take action to become a leader, click here.
Why Southern Is Rated Worst
While many U.S. utilities have major environmental drawbacks, Southern Company stands out for the following irresponsible practices, according to Green America.
- Its 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.
- It is one of the top five carbon polluters in the world among utilities. Its Scherer plant emits an astonishing 26 million tons of carbon every year, making it the biggest carbon emitter among US utilities, according to Carbon Monitoring for Action.
- 3 of its coal plants made Environmental Integrity Project's top 10 list of most polluting US plants for its NOx, SO2, mercury, and CO2 emissions.
- Its reliance on coal endangers the lives of miners, and puts entire communities at risk from mountain top removal mining.
- Its coal plants produce vast quantities of toxic waste. At least 22 plants use "wet" storage facilities for coal combustion waste. At least one of those sites has polluted ground and surface waters (US EPA).
- It's taking the lead in building new US nuclear plants. Its designs have raised serious safety concerns even from the industry-friendly Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
- It spends millions of dollars on lobbying - more that its other polluting utility peers - to ensure the status quo stays in place, according to Open Secrets.
Reforms Needed at Southern
Clearly, Southern Company needs to take dramatic steps to improve its corporate responsibility. Green America members are calling on the company to:
- Increase the proportion of renewable energy, from near zero to 20% over the next decade and at least 80% by 2050.
- Phase out existing coal plants, with a 50% reduction over the next decade and a 100% reduction by 2050.
- End construction of new nuclear power plants, and retire existing plants within the next decade.
- Increase customer outreach to improve energy efficiency, so that the states in its territory are in the top 10 in energy efficiency within the next 10 years.
- Radically reduce releases of CO2, NOx, SO2, and mercury to reduce environmental and health impacts locally and globally. The company should reduce its carbon emissions by at least 20%, and other pollutants by 80% in the next decade. Reduce carbon emissions by at least 80% by 2050.
- End lobbying efforts that oppose federal EPA regulations of pollutants, climate change emissions, and coal ash deposits. Support the transition to a clean energy economy.
Green America's full report is available online at the link below.