Ninety percent of the ownership in a project to add two new reactors at Plant Vogtle must vote by Sept. 30 to take on an additional $2.3 billion in costs, or the project will be abandoned. (AP Photo/Mary Ann Chastain, File)

Capitol Recap: Pressure builds as Vogtle faces a key deadline

The construction of two additional nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle may be five years behind schedule and well over its initial budget, but at least it’s generating ad revenue and rhetorical heat.

Full-page ads ran this past week in newspapers in Marietta and Newnan calling Georgia Power’s effort to complete the expansion “one of the most expensive and mismanaged construction projects in history.”

Meanwhile, a digital billboard on I-75 tells passing motorists: “Don’t pay for a $30 billion mistake.”

The media push is building steam as a key deadline approaches for the project, Sept. 30.

Its owners learned in August that the project’s cost had just gone up an additional $2.3 billion, for a total of $27 billion.

That triggered a clause in the ownership agreement: Ninety percent must agree by the end of this month to move forward at the new cost, or the effort is abandoned.

Georgia Power, the largest individual owner at 46 percent, has said it is prepared to cover its $1.1 billion share of the new costs, with some help from its parent company, the Southern Co.

That places a $1.2 billion decision in the hands of the project’s two other primary owners, Oglethorpe Power and the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia.

It’s a particularly difficult choice for MEAG because it had made a deal to sell power to JEA, a utility owned by the city of Jacksonville, Fla., in exchange for JEA picking up some of the atomic tab.

JEA now says it wants out of the deal. Instead, it decided to pay for those newspaper ads and that I-75 billboard.

Of course, there’s more.

Twenty-two Georgia lawmakers have also gotten involved, citing what they see as an imbalance in the relationship between Georgia Power on one side and Oglethorpe and MEAG on the other.

“Southern Company pledged that its shareholders would absorb Georgia Power’s share of the increase,” they wrote in a letter to the three project owners. “This puts a disproportionate cost burden on EMC and city utility customers (Oglethorpe and MEAG) — our local utilities don’t have the luxury of shareholders to absorb these additional costs and will have to increase rates even higher. This approach is unfair and uncompetitive.”

The lawmakers want a “cost cap” to protect “all Georgia electric ratepayers from this and future overruns.”

Nearly all 22 signers on the letter are Republicans, and some of them are high-powered members of the party’s leadership.

There’s one big Republican, however, who wants to make sure the project stays on track, according to The Florida Times-Union.

It says Gov. Nathan Deal has asked the owners to “move forward” because of “the significant economic impact the construction project has for the state.”

The paper cited a letter Deal sent Tuesday to Georgia Power.

“I am counting on the project co-owners to follow through on the commitments you made to the citizens of Georgia, ratepayers, and myself,” Deal wrote.

Backing you may want to keep in the back: You can’t pick your family, but you can pick your friends, the saying goes.

That may not always be true in politics. Particularly in the anti-social wing of social media.

Republican Brian Kemp’s campaign for governor this past week slammed a quasi-endorsement that his opponent, Democrat Stacey Abrams, received from the Metro Atlanta chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America.

But Kemp has drawn some backing he likely won’t highlight in campaign brochures.

Earlier this month, a group called Southern Revivalism, which advocates for Southern succession, put out a post attacking Abrams. One of the nicer things it said declared that Abrams is a “Yankee-supported Black marxist that hates the South.”

There have been others.

Stormfront, a white supremacist group, has posted encouraging words about Kemp’s campaign. And members of the Nationalist Liberty Union, which aims to “unify America as a Euro-centric Christian nation” waved Kemp signs to protest against an Abrams surrogate during an appearance in Augusta.

Cook rating turns up heat: Cook Political Report is now classifying the Abrams-Kemp showdown as a tossup.

Previously, Cook had rated the face off as “leaning Republican,” but it saw further tightening in its latest round of ratings.

“The contest is already fully engaged with Republicans taking aim at Abrams’ personal finances (and personal debt) and Democrats portraying Kemp as beholden to his campaign donors (i.e., overlooking reports of sexual assault by massage therapists who are licensed by Kemp’s office),” Cook wrote. “Both parties acknowledge that the contest is in the low- to mid- single digits, but disagree on which candidate is in the lead.”

It added that “if there is any gubernatorial contest that excites national Democrats, it’s this contest.”

Cook joins Politico in calling the race a “pick ‘em” since the most recent AJC/Channel 2 Action News poll showed the two candidates within the margin of error.

Seeking stop to stopgaps: Georgia U.S. Sen. David Perdue has been a frequent critic of the current state of budgeting for the federal government, a process that often shuns appropriations bills in favor of stopgap measures that only win approval when lawmakers are facing the pressure of a potential shutdown.

He expressed his displeasure with the system once again this past week, when he was one of only seven senators to vote against an $855 billion spending plan that would fund the Pentagon, the Department of Education, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Labor through next fall. Ninety-three senators supported the measure, including Georgia U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson.

Perdue faulted the legislation’s inclusion of stopgap spending plans for the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security and several other federal agencies, especially after senators canceled their August recess to work on appropriations bills.

The stopgaps were aimed at averting a showdown over President Donald Trump’s call for a wall on the nation’s southern border that could have led to a federal shutdown at a most inconvenient time — just before the midterm elections.

Perdue, though, said there was still time for Congress to complete work on border security and address other spending measures.

Instead, the former Fortune 500 CEO said, “what we’ve done is we’ve used another release valve.”

Isakson and Perdue both pointed to benefits for Georgia in the bill the Senate approved.

They include $8 billion in funding for the Atlanta-based U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a pay raise for the troops and language that would require an investigation into high levels of lead detected in some housing at Fort Benning and other military posts.

To avoid a shutdown, the U.S. House would have to pass the bill by Sept. 30, 37 days before the election.

Candidates, endorsements, etc.:

— Abrams won the backing of the Georgia Association of Educators. The candidate probably helped her case in gaining the endorsement when, in June, she promised to oppose “public school privatization.”

— A video that Charlie Bailey, the Democratic candidate for attorney general put out, features an endorsement from Harris County Sheriff Mike Jolley, who is also listed as a supporter in literature distributed by Bailey’s opponent, Republican incumbent Chris Carr. “To be a sheriff, I have to understand law enforcement,” Jolley says in the video, apparently referencing Bailey’s deep experience as a prosecutor in comparison with Carr’s limited time in a courtroom. “For you to be the attorney general, I believe you ought to understand what it takes to prosecute someone in the criminal justice system.”

— It appears to be a case of like son, like father. State Rep. Christian Coomer left an open seat in the state House when Deal named the Republican from Cartersville to the state Appeals Court.

The Rome News-Tribune reports that a candidate has already stepped up, hoping to fill the void: Coomer’s father, Ken, a senior pastor at Adairsville Church of God. The senior Coomer has already lined up some big support with endorsements from state House Speaker David Ralston, state Senate President Pro Tem Butch Miller, state House Majority Leader Jon Burns and state Majority Caucus Chairman Matt Hatchett. He also has a campaign war chest of more than $60,000.

Ruth Demeter, the chairwoman of the Floyd County Democratic Party, said no decision has been made about whether to run an opponent in the contest.

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