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Southern Co.’s David Ratcliffe challenges his CEOs to “help facilitate” a pact on water

By Maria Saporta

Southern Co. Chairman and CEO David Ratcliffe has had a bit of a balancing act ever since Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue tapped Georgia Power President and CEO Mike Garrett to lead the state’s efforts on finding a resolution to the water wars with Alabama and Florida.

And we now know how Ratcliffe is approaching this issue inside his company.

Southern’s subsidiaries operate in all these states, and the presidents of Georgia Power, Alabama Power and Gulf Power inevitably are closely tied to their respective state governments.

For 19 years, Georgia, Florida and Alabama have failed to reach an agreement on how to equitably manage the shared water resources in their three states.

That stand-off has become even more serious since July when a federal judge ruled that metro Atlanta was not legally able to withdraw drinking water from Lake Lanier and that the states had three years to reach an agreement or the faucet would be turned down to 1970 levels.

Southern Co., a utility that is committed to encouraging economic development in its territory, has every reason to want the states to reach a resolution knowing full well the political sensitivities that exist within and among the three states.

“The only way that the water issue gets resolved is with the three governors being willing to sponsor a resolution that can be transformed into some Congressional reauthorization of water use,” Ratcliffe said. “Southern Co. can not create an agreement.”

Yet Ratcliffe recognizes that the CEOs of each of Southern’s subsidiaries have influence and power (excuse the pun) in their respective states.

“I have challenged my leadership in each of these three states to help facilitate a resolution that all three states can support,” Ratcliffe said in an interview today.

That is a most significant challenge. In the past, Alabama Power has provided scientific expertise in the state of Alabama’s case against Georgia’s use of water.

Garrett’s willingness to accept Gov. Perdue’s request that he head Georgia’s efforts to get an agreement on water allocation caused some friction among some folks in Alabama, a state where he spent much of his career.

Knowing that Ratcliffe has issued a challenge to the various state leaders to “help facilitate a resolution” could be a pivotal turning point in resolving this two-decade-old conflict.

As Ratcliffe said, he would like to think that Garrett and the rest of his leaders will do what they can to make sure there’s a “good outcome for the citizens in our states.”

Maria Saporta

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.


1 Comment

  1. Fillmore October 2, 2009 12:12 pm

    Ratcliffe and Southern Company operate subsidiaries in all three states involved in the water conflict. He likely already knows the consequences the company faces for every conceivable outcome. At this point Garrett of Georgia Power has the highest-profile role of anyone in any of Southern’s subsidiaries. Garrett’s counterparts in Alabama and Florida are never mentioned in any articles concerning the negotiations.

    Ratcliffe allowed Garrett to take his position knowing full well, and in spite of, the political sensitivities that existed in all three states He publicly denies favoring Georgia’s position, but most of Southern Company’s political playing pieces seem to be working on behalf of Georgia.

    The Atlanta Metro area is Southern Company’s biggest and richest market. It also has the more potential for growth than any other area in Southern’s footprint. On the flip side, an adverse result for Atlanta in the water dispute would be disastrous to the Southern Company. Southern stands to lose more if Atlanta loses water sources than it will if Alabama and Florida lose.

    So we now have Georgia Power’s President performing in a Governmental capacity on an issue that will directly affect his company’s bottom line. How can Ratcliffe ignore the obvious conflicts of interest created by that scenario and still say that Southern Company is somehow neutral?

    Alabama Power and Gulf Power customers are still Southern Company customers. That fact alone should be enough for Ratcliffe to maintain at least the appearance of neutrality.Report


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