Standing-The legally protectible stake or interest that an individual has in a dispute that entitles him to bring the controversy before the court to obtain judicial relief.
Lois Oakley, an administrative law judge presiding over a courtroom in Atlanta, over 200 miles from the Ogeechee River in Eastern Georgia, told citizens living on the river that they have no standing to bring a case concerning the state’s largest fish kill in history. Huh? They live on the river and they have no protectible stake or interest in the river? If they don’t, then who does?
Never mind that the state’s Environmental Protection Division (EPD) inspected King America Finishing and failed, over the course of five years, to find unpermitted dumping. Never mind that the state then tucked its tail between its legs, and instead of levying a penalty that could have reached $91M, it signed off on a consent agreement with King Finishing for $1M. And, to add insult to injury, the agreement doesn’t even require that the paltry $1M be spent directly on protecting the Ogeechee.
As stunning as the judge’s ruling is, what is more stunning is the absolute failure of the state to regulate dumping in the river. Children have been swimming in these cast-off chemicals. Taxpaying citizens have eaten fish soaked in the stuff. And until the dumping got so out of hand that at least 38,000 fish, along with alligators and other wildlife died, the EPD didn’t even know it was going on.
So, if the people who live on the river, depend on the river for their livelihood, love paddling and fishing in it, or have invested in the river for generations (my family has owned a farm on the river since 1789), don’t have standing, then who does?
The Ogeechee fish kill is a heartbreaking example of the state’s lack of interest in protecting our natural resources and wildlife. More importantly, it is a slap on the face to all taxpayers, especially those of us who consider the Ogeechee to be “our” river, to watch the state continue to discount those of use who stand on its banks.