One would think that if an elected official, like Jesse Stone of Senate District 23, had an opportunity to introduce legislation that would create stronger safeguards for the already polluted rivers in his district, he would. But in fact, as a co-sponsor of SB 269, he hasn’t.
The Ogeechee River, which experienced the largest fish kill in our state’s history last year, meanders through Stone’s district. Reedy Creek and Brier Creek also pass through the district, and both were recently polluted with spills (the Reedy Creek spill happened over New Year’s weekend). Stone sits on the Senate Natural Resources and the Environment Committee, so he certainly has access to and influence on a committee that should be attuned to clean air and water issues.
SB 269, which Stone co-sponsored, as written now, would allow the director of the Environmental Protection Division (sometimes referred to as the Environmental Pollution Division among citizens) to negotiate a settlement with a polluter (both private companies and local governments) rather than imposing a stiff fine or penalty. SB 269 would allow the EPD director to notify “any person” (i.e. the polluter) and offer to negoiate an agreement In short, the polluter and the EPD director can ignore penalties and just settle on some type of corrective action.
The director may also extend the period of time for clean up in six month increments with no limit on the number of extensions allowed.
So who has Jesse Stone’s ear? Of local interest were Stone’s campaign contributors Ben Tarbutton, Jr and Hugh Tarbutton, both donating $500.00. Hugh Tarbutton chairs the Washington County Industrial Development Authority. (The Tarbuttons have been advocates for coal fired Plant Washington, organized by Power4Georgians since it was announced over four years ago.) Ben Turnipspeed, an engineer who has worked for the cities of Sandersville, Davisboro, Deepstep, and Louisville, donated $200.00 to Stone’s campaign.
The citizens of Georgia know that the EPD failed completely and absolutely to conduct proper inspections at King America Finishing during a five year period when the company dumped unpermitted fire retardant chemicals into the river. The EPD tucked its tail between its legs and entered into a $1M consent agreement with King Finishing, when the penalty could have been as high as $91M. And now Stone supports giving the EPD even more freedom to negoiate way our natural resources?
Right now I don’t have a lot of confidence in the inspection and oversight conducted by the EPD, or its ability and willingness to pursue companies and local governments responsible for spills and dumping which endanger the drink water supplies of both municipal water systems and home and farms depending on well water in the aquifer. Drinking water alone is a reason to have and uphold the highest regulations and penalties possible. Add the damage to wildlife, recreational areas, and businesses connected to the rivers, and the damage is even greater. Georgia can’t afford to have dirty water.
I called Stone’s office and left a message that will leave no doubt in his mind how disappointed I am in this bill and his support of it. The bill now moves to the Senate Rules Committee. Citizens across the state are contacting Rules Committee members Jack Hill, Buddy Carter, and Johnny Grant by phone and email to urge them to VOTE NO on SB 269. These three senators know and value the rivers in our state. We are counting on them to stand up for clean water for all Georgians. Apparently we can’t count on Jesse Stone to do that.