Streamlining protection of our natural resources could result in huge savings for taxpayers

When the Effingham County EMA stepped up and advised citizens to stay out of the Ogeechee River downstream from King America Finishing (KAF) for the second Memorial Day weekend in a row, I started mulling over a suggestion on how the Georgia Environmental Protection Division  (EPD) of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) could save taxpayers significant money and streamline protection of our natural resources. On the heels of yet another advisory issued this week due to blistered catfish downstream from KAF, I think the time is ripe for my suggestion.

Blistered catfish in the Ogeechee River, July 4, 2012
(photo by Effingham County EMA)

Based on the fact that the EPD doesn’t find unpermitted dumping when it does site inspections (the dumping went on for five years at KAF), negotiates paltry consent agreements, and then issues a draft permit which essentially says, “Go ahead and pollute but this time you will have a permit” I suggest that at the least the water program be closed except for one staff person.

My guess is that with the willingness to issue lax permits to repeat polluters, one staffer could readily handle the issuing of permits because it seems issuing permits to dump chemicals and wastes into our rivers and streams is what the EPD thinks it is supposed to do. A small desk with a large “PERMIT APPROVED” stamp is all they would need.

With all the chatter in Georgia about smaller government, the elimination of at least the water program in the EPD could not only serve as a savings to taxpayers, but could also be used for economic development. I can see the advertising now, “Bring your business to Georgia. No restrictions or penalties on polluters! Hurry down for prime river access sites!”

The General Assembly could then take some of those savings on department operations and direct it toward the county agencies who do respond promptly to protect the health of all those who love to fish, swim, and boat in Georgia’s rivers.

Effingham County’s EMA Director, Ed Myrick is a real bargain. Following the second fish kill and two tropical storms in May, Myrick told me in a phone conversation that he is the first full-time EMA Director they have had, and he is the only person on staff.

Myrick isn’t afraid to do whatever it takes to protect the citizens in Effingham County. He told the Atlanta Journal Constitution what we already know, “it is apparent that the pollutants in the Ogeechee River are continuing to be an ongoing problem and may always be until the Northern portions of the river are reclassified. I sympathize with the businesses that depend on the Ogeechee River for income, but we must look after the health and safety of everyone involved.”

One person speaking up when an entire state agency won’t. Because it is the right thing to do.
Riverkeeper suit scheduled in Superior Court Monday, July 9.

 The Ogeechee Riverkeeper (ORK) filed a suit against the EPD when an administrative judge in Atlanta ruled that citizens who live on the river, fish and swim in it, rely on it for their livelihood, or simply enjoy watching the wildlife, have no standing in court. The legal challenge will be heard this Monday, July 9 at 2:00 p.m. in Superior Court in Statesboro.  in Judge Turner’s Courtroom, Judicial Annex Building, 20 Siebald St. Statesboro, Georgia. This is not an opportunity to comment or speak, but rather to support the Riverkeeper and demonstrate your concern by being there. Please remember to adhere to proper courtroom attire and conduct. 

 

About Katherine Helms Cummings

During the day I am a social and environmental activist whose professional work has been in the nonprofit world for the last 12 years. Most nights and weekends I am an artisan making accessories with upcycled cashmere and woven textiles. My handmade items are available at The Sassy Gal http://thesassygal.org
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