At a recent event in Savannah, Governor Deal fielded a question about the Georgia Environmental Protection Division’s handling of the ongoing controversy regarding fish kills in the Ogeechee River and polluted discharges by King America Finishing.
From the Statesboro Herald:
A reporter asked Deal if he had an opinion on whether King America Finishing should get a new permit to discharge waste into the Ogeechee River. After a record fish kill downstream from the plant in May 2011, the Environmental Protection Division issued a consent order requiring the company to fund $1 million worth of river cleanup projects. The agency issued a draft permit in March, which replaces an earlier draft permit EPD withdrew after protests and litigation threats from property owners along the river and the Ogeechee Riverkeeper.
“We know that we don’t want anything that’s going to pollute our waterways,” Deal said. “We don’t want anything that’s going to make our state a worse place from the standpoint of environmental degradation.”
But he said he is confident that EPD is working hard to make sure the river is monitored properly and that corrective steps take place. He expressed confidence in EPD Director Judson H. Turner and the agency’s board.
“Yes, I think we have a great director of our Environmental Protection Division and we have a great board,” Deal said. “I think they’re all conscious of this problem and hopefully are working to resolve it.”
Compare Deal’s sunny hopefulness with the op-ed (first discussed by Jim Galloway) by state Senator Buddy Carter, which reads in part:
In a letter dated May 10, 2013, I have informed EPD that I am opposed to the issuance of the proposed permit.
The proposed wastewater permit is the second issued to KAF since May 2011, when more than 38,000 fish, along with other wildlife such as alligators, turtles and birds, died in the largest recorded aquatic environmental incident in Georgia history. The dead fish and other wildlife were located downstream from the discharge pipe of King America. […]
So why am I opposing it now? Simply put, the public’s faith in EPD’s competency and ability to protect our environment and property owners has diminished to the point that they get a vote of no confidence. […]
During my years of public service, economic development has been one of my proudest accomplishments.
Jobs are important to our state and so is our environment. KAF and our environment can and will co-exist. As a conservative, I believe there is no contradiction between protecting our environment and supporting the economy- we can and will do both.
Before any permit is approved, EPD must do a better job of communicating to elected officials and especially to our citizens and instilling in all of us the confidence that they can adequately guarantee the safety of our taxpayers, property owners and environment.
Click here for Carter’s entire op-ed, which chronicles both the history of the current controversy and of Carter’s own negative dealings with the EPD over the years. Carter is seeking Jack Kingston’s Congressional seat; the fact that he’s willing to take such a strong stand against the EPD is a pretty clear sign of the regional politics.
And here’s the opening of an editorial this week from the Statesboro Herald, Our View: EPD puts King’s interests above Ogeechee River:
For the fourth time since a massive fish kill was discovered in the Ogeechee River in May 2011, the Georgia Environmental Protection Division held a public hearing to listen to concerns about the river and a proposed discharge permit for King America Finishing.
For the fourth time, residents asked many questions about EPD oversight of the river, most specifically why King continues to be allowed to discharge into the Ogeechee without a permit since at least 2006.
And for the fourth time, EPD representatives sat, didn’t say a word and promised to get back with answers to questioners at the hearing.
If EPD’s past actions are an indication to what the 200 or so people in attendance can expect the state agency to do following the latest hearing held Tuesday at Effingham County High School, they will receive little or no satisfactory response to their questions.
The Herald editorial page stops short of advocating the closure of the KAF plant, but does call for stiffer penalties and provides a brief roadmap that the EPD could follow to overcome “a ton of distrust.”
There are many dimensions to this controversy, including the political problem of a state and region that has adopted a small-government, pro-business stand now facing an ongoing environmental crisis that is decimating property values and quality of life along the Ogeechee.
Opponents of the current proposed pollution permit have offered a number of specific suggestions about what can be done to improve it. Some of those are detailed in this recent Savannah Morning News article.
Given the recent history, I find it difficult to be anything but cynical about the state’s ability to protect life in and along the river. My guess is that many who are calling now for stricter oversight will soon be demanding that King America Finishing be forced to shut down.
The EPD is taking comments through tomorrow (May 15). Some details via the Savannah Morning News:
EPD will accept written comments on the draft permit up until the close of business on May 15. Comments may be mailed to the Environmental Protection Division at 4220 International Parkway, Suite 101, Atlanta, GA 30354, Attention: Jane Hendricks, or sent via email to [email protected], with the words “NPDES permit reissuance King America Finishing (Dover Screven County)” in the subject line. Copies of the permit fact sheet, draft permit, and antidegradation analysis are available on EPD’s website at www.georgiaepd.org in the What’s New section.