ROME — Georgia’s leading water advocacy organizations released their “Dirty Dozen” for 2018 in a 29-page report highlighting 12 of the worst offenses to Georgia waters.
Rather than identifying the “most polluted places” in Georgia, the Georgia Water Coalition’s Dirty Dozen report instead highlights the politics, policies and issues that threaten the health of Georgia’s water and the well-being of 10 million Georgians.
“From state leaders deceiving citizens and shortchanging environmental programs in the state budget to powerful corporations using their influence to change state policy at the expense of ordinary citizens, this report is as much about dirty politics as it is dirty water,” Jesse Demonbreun-Chapman, executive director and Riverkeeper with the Coosa River Basin Initiative in Rome, said.
Demonbreun-Chapman said 10 days in March illustrate the extent of the dirt in Georgia’s politics when it comes to protecting the state’s water:
— On March 27, the 19-member Department of Natural Resources Board voted to weaken Georgia’s clean water rules.
— The rule change came on the heels of a state court decision that determined that Rayonier Advanced Materials wastewater discharge into the Altamaha River violated state rules. When Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division and Rayonier lost in court, the agency simply changed the rules to benefit the Jesup pulp mill. The board agreed to the change unanimously. An executive with the Rayonier’s Jesup mill sits on that same board.
— That same week, state budget writers failed to adopt legislation that would end what Demonbreun-Chapman called the “annual looting” of the Hazardous Waste and Solid Waste Trust Funds, programs designed to clean up hazardous waste sites and illegal tire dumps. Citizens and businesses paid some $21 million into these funds the previous year, but budget writers provided only $6.8 million for these programs in the 2019 budget, breaking trust with citizens and leaving about 100 hazardous waste sites still waiting cleanups.
— State budget writers failed to adopt legislation that would end the looting of the Hazardous Waste and Solid Waste Trust Funds, programs designed to clean up hazardous waste sites and illegal tire dumps.
— Two days later, in the closing minutes of the General Assembly session, Georgia Power Company, which has thus far made nearly $400,000 in campaign contributions to Georgia politicians during the 2016 and 2018 election cycles, persuaded legislators to keep landfill tipping fees for toxic coal ash 60 percent less than tipping fees for ordinary household garbage.
Issues highlighted in the Dirty Dozen 2018 report include:
• Altamaha River: Department of Natural Resources Board changes clean water rules to defend polluter (Jesup/Wayne County)
• Apalachee River: Unnecessary drinking water intake threatens flows, fish and property owners (Walton, Morgan and Greene counties)
• Cumberland Island: Proposed spaceport threatens premiere barrier islands (Camden County)
• Georgia’s Coast: Shoreline engineering project for luxury development threatens neighboring beaches and wildlife (Brunswick, Glynn County)
• Georgia’s Coast: Gov. Nathan Deal’s silence on Trump Administration proposal to drill for oil off Georgia’s coast betrays coastal communities. (Chatham, Bryan, Liberty, McIntosh, Glynn and Camden counties)
• Georgia’s Drinking Water: Powerful lobbyists secure loophole inviting out-of-state coal ash to Georgia landfills (Cherokee, Meriwether, Banks, Taylor, Chatham and Charlton counties)
• Georgia’s Public Health: Legislators divert funds intended for clean community programs (Statewide)
• Georgia’s Streams and Rivers: Legislators fail to protect vulnerable Georgia streams (Statewide)
• Georgia’s Wetlands: Trump Administration assault on Clean Water Act threatens Georgia’s water (Statewide)
• Ocmulgee River, Lake Juliette and Groundwater: Coal ash pond at Plant Scherer pollutes groundwater, threatens nearby surface water (Monroe County)
• Flat Creek: Chemical spill kills mountain stream and endangered species; highlights weak state oversight of industrial sites (Dawsonville/Dawson County)
• Savannah River: Nuclear money pit saddles taxpayers, utility ratepayers with billions. (Waynesboro/Burke County)