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State water coalition names ‘Dirty Dozen' offenses

The Georgia Water Coalition released a “Dirty Dozen” list of “offenses to Georgia’s water” Monday, ranking 12 problems with state waters and assigning blame to the state environmental regulators charged with protecting them.

Middle Georgia showed up on the list in three places:

Sandersville, where the coalition says that Plant Washington, the proposed coal-fired power plant, likely will increase mercury levels in fish of the Oconee and Ogeechee rivers (No. 6 on the list);

The Flint River, portions of which the coalition says are in danger of running dry because the state Environmental Protection Division has allowed too many water withdrawal permits (No. 7 on the list); and

Wilkinson County, where a recent fish kill in Commissioner Creek may be related to kaolin mining, an industry the coalition says the EPD needs to police more closely (No. 11 on the list).

Topping the list were the Ogeechee River, where a textile manufacturing plant this year caused the state’s largest recorded fish kill, and pollution from the Rayonier pulp mill on the Altamaha River.

The coalition blames Georgia’s EPD, which is charged with issuing environmental permits and enforcing environmental rules, for allowing these problems to continue and worsen. A news release points to the department’s shrinking budget, as well as a culture of “cronyism” within the EPD and the Department of Natural Resources board that oversees it.

“Even the current EPD Director, Allen Barnes, was previously a partner at a law firm that represents regulated industries, some of which are on the Dirty Dozen list,” the news release notes.

Spokesmen for the EPD and for Gov. Nathan Deal declined to comment.

Environmental lobbyist Neill Herring said half the members of the DNR board are affiliated with industries that EPD regulates.

“They like being able to feast off the public welfare,” he said.

Sally Bethea, Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, served on the DNR board for more than seven years, until 2007, and she said she was basically the last person on the board to have an environmental or science background.

The Chattahoochee Riverkeeper advocacy organization is a member of the Georgia Water Coalition. The group, which celebrated its 10th year Saturday, is a consortium of more than 180 conservation and environmental organizations, hunting and fishing groups, businesses and faith-based organizations.

“We don’t have regulation any more,” Herring said. “We have the idea of it that serves as a shield for the polluters.”

Earl Barrs, chairman of the DNR board and president of a forestry and real estate consulting firm in Macon, said Monday that the Georgia Water Coalition should have approached the board or called its members to report any specific violations the EPD was not handling properly.

“I’m a little at a loss as to why they’d want to publish something derogatory about the board when they haven’t even addressed the board,” he said.

“If there’s some environmental regulations being broken, I’d like to know about it. I don’t know of any. ... If they’ve got a problem with the EPD, the board would like to know that.”

To read the full "Dirty Dozen" list and explanation, visit http://www.garivers.org/gawater/dirtydozen.htm.

To contact writer S. Heather Duncan, call 744-4225.

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