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Atlanta Environmental Law Blog

Examining the costs associated with the Colonial Pipeline

If you have been following our blog, you've read about the protests organized by Savannah Riverkeeper to oppose Kinder Morgan's development of its Palmetto Pipeline. According to Oil & Gas Journal, the pipeline would have transported 167,000 barrels of refined oil products a day through the southern states. The 360-mile span of the pipeline was one reason the group resisted the project due to the possibility of oil spills that could occur in the event of a pipeline rupture. Citing concerns about the risks the pipeline would expose to clean drinking water, wildlife and the environment in South Carolina and Georgia, Savannah Riverkeeper was ultimately successful in its attempt to shut down the project because the Kinder Morgan decided to abandon its proposed plans.

While the organization helped to avert one oil spill, its representatives were on hand when another occurred this past October. After a September oil spill in Alabama, a pipeline repair crew was dispatched to fix a section of the Colonial Pipeline. During the course of the restoration, an excavation mistake led to a pipe rupture and an explosion that rocked the countryside. David Butler, leader of the Riverkeeper for the Cahaba in Alabama, was called in to test for water pollution in the waterways within the explosion's vicinity.

Can water fluoridation be the target of toxic tort litigation?

Water fluoridation is something most people don’t think about most of the time. We know that fluoride is placed in our water, but we give little thought to how it might be affecting us, other than that it is helping us to avoid dental cavities.

Those who are familiar with the world of online conspiracy theories know that the dangers of water fluoride is not an uncommon topic of discussion. Proponents of the theory, such as Dr. Joseph Mercola, argue that fluoride added to municipal water supplies can act negatively impact the endocrine system, that it can lead to diabetes and low IQ, and that there is no evidence that water fluoridation results in fewer cavities. We won’t mention the darker aspects of the conspiracy.

Water pollution case settlement includes $1 million fund

Environmentalists and governments, including here in Georgia, appear to agree on the importance of enforcing clean water laws, including the federal Clean Water Act. In one locality, Duke Energy has agreed to settle a federal lawsuit by paying $1 million in compensation for water pollution that it caused. The company owned a coal-fired nuclear power plant that discharged toxic heavy metals and pollutants into a nearby lake.

Georgia and all states have their own state anti-pollution laws that work in conjunction with the Clean Water Act. State and federal agencies generally cooperate in at least coordinating their efforts. The lawsuit against Duke, which was filed in 2013 by several environmental organizations, including the Sierra Club, alleged violations of the Clean Water Act.

Plaintiffs draw on environmental law in earthquake litigation

A little known environmental threat has come to the surface in another state, but the ominous message is one that must be kept in mind in Georgia as well. An earthquake that occurred there has been tied by scientists to ongoing corporate waste disposal practices in the area. A class action lawsuit has been filed there on behalf of residents who have been experiencing tremors for years. Recently, the area suffered a 5.8 magnitude earthquake, which has created a unique interchange between environmental law and earthquake occurrences.

Since the Sept. 3 earthquake, there have been at least 52 earthquakes with a magnitude of 2.5 or lower, according to published reports. The lawsuit that was filed is requesting relief for physical and emotional suffering endured by residents as a result of the earthquake and hundreds of tremors in recent years. The lawsuit lays the cause for the seismic activity directly on the shoulders of the local energy companies.

EPD concerned about Georgia Power’s plans to close down coal ash ponds, P.2

Last time we began looking at Georgia Power’s recent release of its plans to close a number of coal ash ponds. As we noted, the safety measures surrounding these closures have since generated concerns about the safety of the company’s plans.

According to the Southern Environmental Law Center, Georgia Power’s closure plans are not being disclosed in a way that would allow the public to understand the long-term safety implications. Environmental groups are particularly concerned about the possibility of toxins leaking into the ground from unlined coal ash pits. 

EPD concerned about Georgia Power’s plans to close down coal ash ponds, P.3

In previous posts, we’ve looked at Georgia Power’s recent announcement of its plans to move forward with the closure of 29 coal ash pond sites. The plans, which are a response to federal regulations regarding coal ash disposal, have been criticized by the Southern Environmental Law Center and other environmentalists because of concerns about long-term toxic exposure of waterways.

As we noted, one of the major concerns of environmentalists is that Georgia Power has not committed to ensuring coal ash ponds are lined before their closure to prevent long-term toxic leakage. This is not required by federal law. 

EPD concerned about Georgia Power’s plans to close down coal ash ponds, P.1

Coal ash disposal is an important area of environmental concern here in Georgia. Because coal ash can be toxic to human populations, it is critical that it is carefully handled and disposed. Over 130 million tons of coal ash is produced every year in the United States, and is usually disposed by dumping it in bodies of water called coal ash ponds.

 In 2014, the Environmental Protection Agency passed regulations requiring that coal companies to conduct routine testing of coal ash ponds to monitor toxin levels and to close down ponds which have excessively high levels. As we’ve previously noted, Georgia Power has been significantly affected by the new regulations.

What is covered under the Georgia Clean Water Act?

The federal Clean Water Act exists to protect water sources in the United States and to preserve the chemical and biological integrity of the sources of that water. The goal of the act is not only to preserve water as an accessible resource that people require but to also preserve the biological diversity of the country's ecosystems as a natural resource in its own right. This preservation helps with the continuation of traditional activities such as hunting and forestry as well as modern cultural, recreational, and commercial use of the resources.

Florida, Georgia battle it out in court over water-use rights, P.2

In our previous post, we began looking at a water dispute involve the states of Florida and Georgia, which is currently before the U.S. Supreme Court. At issue in the case is the state of Florida’s accusations that Georgia’s water use is having negative effects on water availability downstream.

As we noted, the specific issue is whether a cap on Georgia’s water use should be granted, and there isn’t much room in the case for working out a mutually acceptable solution. The solution the state of Florida wants is not something the state of Florida wants, and vice versa. It’s an all or nothing type of situation, which means it is unlikely to lead to long-term resolution of the problem, even if it establishes a clear legal ruling on capping water use. 

Mediation can be effective tool in some environmental disputes

Last time, we began speaking about the use of mediation in environmental disputes. As we noted in connection with the currently dispute between Florida and Georgia, going to court isn’t always the best way to resolve environmental disputes, particularly when there are a lot of factors at play and when more flexibility is needed to come up with long-term solutions.

Mediation is one form of alternative dispute resolution which can be used to solve environmental disputes. In addition to the mediation approaches we briefly mentioned last time, there are some styles of mediation that seek simply to facilitate a meaningfully exchange in which parties are able to hear each out and come up with a mutually acceptable agreement.

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