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Atlanta Environmental Law Blog

Report lists biggest challenges for clean water in Georgia

Water contamination is an important issue in the state of Georgia. As evidence of this, the Georgia Water Coalition recently released a list identifying the 12 biggest threats to the integrity of Georgia’s water resources. The list, it has been pointed out, does not simply deal with Georgia’s most polluted waters, but rather the most significant threats to maintaining clean waters throughout the state.

The list includes things like: weakened state agency allows industries to foul the Chattahoochee River; delayed state cleanup plan allows power company to continue polluting the Coosa River; and nuclear reactors suck water and life out of the Savannah River. Many of the threats are connected to a crisis of enforcement or the need to reform existing environmental law. 

Families defeated in military toxic waste exposure case

A big case against the U.S. Marine Corps involving allegations of groundwater contamination at a base in North Carolina recently came to an end. The case was a defeat for families who had sued the federal government for its role in causing illness due to the way it handled toxic waste at Camp Lejeune. Apparently, family of military personnel at the camp had higher cancer rates than personnel at other bases without contamination over a 31-year period of time.

Lawsuits on the issue were actually consolidated in federal court in Georgia back in 2011. The judge in charge of that case rejected the government’s argument that the families were not able to file lawsuits on the issue due to statutory time limits. Last week, that decision was reversed by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court. 

Some Georgia lawmakers concerned about proposed environmental regulations

Lawmakers in Georgia are currently debating the potential impact of environmental rules proposed by federal Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The rules are aimed at allowing the agencies to better enforce the Clean Water Act of 1972, which has the general purpose of controlling pollution and setting water quality standards.

The proposal specifically clarifies that federal regulations under the Clean Water Act apply not only to large bodies of water, but even to streams, swamps and ditch-waters connected to or near navigable waterways. 

BP claims administrator criticized for inefficiency in settling oil spill claims

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010, as our readers are aware, set off a massive amount of litigation not only over injuries and deaths of workers and those affected by the toxic spill, but also by those who were financially impacted by the incident.  British Petroleum, the primary party responsible for the spill, has been hit with hundreds of lawsuits in connection with the spill and will spend billions to resolve claims.

According to those familiar with the ongoing litigation, the settlement administrator handling claims against BP connected to the Deepwater Horizon spill has not been reaching settlements at a fast enough pace. Since the current administrator took over the process, the rate of settlements has slowed down significantly. At the current rate of settlement, sources say, it will take another 12 years for BP to process its backlog of claims. 

Army ordered to move more quickly in testing potentially contaminated homes

Last week, the federal Environmental Protection Agency ordered the Army to move more quickly in conducting testing to determine whether residents in Forest Park, Georgia are at risk for hazardous chemical exposure. The Army has apparently already missed a deadline which gave officials 21 days to mitigate potential exposure to residents, and the recent communication from the EPA is the third ordering the Army to act quickly.        

The chemicals, according to sources, are coming from Fort Gillem, a former Army base where chemicals were routinely dumped on the ground. Workers reportedly dumped motor oil and other industrial solvents into the soil, which led to groundwater contamination which has spread out from base.  

Study dismissing danger of fracking water contamination criticized

Most Georgia readers have probably heard about hydraulic fracturing—commonly called “fracking”—which has become a growing industry in recent years, even within Georgia. Along with the growth of the industry, there has been growing concern about the safety of the process, which uses chemicals underground to access natural gas reserves. Environmentalists have called for increased safety standards to govern the process so that underground water reserves are not contaminated.

The potential of fracking to harm residents near drilling sites is not a small concern, as some studies have connected fracking to potential birth defects and other health problems. In one study recently published by Yale University, those living near natural gas wells were found to be over twice as likely to develop lung and skin problems compared to those who don’t.

Proposed environmental rules could present burden to ag industry in GA

Earlier this year, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed a number of new regulations aimed at reducing the occurrence of incidents connected to pesticide exposure among agricultural workers and those who handle pesticides. Included in the proposal were rules establishing a minimum age requirement of 16 for pesticide-handlers; off-limit buffer zones around fields treated with pesticides; training requirements for workers; and enhanced regulatory compliance rules.

While the rules all have the purpose of making things safer for workers—clearly a good thing—opponents say that the rules don’t add any significant protections and that they impose more legal hurdles for farmers by increasing workplace obligations and opening up the possibility that farmers will be sued by third parties in connection with the proposed regulations. Not to mention the costs of implementing the rules.

EPD defiantly awaiting decision on appeal regarding salt marsh buffers

In July, we wrote about a Georgia Court of Appeals decision which struck down a water buffer protocol established in April by the state Environmental Protection Division. The protocol essentially removed the requirement for 25-foot protective buffers around salt water marshes statewide. The decision, it appears, was not the end of the story.

Last month, Environmental Protection Division director Jud Turner, in disregard of the decision, issued an advisory message to counties and municipalities statewide that salt water marsh buffers are only required around state waters in some circumstances. The disregard is apparently due to the fact that the agency is in the process of appealing the Court of Appeals decision. The Georgia Supreme Court has not yet determined whether it will take the case, though.

BP challenges court decision that could lead to more penalties

It has been over four years since the BP oil disaster occurred in the Gulf of Mexico, and litigation in connection with the incident is still ongoing. The most recent development was a decision by a federal judge that the company acted with gross negligence and willful misconduct in the spill, a decision that could mean the company has to pay significantly more in penalties.

The suit itself was brought by the federal government and five states in the Gulf of Mexico, as well as numerous individuals and businesses which were harmed by the spill. The additional penalties fall under the federal Clean Water Act, which regulates the discharge of contaminants into federal waters. BP has stated that it disagrees with the decision and is planning to appeal.

Cathedral in Buckhead deemed be in compliance with zoning rules

A dispute about whether the Archdiocese should be able to build a new rectory in a Buckhead neighborhood for the Cathedral of Christ the King. The Archdiocese apparently plans to build a 2,987-square-foot addition to an already existing home of 5,000 square feet. Construction on the property began at the beginning of June after a building permit was issued. Subsequently, two local attorneys filed an appeal asking for an injunction to end the work on the basis that the church failed to follow city zoning ordinances in its permit application.

The specific issue in the case was whether or not the extension qualified as a home. According to the attorneys who filed the suit and those who supported them, the church was not a home but an extension of the church and so required special-use permits. The church, for its part, argued that the extension was legally a single-family home and that therefore up to six unrelated people could live together in the building under the zoning code. A decision in favor of the church was ultimately issued at the end of July. 

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