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Atlanta Environmental Law Blog

EPA faces legal challenges over recent Clean Air Act rule

The Georgia Coalition for Sound Environmental Policy and the Georgia Industry Environmental Coalition are among the groups challenging a rule under the Clean Air Act which requires states to remove civil penalty shields from their pollution reduction plans. The penalty shields are known as affirmative defense provisions, and they apply in only in certain circumstances.

While EPA initially permitted states to have such provisions for purposes of Clean Air Act compliance, the agency was successful in passing a rule disallowing them back in May. The rule was issued after the EPA found that 36 states do not adequately address deficiencies in compliance with emissions requirements during periods where the plans were either beginning to be implemented, or are shut down or malfunctioning due to unavoidable equipment malfunctions. The rule specifically requires states to remove provisions that protect facilities from being hit with civil penalties for violations in such circumstances. 

Looking at the Groundwater Use Act

Last time, we began speaking about the Groundwater Use Act of 1972, which established the reasonable use rule when it comes to the use of water within one’s property. The reasonable use rule contrasts with the rule of absolute ownership in that it puts limits on landowners’ use of groundwater beneath their property.

For one thing, the law prevents unlimited use of groundwater by requiring a permit from the Environmental Protection Division for those making use of more than 100,000 gallons per day for any purpose. The law also gives priority to applicants who intend to make use of groundwater for non-consumptive purposes. 

Regulation of groundwater use in Georgia

Water is a precious resource, and water conservation is important to ensure that we don’t put this resource at unnecessary risk. When it comes to conserving water, there are a number of everyday things property owners can do to cut back on their use, such as using high efficiency washers and dryers, reducing the amount of time one keeps the shower on, avoiding running sinks, fixing leaks, avoiding unnecessary or wasteful lawn-watering, collecting rain water for garden-watering, and so on.

One possibility that many property owners do not consider is tapping into groundwater that may lie beneath their property. For some Georgia property owners, utilizing underground water resources not only adds to water conservation efforts, but it can also lead to significant cost savings.  

Annual list highlights threats to water quality

Water is one of the most important resources we have, and yet threats to water quality are all around us. Every year, the Georgia Water Coalition releases a report highlighting the most serious threats to water quality here in Georgia.  The purpose of publishing an annual list is to highlight for the public the threats to water quality and increase pressure on state and federal lawmakers and regulators to take political action to address these problems.

The annual list, which goes by the name “Dirty Dozen,” is a collection of the interests of 228 groups, businesses, and organizations. Some of the threats highlighted on the list for 2015 are issues we have written about on this blog in recent months, particularly the precarious situation with Georgia’s regulation of stream buffers, the threat to wildlife on the Coosa River stemming from power plant operations, and threats to well water quality in Georgia. 

Faulty septic systems can have serious public health and environmental effects, P.2

In our last post, we began speaking about the issue of faulty septic systems and the potential threat they pose to public health and the environment.  The extent of the problem is not miniscule. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, nearly 29,000 miles of streams have been confirmed to be threatened or impaired due to sewage infiltration. That number is almost equal to the number of stream miles affected by sewer overflows and wastewater treatment plants.

Septic system failure is a problem that is slowly becoming better known, and there is little doubt that a lot of work needs to be done to address the problem, especially in areas where maintenance of septic systems is particularly lax. One of the things homeowners need to be aware of is that, because they are responsible for maintaining their septic systems, they can potentially be held responsible when they fail and cause problems. 

Faulty septic systems can have serious public health and environmental effects

Clean water is something many of us take for granted. We assume, for the most part, that the water we intake is free from harmful chemicals and pathogens and is basically safe to drink. For those who draw their water from a private well, though, there is a continual need to monitor the water supply for purity. This is especially the case for private wells located near septic systems.

Septic systems are a larger threat to water supplies than many of us might first assume. Improper septic system design or installation, or lack of septic system maintenance can lead to the leakage of waste material—including hormones and pharmaceutical chemicals, as well as parasites and pathogens—onto land or into ground or surface water. Most septic systems are installed in suburban and rural areas, putting homeowners, communities, and local ecosystems in these areas at risk. 

How is Georgia Power getting along with new EPA coal ash regulations?

We’ve been following on this blog the response of Georgia Power to relatively new regulations put out by the Environmental Protection Agency dealing with coal ash disposal. For those who are unaware of the issue, coal ash is a toxic byproduct of coal combustion, and can pose serious risks to human health when its disposal is unregulated.

The Environmental Protection Agency passed new regulations last year that require routine testing of coal ash ponds and the shutting down of ponds which accumulate too many toxins. Georgia Power has been especially impacted by the regulations as there is a significant number of coal ash ponds under its care. 

Looking at the Superfund cleanup process, P.4

In our last post, we spoke a bit about when a party can be held liable for cleanup of a contaminated site as well as the extent to which a potentially liable party can be held accountable. As we mentioned, though, there are some circumstances that can lead to reduced or no liability for a contaminating party.

Contamination that can be attributed to an “act of God” or an “act of war,” can limit or eliminate liability, as can contamination which is caused by a third party with no contractual relationship with the potentially responsible party. The latter situation is known as a third-party defense. In addition to these defenses, various exemptions exist for different parties, depending on the circumstances. 

Looking at the Superfund cleanup process, P.3

We are continuing to look at the Superfund cleanup process, particular how the Environmental Protection Agency holds parties accountable for their contributions to toxic waste. We’ve already spoken briefly about the three characteristics of Superfund liability. Now, the question is: when is liability triggered and what exactly is a contaminating party responsible for?

First of all, a party becomes liable for contamination anytime there is hazardous waste at a facility, some of these hazardous wastes are released, the cleanup of these wastes will incur costs, and the party is one of the following: (a) a current owner and operator of the facility; (b) a past owner and operate of a facility at a time when hazardous wastes were disposed; (c) a party who generated the waste or arranged for its disposal or transport; or (d) a transporter of hazardous waste who selected the site where the toxic waste was to be disposed. 

Looking at the Superfund cleanup process, P.2

Last time, we looked briefly at the general outline of the Superfund cleanup process, beginning with the discovery of a potentially contaminated site all the way through completion of cleanup efforts and evaluation of the need for long-term protection of a site. One of the points we’d like to touch on briefly is liability. How does the Environmental Protection Agency go about holding contaminating parties liable?

Under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA, aka “Superfund”) liability is based on whole or partial responsibility for leaving hazardous substances at a site. More than one party can be held liable for contamination, though often the number a potentially liable parties is one or two. There are several qualities of Superfund liability that impact which parties can be held liable. 

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