As upsetting as the Ogeechee River fish kill remains some 10 months after it took place, events that have happened since have been just as hard to stomach.
The most recent blow was Tuesday’s decision by an administrative law judge in Atlanta, which dismissed a suit filed by the Ogeechee Riverkeeper challenging the state Environmental Protection Division’s handling of the spill from a King America Finishing plant in Screven County.
Attorneys for the Ogeechee Riverkeeper, which filed suit on behalf of local residents, called the decision “mind boggling” and said the group plans to appeal. Ogeechee Riverkeeper Dianna Wedincamp responded strongly as well.
“Georgia’s citizens who live in the Ogeechee Basin have borne too many insults.
First, we had to endure a massive fish kill, then EPD shuts us out of the process, and then a judge says we have no right to complain. We have a right to protect our rivers.”
At issue is a consent order issued by the state EPD in September, which, among other things, requires King America Finishing to spend $1 million on an environmental project on the river. The consent order enraged many in the community, who saw it as a slap on the wrist.
They want a public hearing on the order, which some see as simply a permit after the fact for the Chicago-based plant.
Yet the judge ruled that though the Riverkeeper did suffer harm from the spill, it didn’t show that the consent order has or will cause it harm.
The fight isn’t over, though. In addition to the Ogeechee Riverkeeper suit, others have filed suit in both state and, apparently, federal court. This means that, in the end, justice may still prevail.
But the recent furor over the Ogeechee is a good reason to remember that in the end it’s hard to have good envioronmental protection without an independent agency big enough to handle the task.
Though some believe the EPD entirely culpable for what took place last year on the Ogeechee, it’s worth noting that the agency is not only spread too thin, but its leadership is also tasked with balancing environmental protection with a sustainable economy.
The EPD shouldn’t be worrying about the economy. There are others to do that. Its job is to protect the environment and it’s time we made that clear to state leaders.