State's Failure Exposed

Georgia Environmental and Health Advocates Expose State's Failure to Enforce Clean Air Laws

Georgia environmental and health advocates claim that the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (Georgia EPD) is not enforcing state laws that protect air quality and public health. In official public comments filed last week with the US Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA), Georgia PIRG, the Georgia Chapter of the Sierra Club, Georgia Forest Watch and the Center for a Sustainable Coast called on US EPA to make a formal finding against the state's environmental agency.

The groups charge that Georgia EPD is not meeting minimum federal requirements in its administration of an air permit program known as Title V. "By not running the air quality program according to the law, Georgia EPD may be helping polluters to get away with breaking the law," said Allison Kelly, spokesperson for the Georgia Environmental Enforcement Project. "We need to hold polluters accountable, and that starts with our state government doing its job," she added.

State law requires every large facility with a smokestack to get an operating permit from Georgia EPD. The permit must list every air quality regulation and pollution limit that applies to the facility. If Georgia EPD issues defective permits that allow industry to over-pollute at unhealthy levels, then air quality and quality of life in Georgia suffers.

For the thousands of Georgians who breathe the air downwind of a smokestack - this means illegal soot, more smog, and more asthma attacks. Even worse, some of these pollutants are linked to terminal respiratory illnesses such as lung cancer. [Death, Disease and Dirty Power Report, Clean Air Task Force (October 2000), on the web at]

"Georgia EPD is supposed to issue permits to protect its citizens, not permits for industry to pollute," said Georgia PIRG Clean Air Advocate David Rose. Rose continued, "Following the President's backpedaling on his promise to clean up power plants, it becomes more important than ever for states to properly implement and enforce existing laws."

If a facility is violating the law at the time its permit is issued, as part of that permit Georgia EPD must create a timetable that details specific steps the facility will take to bring their operation into compliance. However, the Coalition's comments cite several examples of permits issued by the state that lack a "compliance schedule." Of particular concern are the defective permits issued to three coal-fired power plants: Plant Bowen (Cartersville), Plant Kraft (Savannah), and Plant Scherer (Macon). The Coaltion specifically requested that US EPA reopen and revise these permits to include compliance schedules.

The groups also charge that Georgia EPD intentionally limits citizens' ability to prove that a facility is violating the law and jeopardizing public health. The Clean Air Act explicitly provides that anyone with evidence of wrongdoing can and should use that information to demonstrate that a facility is in violation. "By limiting credible evidence, Georgia EPD has slapped a gag order on all Georgia residents," explained Ms. Kelly. "The law is clear here: the state cannot ignore relevant observations or information, no matter where that information comes from."

The overall absence of public participation in Georgia's Title V program is a significant criticism in the comments. "Because Georgia EPD has never received a comment from an ordinary citizen, it seems obvious that their efforts to keep the public informed and engaged are not working," stated Curt Smith of the Sierra Club. Georgia EPD restricts citizen involvement by providing inadequate notice of comment periods and public hearings. "If you don't know what's going on in your neighborhood, how can you get involved?" asked Mr. Smith.

US EPA is required to respond to the group's public comments by April 01, 2001. If US EPA agrees with the program flaws detailed in the document, the agency could order Georgia EPD to make changes, or US EPA could take over the state program. All public comments made throughout the nation about state Title V permit programs, including Georgia's, are available on the web at

The Georgia Environmental Enforcement Project is a statewide coalition of environmental and public health advocates promoting responsible enforcement of state clean air laws. The Center is a member of this coalition, with special concerns about air pollutants that contaminate land and water as deposits of mercury, dioxins, acid rain, and other toxic substances.
^ Top