Our attitude toward the environment

Moderated by Tom Sabulis

Alternating views today. One says that Georgia’s dismissive attitude toward the environment harms more than fish and birds — it hurts our economic competitiveness. An environmentalist writes that thriving economies tend to have the strongest environmental safeguards. But a public policy expert says alarmists often highlight isolated events, such as the Ogeechee River fish-kill, to fabricate a pattern of abuse. There’s no conspiracy here, folks, but a lack of education and personal responsibility.

Bad choices hurt potential

By David Kyler

Contrary to what our leaders would have tax-paying citizens believe, Georgia’s competitive economic standing is declining, not benefiting, from dominant state policies and priorities. Consider an assessment by the business magazine Forbes which, in a 2009 story, ranked Atlanta as the nation’s most toxic metro area.

One lesson is that being dismissive about the environment — as Georgia’s state government increasingly tends to be — has adverse consequences, both economic and physical.

Studies show that states having the most thriving economies provide strong environmental safeguards. Yet the amount Georgia spends per capita and per square mile for environmental protection is pitifully scant compared with most other states. This is a direct result of our decision-makers’ inverted priorities, which treat environmental quality as an indulgent frill rather than a basic necessity.

We all suffer when our leaders minimize funding for environmental regulation and dismantle rules protecting vital state resources, using perverse politics to disable safeguards.

Nearly 10 years ago, after the General Assembly cut protective areas along Georgia’s trout streams in half, a UGA study found that trout population plummeted by 80 percent.

Conversely, water pollution caused when the Board of Natural Resources eliminated buffers along intermittent streams — which only flow after heavy rains — was never studied, possibly to avoid political fallout.

Within the past year, on the Ogeechee River we witnessed the largest fish kill in state history — which took place under the not-so-watchful eye of the Environmental Protection Division of Georgia’s Department of Natural Resources.

Clearly, EPD failed to prevent chemical pollution by an industry that was supposedly operating under restrictions issued by EPD over a five-year period of repeated violations.

Other damage produced by weak regulation includes:

Chronic respiratory illness among the urban population (especially children and the elderly) caused by air pollution, imposing an enormous burden of medical costs on Georgians as well as compromising health and quality of life.

Work force well-being that is secretly penalized by contaminated air and water, detracting from Georgia’s productivity and business profitability.

● A growing reputation for poor environmental quality that handicaps Georgia’s ability to attract reputable employers.

● Development of flood-prone areas that punish homeowners and taxpayers. Billions of dollars in flood damage around the state could have been avoided by using higher standards of site selection and design, and if wetlands were properly protected.

Developers have lobbied against such regulations, and their political cronies have too readily weakened protections in the reckless pursuit of quick profits.

In light of these foolhardy efforts to promote economic opportunities by weakening environmental controls, it is noteworthy that the Corporation for Enterprise Development reports that Georgia’s citizens have the lowest level of financial security in the nation.

The environment cannot be short-changed without serious economic consequences. Cutting corners in public policy is a self-defeating delusion that may seem to be justified by the promise of short-term gains — while actually imposing costly long-term burdens on society.

Worsening problems can be expected if Georgia continues to ignore these important realities.

David Kyler is executive director of the Center for a Sustainable Coast in St. Simons Island.

Regulation not the answer

By Benita Dodd

There’s a misguided mindset among some groups that maintaining a healthy environment in Georgia requires government to spend more time, money and effort on regulating.

To bolster that impression, environmental alarmists highlight isolated violations and incidents by industry and individuals as representative of a pattern of abuse and environmental degradation. In fact, it’s far from that.

Proponents of that mindset argue that environmental quality is deteriorating in Georgia, and that this is occurring because cuts in agency funding reduce oversight that results in reduced protections.

Every Georgia agency has seen cuts in staff and funding amid the economic crisis; the Department of Natural Resources and its Environmental Protection Division are no exception. The DNR budget for 2012 was 10 percent less than its 2009 high of about $276.9 million — but still 66 percent higher than the 2006 budget of $149.6 million. As with most agencies, less money means a focus on more efficient and effective efforts.

Granted, there are problems that warrant government attention, action and oversight; problems that are caused intentionally and unintentionally by industry and ordinary citizens. But rarely do violations represent a conspiracy to degrade the state’s environment and Georgians’ quality of life.

Resolving these problems often is as simple as educating the public, informing violators and requiring restitution — or punishing a pattern of violation.

Alarmism also results in observers not being able to see the forest for the trees: Georgia’s environment — air, water and land — is in far better shape than it was a century ago, despite the growth in industry and population. If environmental problems fade, surely the funding necessary to deal with those problems should decrease, too?

Environmental protection doesn’t come from more mandates and regulation. The most effective assurance of environmental protection in Georgia is not to fund a “bigger, tougher agency,” but to enrich its citizens.

Why? An increase in prosperity provides opportunity and tools to seek a better quality of life: If you’re jobless or homeless — or struggling to make ends meet — you don’t have the time for leisure, or to appreciate and nurture your surroundings.

And, at the same time, as corporate accountability makes economic sense — your workers and consumers are part of the community in which you operate — more regulation costs companies money that could have provided Georgians more jobs or a pay raise.

Even without those extremes, every dollar taken in taxes to fund government and regulations is a dollar that a Georgian is deprived of the chance to personally dedicate to his or her family’s betterment.

One need only visit a public park after a concert or festival to understand that when the responsibility is everyone’s, few accept it. The combination of prosperity, property rights and personal responsibility — and government oversight — produces a far better environment for Georgia than any government regulation can.

Benita Dodd is vice president of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.

12 comments Add your comment

Aquagirl

June 7th, 2012
6:19 pm

Georgia’s environment — air, water and land — is in far better shape than it was a century ago, despite the growth in industry and population.

Is Ms. Dodd trying to convince us this happened because businesses suddenly went all tree-huggy?

Hillbilly D

June 7th, 2012
6:27 pm

Georgia’s environment — air, water and land — is in far better shape than it was a century ago,

I would disagree with that. My Grandpa was born in the 1800’s and was a conservationist, long before it was in vogue. I remember him telling me of the great flocks of pigeons that he would see as boy, growing up in the mountains, nearly black out the sky, he said. They’re all gone. He told me of the great stands of chesnut trees, which were the predominant tree in North Georgia. They’re all gone and have been for many years. I remember him telling me of trees so big that you could get a 22″ wide board out of them. They’re long gone. He told of catching eels in the creek in front of his home, as a boy. Eels live in fresh water and spawn in the ocean, the opposite of salmon. There are no more eels in North Georgia because after they built the all the dams, they could no longer go upstream. I could go on and on with the things he taught me.

So with all due respect Ms. Dodd, I’ll take his word over yours.

n

June 7th, 2012
8:53 pm

Yes indeed, the cleansing of the environment is the individual’s responsiblity. The number 1 contamination of the atmosphere is CO2 pollution. The burning of fossil fuels is where it starts. The solution is the endlessly renewable source of clean energy in “wind Power”. For $10,000 you can have a wind turbine on the top of the roof. This will produce electricity and the excess is automatically purchased by the electric company. How can it get any better? The return on the investment is secured in 3 years. After the hottest 5 months on record in the 48 lower states, global warming is well under way. Now is the time to take ACTION.

Hillbilly D

June 7th, 2012
9:23 pm

Wind turbines on the roof sound pretty good until you go through 4-5 weeks in July and August without much in the way of breezes.

SAWB

June 8th, 2012
1:34 am

UGA Plant Sciences Professor Emeritus Harold Brown has written an excellent book called The Greening of Georgia that details how the environment in Georgia has indeed improved over the last century. While this improvement is well documented and should not be dismissed challenges still exist and should not be ignored.

One of the biggest negative impacts to our water is non-point source pollution and most of us are the source not evil corporations. Also, while additional regulation may be needed in some areas the biggest deficit is enforcement and education. If we could simply implement the environmental guidelines that currently exist we would be in much better shape.

ByteMe

June 8th, 2012
6:45 am

There’s no conspiracy here, folks, but a lack of education and personal responsibility.

Paraphrasing: “Nothing to see here folks, move along.”

Most “captains of industry” have strong sociopathic traits. We’re putting our environment in their hands with current industry control over our resources and government. And they don’t give a damn about anyone else. And too many people worship those “captains of industry” as being “job creators”… this won’t end well for the rest of us.

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June 8th, 2012
7:16 am

obviously like your website however you need to check the spelling on quite a few of your posts. A number of them are rife with spelling issues and I to find it very troublesome to tell the reality then again I will definitely come back again.

Peter

June 8th, 2012
9:10 am

The GOP runs the state, and really that is the issue..All the money has been spent on PET projects by the former Governor who ripped off the voters in the state, and got rich while in office, doubling his net worth, while the rest of Georgia was suffering.

Monies are spent for Nuclear power, which is not needed, and will eventually be costly as the cost over runs are over 1 Billion dollars.

The GOP will continue to line their pockets as Georgia is last in the country Ethically….. Gee who would have thought the environment would be the last concern to the GOP ? Anyone who could but 2 and 2 together could figure that out…..thus the poor education in Georgia as well.

Keep them Dummied up must be the GOP slogan in Georgia, as the GOP kills the land because development will be wonderful with out clean water, and a clean environment.

Dumb and Dumber

June 8th, 2012
9:27 am

I’ve read Harold Brown’s book — he goes to great lengths to avoid explaining why Georgia’s environment (in some aspects) improved from the 1960s — money. As in the form of hundreds of millions of dollars from the federal Environmental Protection Agency (the horror!) in grants to the State Environmental Protection Division and the Georgia Environmental Facilities Agency to build wastewater and drinking water plants and for Georgia EPD to enforce federal environmental laws.. This is not money that the Georgia legislature appropriated — it came from the federal government (yes, taxpayers).

By cutting its state funds, Georgia will receive less federal funds (there is a matching formula) and one early casualty has been in enforcement of asbestos demolition standards. The state has abandoned its program to ensure that demolition contractors are trained in how to avoid demolishing a building in ways that allow asbestos fibers to be released and they have also stopped inspecting, and responding to, complaints about illegal demolition practices.

Now I know that many conservatives do not believe that ensuring that regulating asbestos demolition is necessary — however asbestos is a proven killer and I invite you non-believers to inhale as much asbestos fibers as you can so we can prove another point that the anti-science folks deny: natural selection.

Edward

June 8th, 2012
1:16 pm

I invite Benita Dodd to dip her glass into the Chattahoochie and drink it down with a smile on her face. And I’m talking about right here in Atlanta. Go ahead, Benita, surely you trust your corporate sponsors, don’t you?

Peter

June 8th, 2012
3:41 pm

Georgia’s environment — air, water and land — is in far better shape than it was a century ago, despite the growth in industry and population.

WOW what BUNK !

SAWB

June 8th, 2012
5:04 pm

Not sure that the facts reflect that all of Georgia was some pristine wilderness in 1912. No, Georgia was at risk environmentally our rivers ran brown with runoff from improper agriculture techniques, timber business and mining. The skies in populous areas were black as residents burned coal and wood to heat and cook. The population of wildlife was in decline from over hunting and habitat destruction. Large municipalities dumped raw sewage directly into our waterways.

Yes, the environment has improved over the last century and those are the facts. One of the biggest problems facing the environmental movement is all this misinformation. Much of this is being disseminated by well meaning environment groups attempting to raise money, politicians using the environment as a wedge issue or well meaning, but misinformed citizens.

Resources are limited, so we need partnerships between government, businesses and citizens to make sound decisions based on science and economics not emotion regardless of how genuine.