GreenRoom: July 2008

With few state mechanisms for enforcing environmental regulations in place in Georgia, the courts have long been the domain for fighting industries and entities that pollute rivers and raze forests, impact air and water quality or compromise private lands – sometimes with official blessing.

Now State Attorney General Thurbert Baker has altered the way his staff defends legal challenges to state environmental permits, essentially strangling them in red tape before the cases can be brought to court. Riverkeepers and other watchdog groups need a “large war chest,” private attorney Donald Stack of Stack & Associates told the Daily Report, to dispute state permits like that given to a controversial Early County coal-fired power plant.

Stack said the state has mired the case against the plant in procedural issues in an attempt to trap petitioners in a minor mistake, or force them to run out of money as a result of legal fees, which could set a bad precedent for future challenges. “If the court upholds the state’s approach, ‘the practical effect would be to deny Petitioners access to the courts and deprive them of the constitutional guarantee of due process,’” Schulten Ward & Turner partner Martin A. Shelton wrote in an amicus brief in the case, on behalf of the Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper supporting the petitioners.

If that doesn’t sound like heavy handed law-play from on high, consider that Atlanta, long disdained as a water-hog, is now being prevented from imposing outdoor watering restrictions by none other than the state of Georgia. This comes at a time when the U.S. Government is considering how to resolve Georgia’s water wars with Alabama and Florida, who claim that Georgia isn’t doing enough to conserve water.

The governor’s (needlessly) signing a resolution seeking to move Georgia’s border farther into Tennessee creates yet another water enemy among our neighbor states. Much like the legal challenges Baker has presented, the state requires Atlanta to “specify what restrictions it would want to impose” – in other words, more bureaucratic detail is needed for state approval.

All of this comes under a Republican leadership that supposedly advocates less government control.

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