August 9, 2016

Weak laws invite environmental problems

(These remarks were made at an EPD hearing on Aug. 4 in Brunswick.)
     Good evening and a special thanks to Jeff Cown and his staff at the Environmental Protection Division (EPD) for hosting this public hearing in Brunswick.  Coastal Georgia is the area that will be most threatened by inevitable toxic coal-ash leaks from Broadhurst.
     When you are traveling back and forth from Jesup to Brunswick, you pass through Gardi.  Years ago, Dr. Douglas Jackson of Gardi Baptist Church told me the 5 Bs of a good talk:
     Be brief, brother, be brief.
     This is my fifth time giving public comments on Republic Services’ proposal to dump millions of tons of toxic coal ash in Wayne County.  I’ll keep my remarks brief, but, Mr. Cown, I’ll submit my full comments to your department before the Aug. 10 deadline.  We really wish you’d extend that comment period.  The only people who will benefit from a hasty adoption of these not-strong-enough toxic coal-ash rules are the companies and people who stand to reap enormous profits from turning Coastal Georgia into America’s largest toxic coal-ash dump.
     Tonight, I’ve brought with me a plumber’s wrench, because it reminds me of what Junior Burns told me 40 years ago, “Son, the first two things a plumber must know is: The hot goes on the left and the stuff runs downhill.”
     Well, my friends of Glynn, McIntosh and Camden counties, you are directly downhill from Broadhurst.  When those heavy metals, such as beryllium, vanadium, arsenic, lead and mercury, leak from the thin plastic liners such as this one, trouble is headed your way. The Altamaha River empties around Little St. Simons Island, and the Satilla River flows into St. Andrew Sound.
     If that’s not scary enough, Broadhurst, with its porous, sandy soil, sits atop the Floridan Aquifer, which supplies drinking water to millions of us.  Ask the people of Flint, Mich., what part of the lead in their drinking water isn’t hazardous.
     Woody Woodside of the Brunswick-Golden Isles Chamber of Commerce said the Golden Isles attracted 2.6 million visitors in 2015, boosting the local economy an estimated $1.2 billon.  How many thousands of jobs do those visitors support?  Do you think those visitors want to run the risk of eating contaminated seafood or drinking polluted water?  Don’t you think Glynn County has had enough environmental issues to deal with lately?
     Our seventh grandson, Smith Wilson, is 3.  He peppers me with questions, such as: “Are we going to feed the catfish in the lake tonight, Grandpa, yes or no?”  And he repeats, “No or yes, Grandpa?”
     I ask you:  Are you willing to risk our water, our air, our quality of life, our economy and our reputation over the dangers of toxic coal-ash pollution?  Yes or no?  What’s your answer: no or yes?Can you repeat that a little louder?
     That’s what we must continue telling the United States Army Corps of Engineers, the Georgia EPD, the DNR board and Republic Services: No, no, no!
     We need to throw a monkey wrench … just like this one … into this fast-moving proposed rule-change process.  We must slow down.  This is our chance to get it right.  Fix what is broken.  You don’t solve one problem by creating another.  We need stronger laws to protect us.  Weak laws allow bad consequences. Take a look at what’s happening—right now—on the edge of the Okefenokee Swamp. Almost 1 million tons of toxic coal ash is going to be dumped there.
     Is that a testimony to common-sense thinking?  That’s what you get with weak laws and promises of protection from skinny liners like this for the next 100 years … 300 years … forever.  Do you think your grandchildren and their great-grandchildren will be safe from these dangerous heavy metals?  Yes or no?
     Mr. Cown, thanks for hosting this hearing in Brunswick tonight.  And to the good people of Coastal Georgia, I want to share five of the most important words you can ever say to someone.  I’d like for you to stand.  And as you turn to the person on your left and right, repeat after me:
     Indeed, I am proud of you for being here tonight and your commitment to stand up for the protection of the people we love and the place we love—Coastal Georgia.