United States Attorney Edward J. Tarver Issues
Earth Day Editorial
Fifty years ago America was just waking up to the reality of environmental pollution: Rachel Carson had published Silent Spring, heralding the modern environmental movement and raising America’s consciousness about the impact of DDT pesticide use on the environment and public health. Then in 1969 Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River caught fire due to the oil-soaked debris consuming it and the country’s then-largest oil spill occurred in Santa Barbara, California. The culmination of these events inspired the call for a national day promoting environmental education and lead to the creation of the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970.
That year millions of Americans spanning social, political, and economic spectrums joined together in service and to protest that oil spills, air pollution, raw sewage, toxic dumps, pesticides and wildlife extinction were ruining the American landscapes, waterways and skies. This movement led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water and Endangered Species Acts enacted by Congress and signed into law by President Richard Nixon. Further legislation soon followed to address the nation’s drinking water supply, hazardous waste management and toxic waste cleanups.
Enforcement of these laws has transformed rivers like the Cuyahoga from oily waste streams into waterways teeming with fish and wildlife habitats and has made the air we breathe and the water we drink cleaner. In conjunction with industries’ many voluntary efforts, enforcement has also jumpstarted innovation, providing greater economic benefits with fewer environmental costs.
Still, there are a staggering number of hazardous sites determined to present the highest risk to human health or the environment. There are fifteen of these EPA-designated “Superfund Sites” right here in Georgia, the result of an industrial period with no environmental laws, regulations, or enforcement. They’re hiding in plain sight. We drive past them nearly every day. For example, in Augusta, there is the Alternate Energy Resources property on Walden Drive and the groundwater contamination near Peach Orchard Road. In Brunswick, there is the LCP Chemicals site on Ross Road and the Brunswick Wood Preserving site on Perry Lane Road. If the environmental laws some take for granted today had existed 50 years ago, perhaps these affected communities wouldn’t be in this economic and environmental predicament.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Georgia and the Department of Justice’s Environmental and Natural Resources Division (ENRD) are working together with the EPA to protect the environment and enhance the quality of life of those adversely affected by the daily air, water and soil pollution by corporations and individuals who fail to comply with environmental regulations. For example, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Georgia convicted the owners and operators of LCP Chemicals. More recently, the U.S. Attorney’s Office convicted the Public Works Directors of Harlem and Sardis, Georgia for violations of the Clean Water Act at their cities’ wastewater treatment plants.
What occurs here in Georgia is an important part of what the Department of Justice is doing nationally. During the past three years, ENRD has secured nearly $21.1 billion in corrective measures through court orders and settlements in civil enforcement cases, and more than $1.9 billion in civil and stipulated penalties, cost recoveries, natural resource damages, and other civil monetary relief. The criminal and civil enforcement of environmental regulations has significantly reduced the emission and discharge of pollutants and, as a result, promoted and protected the public health and the environment.
Today, Georgia is at a crossroad. Over the past four decades, environmental laws and enforcement have improved the state of our nation, its health and environment, and made the United States a leader in the world. The call for responsible and rational regulation is a legitimate debate we can have, but there is no reason Georgians must choose between a healthy environment and a healthy economy.
As a country we’ve come a long way in the past 50 years and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Georgia and the Department of Justice are committed to the continued enforcement of environmental laws which protect our citizens and our Earth.