Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division is proposing a change to its water regulations. The agency says it’s to clarify a rule. Environmentalists say it dilutes protections.
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The change comes out of a fight in Jesup, where the Rayonier pulp factory releases water that people say makes the Altamaha River smell bad and look discolored, keeping them from wanting to boat or fish in that part of the river.
The EPD wants to change the regulation that governs discharges like that – not limits on toxic chemicals, but basically, whether or not the water is gross. The change would essentially narrow who can complain about what issues.
Jac Capp, chief of the watershed protection branch at the EPD said the move was inspired by what’s going on with Rayonier, because the agency disagrees with how critics are interpreting the regulation.
“We’re not changing our interpretation of the standard. We’ve always interpreted it in that manner,” he said. “For us it’s a clarification to avoid an incorrect interpretation either today or in the future.”
But if the state does rewrite the standard, it won’t just affect the Altamaha, said Hutton Brown, an attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center.
“The change is motivated by one situation, but the effect is going to be felt throughout the state,” he said.
The EPD is collecting public comments through the end of January, and will hold a public hearing in Atlanta on Jan. 25.