Pollution Permit Violations
Businesses rely on access to public resources, like land, water, and air. In Georgia, the Environmental Protection Division (EPD) issues permits to industries, governments, and private citizens to regulate discharges. Discharge limits established in each permit are based on decades of science and, in most cases, directly correlated with human health standards. When permit limits are violated, our personal welfare and environmental health are threatened.
Following the discovery of each violation, the EPD issues enforcement orders and often requires the permittee to pay a settlement fee to compensate for the damage caused. Known violations to the 21 environmental laws that EPD enforces are captured in a searchable public database maintained by EPD. Between 1998 and 2018, the EPD issued 19,298 enforcement orders for violations to all permits issued by the Division.
Our research focused on 20 years of violations to three of the 21 state laws that EPD enforces: the Water Quality Control Act, the Air Act, and the Hazardous Waste Management Act. Throughout our analysis, we looked for visible trends in violations and correlations to other environmental or economic conditions.
What we learned: There is a return on investment. Funding for regulatory programs that enforce state laws is necessary to ensure that the amount of pollution allowed in our air, water, and land is managed for long-term health of the environment and communities.
Finding: Between 1998 and 2018, the EPD issued 19,298 enforcement orders for violations to all permits they manage.
- Since 1998, the total number of enforcement actions EPD has taken to address violations to the three laws we investigated has declined and the total amount of settlement funds collected by EPD has declined, as well.
- In 20 years (1998 to 2018), EPD issued 260 enforcement orders related to water quality, air quality, and hazardous waste permit violations. These permit violations are statistically correlated with the GA DNR, EPD’s annual expenses, which averaged $133 million per year between 2000 and 2018.
- EPD collected a total of $2.95 million in settlement amounts for 20 years of water, air and hazardous waste violations. Not all violations resulted in payments to compensate for the damage inflicted by the violation.
- Of the 144 total water quality violations, only 27% resulted in settlement payments totaling $1.25 million, averaging $32,000 per violation.
- The most the state collected through one settlement was a $500,000 paid by Kerr-McGee Pigments in Chatham County for hazardous waste management permit violations in 2002.
Georgia Laws uphold federal environmental standards that are based on research and correlated with human health standards and required by federal code.
Georgia’s Water Quality Control Act grants the state authority to enforce the federal Clean Water Act to restore and maintain the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the nation’s waters. The state act requires any person, corporation, or activity that may result in the discharging of any pollutant from a point source into a public water body, must obtain a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit from the EPD. The WQCA has a goal of goal of providing for the protection and propagation of fish, shellfish, wildlife, and providing for recreation in and on the water.
Georgia’s Air Quality Control Act enables the EPD to protect Georgia’s air quality by regulating air pollution from factories, power plants, and vehicles. Through this law, EPD also measures air quality throughout our state to make sure Georgia meets all the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS).
Georgia’s Hazardous Waste Management Act (HWMA) establishes a statewide program to manage hazardous wastes through regulating hazardous waste generation, transportation, storage, treatment, and disposal. Hazardous waste is defined by the GA Board of Natural Resources as waste capable of posing a substantial present or future hazard to human health or the environment when improperly treated, transported, stored, disposed, or otherwise managed, based on regulations promulgated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Protect, connect, and enhance environments for coastal plants and animals to adapt to changes in sea level and benefit the community.
Maintain thriving, working landscapes and waterfronts that support the sustainable production of food and fiber for our communities.
Cultivate opportunities to enjoy and recreate in the special places and historic communities along Georgia’s coast.
Promote economic development that respects natural environments and preserves the character of our coastal communities.