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.