GA Supreme Court Defers to EPD, Buffer Protection for Freshwater Wetlands Not Required
Atlanta, GA—The Georgia Supreme Court today ruled in favor of the Environmental Protection Division (EPD) after the agency appealed a state court of appeals' decision that the Georgia Erosion & Sedimentation Act’s 25-foot water quality buffer provision applies to all state waters.
The Southern Environmental Law Center, representing Georgia River Network and American Rivers, was successful in overruling EPD’s policy that only some state waters are protected by buffers through a favorable decision from the Georgia Court of Appeals in July 2014. The decision also invalidated EPD Director Judson Turner’s April 2014 memorandum that stripped the protective buffer from the Georgia Coast.
After Director Turner ordered local issuing authorities to disregard the Georgia Court of Appeals’ decision, EPD appealed the appellate court’s decision and prevailed in state Supreme Court.
“A small strip of trees and plants may seem inconsequential, but that buffer provides a critical filter to prevent sediment and pollution from clogging our waters,” said Bill Sapp from the Southern Environmental Law Center. “We are disappointed with the decision, but regardless of today’s outcome, we will continue our work to restore protective measures and ensure that Georgia’s waterways are more swimmable and drinkable for the communities and industries that rely on clean water statewide.”
“It is fortunate that the 25-foot protective buffer has been restored along Georgia’s coastal marshes through the bill passed in the recent legislative session, which successfully closed large statutory loopholes that would have left our coast at risk,” said Chris Manganiello from Georgia River Network. “We will continue to work toward restoring the same protections for freshwater wetlands, and for all other waters across the state that are not currently protected.”
“Adopting consistent measures in order to keep invaluable rivers, streams, and marshlands clean and safe is in the best interest of all Georgians,” said Jenny Hoffner from American Rivers. “We remain hopeful that EPD will end its haphazard approach to how it applies buffers and instead implement a uniform method for protecting Georgia’s waters.”
About Southern Environmental Law Center:
The Southern Environmental Law Center is a regional nonprofit using the power of the law to protect the health and environment of the Southeast (Virginia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama). Founded in 1986, SELC's team of nearly 60 legal and policy experts represent more than 100 partner groups on issues of climate change and energy, air and water quality, forests, the coast and wetlands, transportation, and land use. www.SouthernEnvironment.org
About Georgia River Network:
Georgia River Network is a statewide river conservation organization that works to ensure a clean water legacy by engaging and empowering Georgians to protect, restore, and enjoy our rivers from the mountains to the coast. www.garivers.org
About American Rivers:
American River is among the leading organizations working to protect and restore the nation’s rivers and streams. Rivers connect us to each other, nature, and future generations. Since 1973, American Rivers has fought to preserve these connections, helping protect and restore more than 150,000 miles of rivers through advocacy efforts, on-the-ground projects, and the annual release of America’s Most Endangered Rivers®. American Rivers has more than 100,000 supporters, members, and volunteers nationwide and offices in Washington D.C., across the country, including an office in the Atlanta metro region. www.americanrivers.org