Economy, Environment Form a Team
Georgia is long overdue for an economic development strategy and
budget that are reconciled with the state's environmental laws.
AJC Guest Editorial Column By David Kyler
Center for a Sustainable Coast
Gov. Sonny Perdue recently spoke about the importance of promoting tourism in Georgia,
in part to compensate for the state's continued lackluster economic performance. Yet
recent actions of Georgia officials are a direct threat to tourism as a strong and
growing economic force.
By our reckoning, at least $15 billion of the state's annual tourism activity is directly
attributable to healthy natural resources — especially water quality and fisheries, which
here on the coast contribute some $1 billion in tourism and outdoor recreation business
revenues every year. Some 40,000 coastal jobs and as many as 600,000 jobs in Georgia
depend directly on a well-protected environment. Even minor harm to natural resources
could cause millions of lost annual revenues in nature-based business, severely curtailing
Georgia's potential for further tourism diversification.
In light of the governor's public commitment to boosting Georgia's tourism efforts and
overwhelming evidence of that sector's growth potential, it is especially ironic that
those charged with protecting the state's natural resources have adopted an exemption
that would abolish certain water quality safeguards.
By taking away buffers for streams that only flow during rainstorms, the Board of Natural
Resources is exposing state waters to more threats from "non-point" source pollution,
blatantly at odds with Georgia's tourism interests.
Most non-point source pollution is generated by storm-water runoff, where rains carry
petrochemicals from roads and parking lots, fertilizers and pesticides from farms and
suburban lots, and all sorts of industrial and agricultural contaminants to public waterways.
No matter how seldom a small stream or ditch may transport water, without natural buffers it
is likely to convey contaminants, which can add substantially to the non-point source pollution
of state waters - already a well-documented and serious water quality problem throughout Georgia.
Exposing hundreds if not thousands of such streams to these risks by adopting the buffer
exemption unjustifiably jeopardizes Georgia's water quality and long-term economic interests
through further impairment.
This unwise exemption adds more problems to a program already plagued by poor performance.
By various estimates, the Environmental Protection Division is underfunded by 60-80 percent
of what is needed to properly enforce existing point-source permitting regulations. State
erosion and sedimentation regulations are also known for having chronic enforcement deficiencies,
due at least in part to major funding and staffing shortages. Local governments share in this
default of public water protection responsibilities by often failing to adequately monitor and
enforce erosion controls in land use decisions.
Georgia is long overdue for an economic development strategy and budget that are reconciled with
the state's environmental laws. Given the short-term, fragmented thinking that dominates most
decisions affecting the condition of Georgia's public trust resources such as air, water, habitat
and wildlife, this is a formidable challenge.
We urge Perdue to use his considerable authority to recognize the vital functions of the natural
environment when promoting the state's economic development. This objective should be at the
very heart of the governor's efforts to achieve greater fiscal responsibility, because our
natural resources are among Georgia's most valued forms of wealth — and essential to the
shared future prosperity of all our citizens.