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Polluters have rights too

Michael Wall and Ken Edelstein: Your article is misfocused ("Georgia's Dirty Dozen and Green Team," April 16). The environmental laws in this country place limits on pollution but nevertheless allow for some pollution, and even polluters have rights.

Take your paper, for example. You have the right to publish it even though it contributes to the littering of Atlanta's environment. If sued over your contribution to the pollution in this city, would you voluntarily agree to publish fewer copies or to publish only electronic copies when not required to do so by law? This is what Duke Energy did. Duke's Murray County plant was legally authorized to emit certain amounts of pollution, and Duke Energy was forced to protect its legal right to do so when Duke was sued by several environmental groups.

Notwithstanding the fact that Duke was legally authorized to emit certain levels of pollution, however, Duke voluntarily agreed to undertake efforts to reduce those legally authorized emissions at not only the Murray County plant but at the Sandersville plant as well. Thus, your article should have applauded the voluntary actions of Duke Energy to reduce its emissions to levels lower than authorized by law and by the Georgia EPD.

Your article also mentions my representation of the city of Richmond Hill, but again your article is misfocused and is also misinformed. Geological tests do not show that drilling into the Lower Floridan Aquifer would cause saltwater to jeopardize coastal Georgia's main water source. In fact, geological tests show that drilling into the Lower Floridan Aquifer in Richmond Hill will have no impact on saltwater intrusion. This is not the important point to be gleaned from this litigation, however. Richmond Hill has sought a permit to withdraw groundwater from the Lower Floridan Aquifer because EPD has refused to fulfill its legal obligation to give priority to the provision of water for public water supply purposes and to reallocate groundwater that is not being used by other users.

EPD has issued permits to numerous industrial users in southeast coastal Georgia for quantities of groundwater far in excess of the amount actually being used by these industries. Rather than reallocating this unused groundwater to cities like Richmond Hill that need the water for public supply purposes, EPD encouraged Richmond Hill to seek a permit to withdraw groundwater from the Lower Floridan Aquifer and is now championing legislation that would force cities like Richmond Hill to pay industries to relinquish their unused permitted capacities. Richmond Hill would be more than happy to forgo the cost of having to withdraw groundwater from the Lower Floridan Aquifer and instead increase its withdrawals from the Upper Floridan Aquifer if only EPD would fulfill its legal obligation to reallocate unused Upper Floridan Aquifer water. Thus, your article should have chided EPD, rather than Richmond Hill.

-- Barbara Gallo, Atlanta

Editor's note: It's a stretch to characterize Duke Energy's agreement to reduce the planned pollution from its Northwest Georgia plant as "voluntary." At the time, the utility's permit was being challenged by the Georgia Center for Law in the Public Interest. Duke agreed to reduced pollution levels as part of a settlement agreement with the center.

In Richmond Hill's case, Gallo alludes to a limited and much-criticized state study, which found that drawing water from the Lower Floridan Aquifer wouldn't have a "significant effect" on the Upper Floridan Aquifer. Georgia Southern University geology professor James Reichard says anyone would be "way out on a limb scientifically" to conclude from that study that drilling the lower aquifer wouldn't result in salt water flowing into the upper aquifer. "Basic science" says that if you draw water from a lower aquifer, some water from the upper aquifer will drop into the lower aquifer. And, close to the coast, saltwater is likely to fill the void in the upper aquifer. The question is how much. "That is what we don't have firm data on, and no one has that data, and for anyone to make definitive statements either way, they are misleading," Reichard says. The state has authorized a more conclusive, $14 million study to be completed in 2005. But Gallo's efforts sought to gain Richmond Hill its permit before that study is completed.

Dangers of the unknown
Comments attributed to me in "Less than meets the eye" (News & Views) appearing in the April 16 Creative Loafing were both distorted and taken out of context.

The article indicates that I said it is "important not to get too carried away with incidents like Goocher's shooting" referring to a Georgia State University student who was shot during an attempted robbery near the campus.

I was not asked anything about this off-campus student shooting, nor did any of my comments specifically refer to it. Anytime anybody, student or not, on campus or not, is shot and critically injured, it is a very serious situation. I would never try to downplay any crime, let alone one of this severity.

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