November 06, 2017 5:39 PM
As the late U.S. House Speaker Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill, D-Mass., famously observed, “All politics is local.” That observation is frequently validated all over the country, including, at the moment, the state of Georgia.
Georgia might be a Red state, but at least one part of it (and almost certainly more) wants Washington to hang on to at least some Blue policy for at least a while longer. And with very good reason.
Late last month, three coastal Georgia members of the General Assembly — Reps. Jeff Jones and Don Hogan of St. Simons, and Sen. Jason Spencer of Woodbine — sent a letter to U.S. Sens. Johnny Isakson and David Perdue and Rep. Buddy Carter asking them to oppose an announced plan by Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt to weaken regulations governing coal ash discharge.
All three lawmakers in Atlanta, as well as all three in Washington, are Republicans. The regulations the EPA would be revising are part of a 2015 Coal Ash Rule put in place during the Democratic administration of President Barack Obama. The rule, as described in a story by Wes Wolfe of the Brunswick News, specifically involves discharges during the dewatering of coal ash ponds, a process that can dump heavy metals into public waters.
The rule change, Pruitt announced in September, would provide “relief from the existing regulatory deadlines while the agency revisits some of the rule’s requirements.” Another purpose, he said, was to “help states tailor their permit programs to the needs of their states.”
One of the needs of this state — and, it’s reasonable to assume, approximately 49 others — is to keep toxins out of public water.
“The disposal of coal ash in our districts is of major concern to our constituents, many of whom are specifically concerned about the repercussions the unregulated dumping of coal ash could have on our economy and community health,” the Georgia lawmakers wrote. “Many are worried about the contamination of our creeks, rivers and marshes from the dewatering of decommissioned ash ponds.”
Some coal ash in Georgia, according to the letter, is disposed of in unlined pits or in public landfills, some of them near wetlands or aquifers where contaminants could seep into the water table: “These are serious problems and ones that we are working to solve, but without the 2015 Coal Ash Rule, our problems would be much worse.”
This is a textbook case of the critical difference between doctrinaire politics and the politics of practicality and necessity. Regulatory “relief” might be gospel on a website, in a speech or platform, or in a finely parsed question on an opinion poll. When such political “gospel” — from anywhere on the ideological spectrum — gets translated into real-world consequences, it can stop being ideological pretty quickly. In east Georgia, the issue now isn’t about playing nice with the under-new-management EPA; it’s about keeping poisons out of the water.