Georgia coast marsh shore

Despite obvious reasons for shifting away from fossil fuels, Georgia’s coast is under assault from three major fossil-fuel related proposals, which if built would severely jeopardize private property, coastal quality of life, and environmental features that are vital to our economy.

The Palmetto petroleum pipeline, offshore drilling, and the export of liquefied natural gas (LNG) are woefully unjustified and risky ventures, yet they remain on the table as if serving the public rather than threatening us. Moreover, these projects are increasingly obsolete, working against the nation’s urgently needed conversion to clean energy.

Conspicuously absent from the discussion of these issues, which – in their latest iterations – after more than 18 months being debated, are two groups that are allegedly supposed to be advising the public and decision-makers about Georgia’s coastal development and the responsible conservation of our natural resources.

The Coastal Regional Commission (CRC), one of Georgia’s various regional planning agencies established under state law, is intended to provide informed guidance to coastal communities regarding options that will ensure responsible development of the region, based on discerning distinctions between desirable and unworthy business prospects. Instead, the CRC has had nothing to say about offshore drilling, the Palmetto pipeline, or the Elba Island LNG export facility.

Similarly, the Coastal Advisory Council, established to enhance DNR’s implementation of Georgia’s Coastal Management Program, has remained disturbingly silent about these three major fossil-fuel ventures. Although, belatedly, CAC members have begun discussions about offshore drilling, formal recommendations haven’t been made, and at least some members appear reluctant to take any stand.

Georgians have long been the unwitting victims of agencies and advisory groups that are either “missing in action” or dominated by ill-advised political objectives that lack the principled commitment essential to making responsible decisions. Thus, these groups serve a deceptive diversionary function by creating the illusion of public participation and corresponding unbiased support of outcomes.

Due to a growing tradition of uninformed go-ahead for any development proposal, no matter what its consequences or prospects, prevailing politics subvert responsible, deliberative processes through intimidation, or else override them by enthusiastically endorsing speculative ventures merely because they generate quick, often profitable, promotional buzz.
Pipeline photo
What such development proposals have in common, and nearly always overlooked, is the opportunistic exploitation and depletion of public resources – including tax dollars, infrastructure, water, and recreational areas – that disproportionately benefit special interests. And the politicians, as ‘gate-keepers,’ often gain crucial support from influential and deep-pocketed project proponents.

Upon reflection, surely others share my sense of indignation that profoundly important development proposals often remain well-hidden from the public forum, with the significant exception of media outlets.

As long as government agencies and advisory groups that are allegedly responsible for keeping the public well-informed dodge their obligations by passively accommodating development speculators and their influential political backers, the citizens and tax-payers will suffer.

The harsh consequences of this malfeasance abound. Development projects have resulted in thousands of acres of land being clear-cut, the destruction of wildlife habitat, and flood-controlling wetlands being filled wastefully, because the market feasibility of approved, highly speculative projects was never properly evaluated. Such ravaged landscapes, sometimes partly developed, remain fallow for years, adding to Georgia’s serious problem of polluted waterways, as stormwater flushes eroded soil and toxic chemicals into rivers, creeks, and marshes.

Chambers of commerce, in their blind-faith boosterism, commonly host guest speakers who get unconditional support for projects based on little more than a handshake and an empty promise. Under such conditions, there is rarely hesitation to endorse just about anything that’s proposed – assuming that as long as money is changing hands, all is good.

When built, such projects are seldom evaluated to compare results with claims originally made to win approval. As a result, taxpayers and property-owners are often left with costly flooding problems, grid-lock, and increased fees levied to pay for infrastructure (water, sewer, roads, etc.) that wasn’t provided by the now-long-gone developers. And those who sanctioned such fiascos aren’t held accountable.

Compounding such exasperating experiences, we now face unprecedented fossil-fuel development on Georgia’s coast that – if approved – could radically alter the character and appeal of the entire region. The disturbing vision of offshore oil-spills and pipeline-leaks requires little imagination to conjure damages to beaches, marshes, fishing areas, and tourism businesses. Prolonged damage to groundwater and highly productive fisheries habitat such as tidal marshes could devastate Georgia’s coastal economy as well.

The public must insist, in the voting booth and the media, that government agencies and advisory groups fulfill their vitally important obligations.

David Kyler

David Kyler

Executive Director at Center for a Sustainable Coast.