“Profiles in Environmentalism” is a recurring segment on our blog where we shine a light on the dedicated people who are working to preserve the world around them. Big or small, local or national, every environmental organization works towards the same goal: providing a greener world for future generations.
Environmental protection is a responsibility that is usually reserved to state departments and federal agencies. But as we all know, the government doesn’t always meet the expectations of its citizens. In the realm of environmental law, government agencies often lack the necessary resources to enforce pollution controls and other environmental policies. And the companies that would be most affected by these laws employ huge armies of lawyers to further reduce their legal obligations.
Where the government fails to step in, groups like GreenLaw take up the challenge to compel polluters to comply with the law. GreenLaw is a non-profit law firm founded in 1992 with the stated purpose of assisting Georgian communities and environmental groups in legal challenges against polluters. Originally called the Georgia Center for Law in the Public Interest, the firm was founded by attorneys, judges, and law professors who recognized the tremendous need for a public interest group that could defend Georgia’s environment and the health of its citizens in court.
Since its founding, GreenLaw has won numerous cases that have improved air and water quality for millions of Georgians. The firm has successfully fought legal battles on behalf of low-income neighborhoods to reduce air pollution from nearby industrial plants, as well as blocked the construction of new coal-fired power plants within the state. And thanks to GreenLaw, every major waterway in Georgia is protected by a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) limit for the amount of pollutants that can be discharged.
GreenLaw organizes its legal work into four core programs. The two most prominent programs include the Clean Air and Clean Water programs. Utilizing both state and federal laws, GreenLaw has been able to curb the construction of new coal-fired plants and reduce emissions from existing facilities. One major victory resulted in Green Law halting construction on the Longleaf Energy Station, which if it had been built would have produced 475 million tons of carbon dioxide over its operational lifespan. The group is currently fighting the construction of a coal plant in Washington County, which is one of the last new coal plants to be proposed in Georgia.
GreenLaw has had just as much success in preserving Georgia’s water resources. The firm has forced several land developers to pay for ecological damage resulting from construction projects, including one case where a developer was required to set aside 15 acres of wetlands as a permanent wildlife refuge. Other cases have involved forcing local governments to remedy environmental damages and improve public infrastructure. In one case, the state of Georgia was forced to cleanup wetlands that had been used to dump dirt from a nearby construction site. In another case, cities throughout the state were forced to build newer wastewater treatment plants to replace older ones that were in disrepair. This action alone improved the quality of water available throughout the state.
GreenLaw’s focus also extends to environmental justice for low-income communities and protecting Georgia’s land and coastal areas. Many industrial corporations build incinerators, landfills, and power plants in economically depressed areas. This results in pollution levels that are disproportionate to more affluent communities. GreenLaw has brought several companies to court in order to block new industrial developments in poorer neighborhoods, as well as preventing existing facilities from increasing their emission levels. Some of their major successes have included shutting down the Live Oak landfill which had long been one of the nation’s largest disposal sites, as well as prevented another landfill’s construction near sensitive wetland ecosystems. Their coastal program is currently working to limit over-development on Jekyll Island and to ensure that critical safeguards remain in place with the state’s proposed revisions to Georgia’s Shore Protection Act.
GreenLaw fulfills a crucial role in the environmental community. Where governments and corporations fail to meet pollution standards, groups like GreenLaw step into the arena to enforce the law. Without their assistance in countless environmental cases, Georgia’s communities and natural areas would be left without any recourse to combat pollution. As their motto states, “they give Georgia’s environment its day in court.”