ATLANTA — Gov. Nathan Deal’s handpicked choice to take over the Environmental Protection Division promised the Natural Resources Board Wednesday that he will adopt the policies of his predecessor in trying to keep economic development coming into the state while regulating its impact on the ecology.
Jud Turner, a lawyer/lobbyist who once worked for then-Gov. Sonny Perdue in water negotiations with Alabama and Florida, takes over for Allen Barnes next month.
Barnes, in his swan song to the board, acknowledged getting more than a few critics in his 26 months in the job, mostly from environmentalists who say he was too soft on polluters and kept the board in the dark about the seriousness of dangers.
“Certainly, people over the last 26 months have taken issue with (me),” he said. “That’s their prerogative. You try to do the right thing. You try to find that balance between a sustainable economy and a sustainable environment.”
He added that the staff of EPD “get criticized for everything they do.”
The agency has indeed been the subject of complaints from environmental groups. One group is challenging in court EPD over a permit it issued a proposed power plant that would use coal and water from the Oconee River. Another is suing because Barnes levied a $1 million fine it says should have been much larger against King American Finishing for chemicals it discharged into the Ogeechee River that resulted in the state’s largest fish kill.
“I do believe that most of the board are not aware of most of these issues,” said Dianna Wedincamp, Ogeechee Riverkeeper for the Georgia River Network advocacy group.
While environmental organizations have had a rocky relationship with Barnes, Turner suggested they may have a similar experience with him.
“There is a balance, as Allen has talked about, between economic sustainability and environmental sustainability,” he said.
New technology provides additional ways to safeguard nature while adding jobs to the economy, he said.
“As time progresses, it’s my hope we can have more flexibility and options on the table to do what we all want to do, be great stewards of natural resources and having Georgia to grow and be a place for families to come and the people to be employed with food on the table and call Georgia home,” he said.