U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson is reviewing whether to call for federal involvement in blocking a permit to discharge into the Ogeechee River by the company responsible for the state’s largest fish kill.
The Georgia Republican assigned his staff to research the issues regarding federal pre-emption of state authority in the matter.
“I’ve got one of my staff people in Washington working on it,” he said.
The Georgia Environmental Protection Division issued a permit this month to King American Finishing. After the 2011 fish kill, the company agreed to give the state $1 million for environmental recovery but denied any wrongdoing.
State officials say the new permit has tougher restrictions than the one the company was using when it exceeded previous limits on contaminants that killed thousands of fish. State investigators discovered the company was using an unpermitted discharge into the river at the time.
Federal law allows the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to delegate to states power to enforce federal water and air-quality laws.
“The EPA at the federal level can intercede,” Isakson said. “It doesn’t have to intercede.”
The senator said it was an ironic setting when a woman from the Ogeechee area asked him to get involved.
“I was just made aware of that at a fish fry in Perry,” he said.
At least one environmental legal expert believes the federal government will not get involved.
“It is primarily a state matter,” said Hutton Brown, an attorney with the GreenLaw legal-advocacy organization in Atlanta.