Other chapters of the EJ Green Book have discussed many of the most important, and most used, environmental statutes. A host of other statutes, however, may apply to a given situation. Most of these statutes are administered by either the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or the Environmental Protection Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (EPD).
This chapter includes a high-level overview of a few more laws you may encounter when pursuing environmental justice. This list is not exhaustive, and many of these laws have exemptions or nuances that are beyond the scope of this chapter.If you have questions, please reach out to a lawyer for assistance. In addressing any environmental justice issue, one of your first tasks will be to determine which of these laws might apply to the situation you are facing.
Georgia Air Quality Act
(O.C.G.A. §§ 12-9-1 to -25)
The Georgia Air Quality Act is the state law under which EPD administers the Clean Air Act, discussed in Air Pollution. The Georgia act does not impose any requirements in addition to those of the federal act.
The Act requires that the responsible official for the agency consider whether the proposed project will significantly affect the environment, and the Act requires the agency to prepare an Environmental Effects Report. Similar to an Environmental Impact Statement under NEPA, the Environmental Effects Report should discuss the environmental effects, mitigation measures that may be undertaken, and any reasonable alternatives.
This report must be prepared at least 45 days before a decision is reached and published in the county of the proposed action. The report must be made available to counties, municipalities, institutions, and the general public upon request.
Citizens may request a public hearing on the proposed action. However, this request must be made in writing within 30 days of publication of the report and at least 100 Georgia residents must make the request. The responsible official must consider all comments made during the hearing in deciding whether to proceed with the agency action.
Georgia Erosion and Sedimentation Act
(O.C.G.A. §§ 12-7-1 to -22)
The Georgia Erosion and Sedimentation Act was enacted to protect and restore the quality of Georgia’s rivers and streams, which have been impacted by development and its sediment-laden stormwater runoff. The Act is administered by EPD and local governments.
The Act requires that each county or municipality in the state adopt a comprehensive ordinance establishing procedures to govern land-disturbing activities (like construction) based on the minimum requirements established by the Act.
The Act regulates land disturbing activities, which are defined as any activity which may result in soil erosion from water or wind, and includes clearing, dredging, grading, excavating, transporting, and the filling of land.
The Act requires permits, called “land disturbing activity permits,” for all land disturbing activities that are not expressly exempted by the Act.
Permit applications must be accompanied by an erosion and sedimentation control plan, which must be approved prior to issuance of a permit. If the project you are concerned about does not have an Erosion and Sedimentation Act permit, it may have a permit addressing these concerns through the Clean Water Act’s NPDES permit system.
The Act has specific exemptions for certain activities:
Construction of single-family residences disturbing less than one acre and not part of a larger development scheme are exempt from the permitting process, but still must meet the minimum protections set forth in the Act.
Certain mining activities, agricultural practices, farming operations, forestry land management practices, transportation projects, airport projects, electrical utility projects, and public utility projects are exempt from both the permitting process and the minimum protections.
The Act requires that any non-exempt land disturbing activity comply with the “best management practices” to reduce erosion and sedimentation.
Best management practices are conservation and engineering practices that prevent and minimize erosion and resultant sedimentation. Best management practices must be consistent with, and no less stringent than, the practices contained in the “Manual for Erosion and Sediment Control in Georgia” published by the State Soil and Water Conservation Commission in the year the land-disturbing activity was permitted.
Examples of minimum practices required by the Act include:
Minimizing erosion from vegetative stripping and regrading
Preserving natural vegetation when possible
Reducing cut and fill operations
Stabilizing disturbed areas
Limiting exposure to erosive elements
Providing sedimentation control and treatment to ensure adjacent waters are not affected
Another minimum protection established in the Act is a 25-foot buffer along the banks of any State water, including coastal marshlands. This buffer is extended to 50 feet if the water is a trout stream. Development activities are prohibited in these buffers unless a “variance” is granted by the director of the Department of Natural Resources, the specific criteria for which are determined by the Board of Natural Resources. See Land Use Planning and Zoning for more information about variances.
Either the director of the EPD or the local authority (the governing body authority of any county or municipality that is certified pursuant to the Act) may issue an order to any person that does not comply with the requirements of the Act requiring work to stop until corrective actions have been undertaken. The violator may be subject to permanent or temporary injunctions, restraining orders, and civil penalties up to $2,500 per day or violation.
Individuals and communities can play a large role in carrying out the mission of the Act.
With the vast amount of land development occurring in the state of Georgia, the EPD lacks the manpower to monitor and ensure compliance at all sites at all times. The public can alert the EPD to violations of the Act and ensure that corrective actions are taken before water quality is further impaired.
For more information about the Georgia Erosion and Sedimentation Act, contact:
Michael Berry, Unit Manager
Georgia Environmental Protection Division
Erosion and Sedimentation Unit
Telephone: (404) 651-8554
Additional Laws Related to Environmental Issues
Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act
(42 U.S.C. §§ 11001-11050)
Congress enacted the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) to help communities safely and effectively store and handle hazardous substances.
EPCRA supports emergency response planning for chemical accidents and provides local governments and the public with information about past and potential chemical hazards in their communities.
EPCRA requires each state to appoint a State Emergency Response Commission (SERC). Each SERC then divides its state into Emergency Planning Districts and names a Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) for each district. Broad representation in the committee by firefighters, health officials, government and media representatives, community groups, industrial facilities, and emergency managers ensures that all necessary interests are included.
In tribal regions, the analogs to state SERCs and LEPCs are Tribal Emergency Response Commissions (TERCs) and Tribal Emergency Planning Committees (TEPCs), respectively. TERCs are designated by the chief executive officer of the federally-recognized Tribe.
The emergency planning aspect of EPCRA requires facilities with Extremely Hazardous Substances (EHSs) at or above threshold planning quantities (TPQs) to report their inventory to the SERC, LEPC, and the local fire department. The LEPC must develop an emergency response plan for those facilities and review the plan annually. Those facilities must also report chemical releases exceeding certain limits, called “reportable quantities.”
For hazardous substances that are not defined under CERCLA, the facility need only report to the SERC and LEPC.
For releases of hazardous substances that are regulated under CERCLA, the facility must report to the National Response Center (NRC), an emergency call center of the federal government, in addition to the SERC and the LEPC. The NRC assigns a case number to the release report, which the EPA calls the facility’s CR-ERNS number. The facility then must use this CR-ERNS number on all future release reports or correspondence related to continuous releases from the facility.
The America’s Water Infrastructure Act (AWIA) of 2018 amended EPCRA to extend notification and reporting requirements to community water systems, which are public water supply systems providing water to the same community year-round.
Under AWIA, community water systems must receive emergency notification from the SERC of any reportable release of an EPCRA EHS or a CERCLA hazardous substance that potentially affects their source water. Community water systems must also have access to EPCRA hazardous chemical inventory data. AWIA allows community water systems to assess the risk of contamination and prioritize source water protection activities.
The community right-to-know aspect of EPCRA gives the public access to information about threats from hazardous substances.
Every March, facilities are required to submit inventory forms that:
identify the chemicals on site for the previous calendar year to their SERC, LEPC and local fire department;
estimate the maximum amount and average daily amount of stored chemicals; and
state the general location of chemical storage.
Facilities may elect to withhold the storage location information from the general public. However, interested persons may make a written request to the SERC or LEPC to review this information. The public may also review any emergency response plans that have been developed.
Additionally, every July facilities are required to submit toxic release inventory forms for every toxic chemical onsite. Information on this form includes:
the name, location, and principal activities of the facility;
whether the chemical was manufactured, processed, or used at the facility;
the maximum amount present at the facility for the preceding calendar year;
the waste treatment or disposal method used; and
the quantity of any toxic entering the environment from a release.
This information is available online to the public, where you can use the search engine feature at the bottom of the webpage to find specific information.
If you are concerned about pollution from a specific facility in your community, these reports are a great way to find out what pollutants are present at that facility and whether any are being released into the environment.
For information about a facility’s chemical inventory, contact the SERC:
The SERC can also help you find your LEPC, from which you can request a facility’s chemical list or Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) identifying hazardous substances over threshold quantities, the facility’s inventory forms, and the LEPC’s emergency response plan for that facility.
Occupational Safety and Health Act
(29 U.S.C. §§ 651-678)
Congress enacted the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) to ensure safe and healthful working conditions for all employees. It is administered by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
Although the Act encourages states to develop and operate their own job safety and health programs subject to OSHA approval and monitoring, Georgia does not have a state level plan and remains under federal OSHA jurisdiction, which covers most private-sector workers. State and local government workers are not covered by federal OSHA jurisdiction.
The Act’s Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) requires chemical manufacturers, distributors, and importers to make available and understandable to employees information on the hazards in their workplace, the chemicals they may be exposed to, and what measures they should take to protect themselves. The employers must provide safety data sheets (SDSs) (formerly known as Material Safety Data Sheets or MSDSs) with information that includes chemical properties and information about health and safety, such as firefighting procedures, handling and storage procedures, and emergency and cleanup procedures.
OSHA has a whistleblower provision under which an employer is prohibited from discharging or discriminating against an employee who has exercised his or her rights under the Act. An employee may:
complain to OSHA and seek an OSHA inspection of the workplace;
participate in an OSHA inspection; and
participate or testify in any proceeding related to an OSHA inspection.
If the condition clearly presents a risk of death or serious physical harm and there is not enough time for OSHA to inspect, the employee may have a legal right to refuse to work.
If an employee believes there may be an unsafe or unhealthful workplace condition, OSHA recommends that the employee first notify his or her employer.
If the employer does not take action or if the employee does not feel comfortable approaching his or her employer, they may contact the local OSHA office directly to make a complaint.
The employee may file the complaint online or by fax, mail, or email. They may also ask OSHA not to reveal his or her name. In addition to employees, anyone who knows about a workplace safety or health hazard may report unsafe conditions to OSHA, and OSHA will investigate the concerns reported.
Georgia has three local OSHA offices:
Atlanta East Area Office
2296 Henderson Mill Road, NE, Suite 200
Atlanta, GA 30345
Telephone: (770) 493-6644
Fax: (770) 938-1611
Atlanta West Area Office
1995 North Park Place S.E., Suite 525
Atlanta, GA 30339
Telephone: (678) 903-7301
Fax: (770) 984-8855
Savannah Area Office
450 Mall Boulevard, Suite J
Savannah, GA 31406
Telephone: (912) 652-4393
Fax: (912) 652-4329
For more information on how to file a complaint, visit OSHA’s website.
Endangered Species Act
(16 U.S.C. §§ 1531-1544)
The Endangered Species Act (ESA) was enacted to protect endangered or threatened species and their ecosystems.
The Act defines an endangered species as “any species which is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range.”
A threatened species is “any species which is likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range.”
The Act only protects species that are listed on the federal list of endangered and threatened wildlife and plants. Species can become listed in two ways:
On the initiative of the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) or National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).
When an individual or organization petitions FWS or NMFS to conduct a scientific review.
The Act is administered by two agencies — the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, within the Department of Interior, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service, within the Department of Commerce. Out of the two, the FWS plays the predominant role because it is responsible for freshwater fish and all land species. NMFS has responsibility over ocean species.
Under the Act, federal agencies are forbidden to authorize, fund, or take any action that may jeopardize the continued existence of endangered or threatened species or their critical habitat.
The critical habitat of a species is the geographic area that the species needs for food, shelter, reproduction, or otherwise continued normal existence. The Act provides that an agency, corporation, or individual cannot harm, harass, or kill an endangered or threatened species without a permit. You can search for endangered species in your area here.
The ESA provides for citizen suits in §1540(g). While the Act targets animal and plant protection, suits brought to stop actions harming animals or plants may also protect communities that share land with endangered, threatened, or presumed endangered or threatened species.
These communities can use citizen suits to halt or slow development and other actions. It may be in the interest of the community to bring a citizen suit under the ESA because an action harming an endangered species in a populated area may also harm the human inhabitants in the area, even if the only legal recourse is to sue to protect the species, rather than the human community. See Citizen Suits for more about the process to bring a citizen suit.
Georgia Asbestos Safety Act
(O.C.G.A. §§ 12-12-1 to -21)
Asbestos is a mineral fiber that is resistant to heat and corrosion. Because of these properties, asbestos was historically added to products to increase their strength and provide heat insulation and fire resistance.
When disturbed, microscopic asbestos fibers become airborne and can be inhaled, causing them to become permanently trapped in the lungs. The build-up of asbestos in the lungs causes serious health problems such as lung disease and cancer.
The Asbestos Safety Act (ASA) is a state law enacted to protect public health, safety, and the environment by establishing licensing, training, and project notification requirements for contractors engaged in the removal or encapsulation of asbestos from facilities or residential dwellings.
Under the Act, only contractors who are licensed by satisfying specific training requirements and paying licensing fees can perform this type of work. The law requires that contractors notify EPD of asbestos removal or encapsulation projects prior to commencing the activity.
Under the Act, EPD has the authority to inspect and sample project sites for compliance with the regulation and asbestos handling guidelines. If the agency determines that the site is not in compliance, a cease and desist order may be issued. Civil penalties up to $25,000 per day may also be assessed for failure to comply.
Citizen involvement in this act is limited to notifying EPD if you think someone is acting without a license or not following the proper removal or encapsulation procedures.
If you have reason to think someone is improperly removing asbestos from a building or exposing workers to asbestos, you can contact EPD and ask them to investigate. The ASA is administered by the Land Protection Branch of EPD.
For more information, call the Asbestos Division Duty Officer at (404) 363-7026 or reach out to:
Jennifer Vogel, Unit Coordinator
Georgia Environmental Protection Division
Lead-Based Paint and Asbestos Program
Telephone: (404) 363-7043