By Maria Saporta
Georgia can become a “poster child” for balancing environmental and economic interests, according to Allen Barnes, director of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Environmental Protection Division.
Barnes was the keynote speaker at Friday morning’s Environmental Awards presented by the Atlanta Business Chronicle at the Georgia Aquarium.
“Environmental sustainability and economic sustainability can and must co-exist,” Barnes told the breakfast gathering. “Georgia can be the poster child of that principle.”
Barnes added that Georgia has a great concentration of Fortune 500 companies that are becoming more sustainable, and it also has high-profile facilities, such as the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the busiest airport in the world.
Those entities can become leaders in showing how environmental sustainability can also make economic sense.
Meanwhile, Georgia also has become a leader by passing the Water Stewardship Act last year that focused on water conservation as one way of addressing its water supply issues.
“Georgia is establishing a culture of conservation,” Barnes said, adding that his job is to hold companies accountable to meeting environmental regulations.
“My goal is to have 100 percent compliance in each and every environmental law in the state of Georgia,” Barnes said.
If the state allows one company to cut corners on meeting environmental regulations and enforces those rules on another company, then it is offering an unfair advantage to the firm that does not follow the law.
Barnes also said that federal clean air standards, which have to be enforced by the state, have worked. Although the federal government keeps making clean air standards more stringent, it is the right thing to do.
“The goal is sound,” Barnes said. “The pace we get there can be discussed. But let’s not debate the goal.”
Barnes said one of Georgia’s major challenges will be getting the whole state to work together towards a common goal.
“We have to work on it together,” Barnes said, adding that our competition should be other states. “One of the concerns I have is that we have a divided Georgia. We have to heal that.”
The ABC’s Lifetime Achievement Award went to Charles Seabrook, who covered environmental issues for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for decades and continues to do so as a contributing writer.
Seabrook said he wasn’t quite sure how he became an “environmentalist” and “an unabashed tree hugger.”
But he thinks it went back to when his parents would recite a prayer to him when he was a child.
“Thank you God for the food we eat.
Thank you for the world so sweet.
Thank you God for the birds that sing.
Thank you God for everything.”
Seabrook said that has life has been dedicated to making sure the world remains sweet and that the birds continue to sing.
And thank you God for Charlie Seabrook.