Cown’s appointment will be effective Aug. 16 at a salary of $190,000. Cown succeeds Rick Dunn, who Kemp recently appointed as director of the state’s Office of Planning and Budget.
“I look forward to Jeff’s continued service to our state as EPD Director,” Kemp said in a news release. “With an accomplished and dedicated history in this field, he will be an asset to the Division as it continues the essential work of ensuring Georgia remains a good steward of our natural resources while balancing the needs of our citizens.
In a brief interview, Cown said he was not looking to enact radical change but rather continue what he considered to be the positive trajectory of the EPD, balancing the protection of natural resources with “smart growth.”
He said the biggest challenge is staffing the agency, but did not say whether he would lobby for budget increases. He was also noncommittal on his view of the proposed Twin Pines mining project near the Okefenokee Swamp, as well as the EPD’s handling of coal ash, a byproduct of coal-generated electrical power.
“I do have a background in it but I’ve got to look at it and see where we’re at,” he said of the Twin Pines proposal. “You have to take that scientific review and communicate it to the people and gain their trust by working with them, and I think they’ve done that.”
Twin Pines has said the mine will not harm the fragile Okefenokee ecosystem, but the proposal has spurred fierce opposition among many environmental advocates and criticism from scientists, including some working for the federal government. Some opponents of the mine were cautiously optimistic about Cown’s appointment because of his scientific background and experience with land protection.
“Director Cown should be able to immediately recognize and appreciate the overwhelming independent scientific consensus that the Twin Pines mine project threatens to damage the swamp in numerous ways,” said Josh Marks, and environmental attorney who has fought efforts to mine near the Okefenokee.
A note of disclosure
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