A Gwinnett County pig farmer, a United States congressman and more than 100 other people spent part of Earth Day in an airport-area hotel talking about environmental justice.
Discussion during the Georgia Environmental Justice Education and Awareness Symposium went from urban gardening in southern Fulton County to federal green policies. There were more people in suits than jeans, and most of the conversations dealt with high-level topics geared toward those already passionate about the environment.
“If we cannot commit to more responsible practices for ourselves, we must do so for our children,” said U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, a Democrat who represents Georgia’s 4th District.
He said “Congress has become too polarized to act on environmental issues.”
Johnson told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution he feels the biggest environmental issue Georgia faces is the storage and transportation of coal ash from shuttered power plants, which he said disproportionately affects communities where people of color live.
Most of event featured Democratic politicians, but the printed program included a letter from Gov. Brian Kemp, who expressed support and wrote that “environmental stewardship is an important priority for my administration, and I am dedicated to fulfilling this responsibility.”
Panelists also discussed landfill management, about 10 miles away from an unlicensed landfill that has been smoldering and pushing smoke into a neighborhood for more than six months.
A man who has been arrested three times for letting the landfill burn on his property was given another reprieve in late March by a Fulton County judge and two more months to extinguish the flames. That has yet to happen, even though the state has approved using $500,000 from Georgia’s tire cleanup fund to put out the fire, which is pushing chemicals into the air.
“Our hands are tied because of the court,” said Rep. Debra Bazemore, D-Riverdale, one of the forces behind the symposium.
Farmers explained to the crowd, which included several elected officials, how something as simple as homeowners association regulations requiring certain types of lawn care means chemicals drift to their farms and kill bees. When natural pollinators die, that means farmers need to buy bees and the price of food goes up.
“Those prices that you see in the store a lot of times are affected by things we do in our backyard,” said Willie Miller of Miller City Farm, which grows everything from carrots to chamomile in South Fulton.
Mayors of the cities of South Fulton, Hapeville and Chattahoochee Hills talked about the need for residents to reach out and come to meetings to let leaders know what issues are important to them.
“We can’t get you to go to land-use meetings,” said South Fulton Mayor William “Bill” Edwards.
Chattahoochee Hills Mayor Tom Reed said his rural city looks like Alpharetta just 40 years ago. Now, Alpharetta is pitching all sorts of mixed-use projects. “Every kid has the right to go outside and smell nature,” he said.
Hapeville Mayor Alan Hallman said everyone in his 2.5-square-mile landlocked city of about 6,500 needs to do their part.
“God gave us this planet, and we’re the caretakers. We got one shot, and we ought not mess it up,” said Hallman.
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