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Concerned citizens, take heart
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Earlier this year there was quite a stir when New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof announced that environmentalism is dead.

Citing results of the national elections, along with several notable set-backs in federal legislative battles as evidence, Kristof condemned environmental work with a premature burial.

But his biased analysis ignored many important environmental victories, giving a misguided portrayal of today’s “greenies” who are working for improved health, quality of life, and wise planning.

In recent years as state and federal funds for enforcing existing environmental regulations flagged and Congressional actions sometimes sought to weaken related laws, many less publicized battles to protect natural resources have been won.

Here in Georgia, we’ve had some substantial victories for the public interest achieved by environmental groups working together with unprecedented cooperation, strategy, and determination.

Consider the major achievement in the 2004 session of the General Assembly when the Georgia Water Coalition, a group of nearly 100 non-profit organizations, local governments, and small businesses representing tens of thousands of Georgians defeated an action that would have allowed trading of water permits.

By stopping this first dangerous step toward making a life-supporting public resource into a private commodity for profit-making exploitation, the Water Coalition permanently advanced an environmental ethic in Georgia public policy.

Let’s also recognize several important court victories, including some in which my organization, Center for a Sustainable Coast, shared success with collaborating groups when attorneys at the Southern Environmental Law Center convinced state superior court judges that the Department of Natural Resources should go much further in protecting coastal marshes – and the diversity of fish and wildlife dependent on them – under existing state law.

These legislative and court victories didn’t stop development in its tracks, nor were they intended to. Our goal was, and remains, to seek more balanced and appropriate regulatory decisions that ensure proper protection and responsible, accountable use of public resources as our state further develops.

Those who cynically condemn environmental groups for restricting property rights fail to realize that we are, in fact, helping to protect the rights of many property owners and other citizens throughout the state, whose interests are threatened by overly narrow interpretation of the law.

Allowing use of public resources to enable short-term profits made by a few at the long-term expense of many others – including property owners and small businesses – is clearly not in the public interest.

Rather than “blocking” development as is often claimed, we are striving to make sure that future growth occurs with more deliberation and insight, supported by permitting decisions that truly reflect the interests of all Georgians. Water quality, sustained water supply, clean air, and diverse, productive ecosystems can be preserved for future prosperity and health only if safeguarded with utmost vigilance.

Without this dedicated stewardship, our communities will not be prosperous, healthy, and blessed by nature’s vulnerable beauty. If any region can grasp the significance of this truth and the value of upholding it, surely it is Georgia’s coast.

Here we depend on nature for billions of dollars a year in business from tourism and outdoor recreation, as well as our unparalleled quality of life.

Far from witnessing the death of environmentalism, we are savoring the gradual spread of hard-won understanding about the natural world’s vital role in both sustaining and enriching our lives.

Despite this awakening, as growth continues we can expect still more intensified disputes over environmental issues. Therefore, our work has never been more essential to coastal Georgia’s future.

David Kyler is Director of the Center for a Sustainable Coast, based in St. Simons Island.