– September 21, 2023 –

Good morning. We have updates on several long-running stories today. First, there are preliminary results out of Brunswick showing exposure to chemical pollutants there. Moving a bit south, we have an update on a lawsuit brought in the name of the horses of Cumberland Island. We’ll also take a look at what’s happening with lawsuits related to climate change, and finally, a check in with the Georgia Department of Transportation on its plans to try out a new way to tax electric vehicle drivers. Buckle up.

Pollutant exposure in Brunswick

About 150 Brunswick community members turned out at Howard Coffin Park Tuesday evening to hear preliminary results of a study of exposure to chemical pollutants. This study, funded by the Emory University Exposome Research Center and led by Dr. Noah Scovronick and Dr. Dana Barr, collected blood samples from 100 long-term residents of the Brunswick area in March. Glynn County was targeted for study because of legacy pollution there from four Superfund sites, locations designated as being polluted with hazardous chemicals.

The researchers analyzed the blood samples for contaminants including lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium, PCBs, PFAS, and toxaphene, a pesticide produced by the Hercules in Brunswick. They then compared the levels found in the study participants to levels reported as U.S. averages, or in the case of little-studied toxaphene, to a Canadian average.

They found higher than average levels of the locally produced PCBs and toxaphene in the Brunswick samples. Some participants had levels of some chemicals many times higher than the average American.

The average age of participants was 60. About two-thirds were women and 46 of the 100 were Black. The researchers cautioned that the results were not yet peer reviewed, but they were working toward that goal. Researchers also plan to expand the study and are already looking for funding for the next stage.

Emory partnered with community groups including One Hundred Miles to conduct the study. “The industrial activity that happened decades ago is still affecting us,” said Alice Keyes of One Hundred Miles, “and this study proves that.”

Study volunteer Anita Collins is looking forward to the research continuing.

“I participated in it because it needs to be done,” she said. “There needs to be more research where there’s a larger number of people.”

Anita Collins Credit: Mary Landers/The Current

Update on Cumberland Island’s horses

The 150 or so feral horses of Cumberland Island National Seashore along with their human supporters filed suit against Georgia and federal officials about five months ago. The supporters, including longtime Cumberland resident Carol Ruckdeschel, allege the island is bad for the horses and the horses are bad for the island.

The suit seeks to force the horses’ removal from Cumberland, and to compel the Equine Division of the Georgia Department of Agriculture to make sure they’re cared for humanely until they can be removed. Earlier this month Georgia Commissioner of Agriculture Tyler Harper filed a response in the form of a 24-page memo in support of a motion to dismiss. Harper argues in part that he does not have regulatory jurisdiction over Cumberland Island National Seashore and therefore cannot implement state law that would protect horses there.

The National Park Service filed the motion to dismiss in July. As National Parks Traveler reports, the service “says it has not waived its sovereign immunity from being sued, but that the plaintiffs have failed to show that the Park Service failed to take an action that it was required to take.”

In the months since the suit was filed the National Parks Service reassigned Cumberland Superintendent Gary Ingram to Rocky Mountain National Park. Cumberland is now operating under Acting Superintendent Steve Theus, who has been the site’s Deputy Superintendent for three years. 

“The new permanent Superintendent will be selected by the Southeast Regional Office after the position has been posted,” Spokeswoman Cindy Brewer wrote in a response to The Current on Tuesday. She declined to comment on the horse lawsuit, citing pending litigation. “The National Park Service and the Cumberland Island National Seashore staff are committed to managing the park’s natural and cultural resources consistent with our authorities,” she wrote.

Hal Wright, an attorney for the plaintiffs, wrote in an email that they are due to complete their briefing at the end of this week. The federal defendants will complete their briefing to the court next week.   

“After that, we will await the Court’s decision as to how to proceed with the case,” he wrote. 

Horses drink from one of the few sources of fresh water on the island. Credit: Mary Landers/The Current

Kids’ climate change lawsuits

People who are young now will experience the effects of climate change more and more as they age. That’s what makes lawsuits involving children suing over climate change issues so compelling. As The New York Times reports, it’s happening more and more.

Last month, as widely reported, young people in Montana won a landmark climate lawsuit.

“The ruling means that Montana, a major coal and gas producing state that gets one-third of its energy by burning coal, must consider climate change when deciding whether to approve or renew fossil fuel projects,” The New York Times reported. The Montana attorney general is expected to appeal.

Later in August, the United Nations’ Committee on the Rights of the Child released a report that outlines how “all countries have a legal obligation to protect children from environmental degradation — including by ‘regulating business enterprises’ — and to allow their underage citizens to seek legal recourse,” The New York Times reported.

Children are gaining ground in climate lawsuits. Credit: Krivec Ales/Pexels

Gas tax holiday and EVs

Gov. Brian Kemp declared another gas tax holiday last week. It’s a boon to many drivers but not to the drivers of the more than 70,000 electric vehicles registered in the state.

EV drivers pay an annual registration fee of about $214 regardless of miles driven to make up for their share of road tax. The flat fee works out to a penalty on EV drivers compared to drivers of similar-sized gas vehicles, especially during a gas holiday.

The Georgia Department of Transportation indicated in July it was “looking for 150 volunteers to take part in a federally funded pilot project that will replace gasoline and other motor fuels taxes with a tax based on the number of miles driven,” as Capitol Beat’s Dave Williams reported. But it hasn’t signed up drivers yet.

“We are currently working through the details of what this pilot program will entail in Georgia,” GDOT Spokeswoman Natalie Dale wrote in an email to The Current Tuesday.

EV charging
The charging port on a Kia EV6. Credit: Mary Landers/The Current

If you have feedback, questions, concerns, or just like what you see, let us know at thecurrentga@gmail.com.

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Mary Landers is a reporter for The Current in Coastal Georgia with more than two decades of experience focusing on the environment. Contact her at mary.landers@thecurrentga.org She covered climate and...