DeKalb commissioner proposes resident-led environmental justice commission

From the Saporta Report

by Mark Lannaman

Published: April 26, 2024 3:37 pm

Last week, Commissioner Ted Terry (DeKalb District 6) introduced a resolution to create a resident-led environmental justice commission that would enable citizens to more directly influence environmental policy in their communities.

The reason behind the introduced legislation and an increased focus on environmental justice is a simple matter of due diligence, Commissioner Terry said.

“DeKalb County residents have voiced their concerns to me loud and clear: They need to be at the heart of the decisions that affect their environment and health,” Commissioner Terry said in a press release. “The DeKalb Environmental Justice Commission will provide for collaboration, transparency and ensure accountability to those we serve so that we can create a more equitable and sustainable future for all of DeKalb County.” 

The commission is in line with President Biden’s Justice40 Initiative, ensuring that 40 percent of certain federal legislation makes its way into stressed communities who need it most.

“There’s eight or nine census tracts in DeKalb County that fit the criteria of having a combination of high pollution and other socioeconomic factors that really point to individuals and communities being on the front lines of a lot of environmental injustices,” Terry said. 

Terry said the commission is being modeled after similar proposals at the state level, although the state Environmental Justice Commission was not passed this past legislative session. Still, the necessity of environmental justice commissions remains a priority even on local scales.

Having served in DeKalb County as a commissioner since 2020, and before that as Mayor of Clarkston from 2013 to 2022, Terry said he’s become quite familiar with some of the environmental concerns around the community. 

These concerns include the Seminole Road Landfill which can produce unbearable odors for neighboring residents that were promised a small landfill decades ago. Other concerns include sewer overflow into the South River as well as the latest developments from the Public Service Commision and Georgia Power which has been steadily increasing rates, exacerbating energy burdens on stressed households.

The press release details what the commission would entail:

  • Organizational meetings and public hearings
  • Preparing budget considerations for the Board of Commissioners
  • Preparing model legislation for consideration by the Board of Commissioners
  • Monitoring progress and making recommendations toward DeKalb County’s current environmental efforts
  • Providing quarterly updates to the Board of Commissioners
  • Conduct scientific analyses and generate comprehensive reports on the state of environmental justice in DeKalb County

The legislation was added to the public agenda this past Tuesday and referred to the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee, where Terry and two other commissioners serve. There, lawmakers hope to refine the legislation with the hopes of another draft in June. If adopted, the commission would start in March of 2025 and have a five-year initial term.