Jeff Cown to head state Environmental Protection Division


ATLANTA – The head of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Parks and Historic Sites Division will become director of the  Environmental Protection Division later this month.

The state Board of Natural Resources voted unanimously Wednesday to approve Gov. Brian Kemp’s nomination of Jeff Cown to head the Environmental Protection Division. Cown will take up the post on Aug. 16 at an annual salary of $190,000.

Cown has spent 33 years with the Department of Natural Resources, the last five as director of the parks division. Before that, he served for 28 years with the Environmental Protection Division, including a five-year stint as chief of the agency’s Land Protection Branch.

“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,” Kemp said Wednesday.

“He’s the steady hand we need right now,” added board member Ray Lambert, who made the motion to appoint Cown.

Cown will succeed Rick Dunn, who left the Environmental Protection Division last month to become director of the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget.

Cown said a top priority in his new job will be to retain and recruit adequate staffing at the Environmental Protection Division.

“We don’t want to overwork the people who are there,” he said after Wednesday’s vote.

Two issues Cown will face are Alabama-based Twin Pines Minerals’ plan to mine titanium oxide at a site near the Okefenokee Swamp and how the state will regulate coal ash stored in ponds adjacent to coal-burning power plants.

Twin Pines is seeking permits from the Environmental Protection Division to open a mine along Trail Ridge in Charlton County. The proposal generated more than 100,000 comments during a recent 60-day public comment period from opponents warning the project would threaten the environmentally fragile blackwater swamp, the largest in North America.

The Georgia Water Coalition, a partnership of 256 organizations, is asking the Environmental Protection Division and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to prohibit coal ash ponds from being closed in place with ash sitting in groundwater.

Cown said his background with Environmental Protection Division includes experience with both mining and disposal of solid waste including coal ash. He promised to conduct a thorough scientific review of both issues and communicate the findings to the public in a way that builds trust in the agency.

“I need to get into that and see where we are,” he said.

Cown earned a bachelor’s degree in agricultural engineering from the University of Georgia and is a graduate of the Institute of Georgia Environmental Leadership.