The Department of Natural Resources Board has unanimously approved Allen Barnes to become the new head of the Environmental Protection Division.
Barnes will leave his job as a partner at the King and Spalding law firm to head the state agency.
According to a Daily Report survey of compensation at law firms, the average salary for partners at King and Spalding is more than $850,000.
The previous director, Carol Couch, made about $140,000, according to state records.
Barnes is a former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency official. Governor Sonny Perdue says his pick will be able to use his experience working with Florida and Alabama at the Federal level in the ongoing water negotiations with those states.
Barnes describes himself as a man of few words, and that he is happy to head the agency because the position "has the potential to touch more people's lives than any other agency in the state."
That’s the concern for environmentalists, who have opposed the pick. They say his connection to King and Spalding -- a firm that represents clients pushing for new coal plants -- will taint the permitting process for those plants. King and Spalding is also representing groups looking to keep or expand on current water flows from Lake Lanier.
The EPD will be charged with issuing permits for lake and stream withdraws, along with permitting new reservoirs. Those changes could come if Georgia can not, either in Congress or the courts, reverse a federal judge’s ruling restricting the amount of water the state can use from Lake Lanier.