2017 Georgia Legislative Wrap-Up

The 2017 Georgia Assembly session lasted 40 days between January and March 30. While there were some wins, we have continued work to do in 2018. Below is a summary of the bills that the Georgia Water Coalition focused on this year.

HB 413

In 2015, proposed construction of a new petroleum pipeline seriously jeopardized private property rights and threatened our natural resources. Kinder Morgan, a private for-profit company, sought to use eminent domain to construct over 300 miles of pipeline beginning in Belton, South Carolina down the entire Georgia coast to Jacksonville, Florida.

Fortunately, the Georgia Department of Transportation, with Governor Deal’s support, denied Kinder Morgan a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity to use eminent domain, and in 2016 construction of the Palmetto Pipeline was suspended indefinitely.

The Palmetto Pipeline controversy highlighted the need to examine the use of eminent domain by pipeline companies in addition to any impacts caused by pipeline siting, construction, and operation. During the 2016 legislative session, a State Commission on petroleum pipelines was formed and a temporary moratorium on the use of eminent domain by petroleum pipeline companies was instituted through June 30, 2017.

Since the moratorium is due to expire this year, several bills were introduced during the legislative session to more permanently deal petroleum pipelines in Georgia. HB 413 prevailed as the best bill to implement strengthened private property rights and environmental protections. Specifically, the bill allows for landowners to appeal permitting decisions, elevates the criteria needed for a company to use eminent domain (must demonstrate demand for fuel, financial responsibility), and calls for comprehensive environmental permitting with public notice provisions.

Many of our legislators worked diligently to protect our communities and land by sponsoring and/or supporting this bill. Special thanks goes to Senator Rick Jeffares, Senator Jack Hill, Representative Bill Hitchens, and House Majority Leader Jon Burns.

 

Coal Ash bills (HB 387, HB 388, SB 165)

Representative Jeff Jones’ proposed legislation (HB 387 and 388) to protect citizens from potential threats from the disposal and storage of coal ash did not move this session. But thanks to the efforts of legislators such as Rep. Jones and Rep. Chad Nimmer, and the support of GWC partners, we have seen some small steps in the right direction to increase transparency and safeguard this process.

In response to concerns expressed by constituents and legislators, the Chair of the House Natural Resources & Environment Committee created an ad hoc coal ash task force to investigate the issue.  Additionally, EPD created a new website to provide the public with information about Georgia Power’s plans to drain coal ash ponds and information about private storage of coal ash in municipal solid waste landfills.
SB 165, introduced by Sen. William Ligon, would have required out-of-state producers of coal ash that send the waste to Georgia landfills to remain liable for any damage caused by the waste even after it left their control and made its way into our state.

We will continue to work with our partners on addressing these issues relating to coal ash storage and disposal.

Buffers for State Waters

This legislative session Ogeechee Riverkeeper in conjunction with the Georgia Water Coalition sought to fix problems with the Erosion and Sedimentation Control Act. In particular, criteria on how to establish a buffer should not be solely dependent on the presence of wrested vegetation, or vegetation that has been “wrested” from its place due to water flow. As we saw in 2014, our coastal marsh is a prime example of where there is no wrested vegetation, but everyone agreed a buffer should be established to protect our coastal waters, thus a legislative fix was made. This year we pushed for legislation that would be protective of all state waters, but instead our legislators established a joint study committee on stream buffers. Reliable science has already proven that buffers are necessary for water quality and fish and wildlife. We hope this study committee will resolve how to measure a buffer in the absence of wrested vegetation.

 

HB 271 – Shore Protection Act

During the 2017 session, HB 271 was introduced in an attempt to revise the manner by which the state determines the jurisdictional area of our coastal shore protected by the Shore Protection Act. In a jurisdictional area, activities and structures are regulated by the state to ensure that the values and functions of the dynamic dune field and the sand sharing system are not impaired. Unfortunately an agreement could not be reached on measurements therefore this bill will be taken up again in the 2018 session.