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Southern Water, Southern Power

May 19, 2016

I am not one to toot my own horn.  Unless, perhaps we are talking about my family.  As some of my readers know, I have children.  I also wrote a book, and it’s not uncommon for authors to say the process of writing a book is like raising a child.

There is some truth to that: children and manuscripts need love, shelter, money, and time to mature.

The process of writing Southern Water, Southern Power: How the Politics of Cheap Energy and Water Scarcity Shaped a Region (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2015) took about ten years and a lot of resources.  And love.

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Over the past year, a number of generous readers have reviewed the book. I did not solicit the reviews.  I invite you to read them.  They all offer accurate summaries and fair critiques of Southern Water, Southern Power:

In particular I direct you to the H-Environment Roundtable Review.  Not because this was a glowing review and the others put me in my place.  I recommend the Roundtable because it is a unique review: four readers from different disciplines read my book, and then I got to respond to the reviewers.

My response blends my training as a historian and my vocation as an advocate.  I wanted to put contemporary water supply and quality issues, and the actions of Georgians, in context:

“Failure to protect the most basic resource—drinking water—in the United States in the twenty-first century is really hard for me to get my head around.  But, after my four-year tenure in government affairs, very little is shocking.  Most Georgia legislators rely on well-funded and connected corporate lobbyists for information, campaign funding, and help making decisions.  Like legislators all over the country, that means they don’t have paid staff to help them learn about the issues.  Add a conservative political ideology that has worked for decades to make ‘government’ smaller and defund agencies with critical functions, and then the state of affairs in Georgia, Michigan, and across the country makes some sense.  In my neck of the woods, there has been a slight shift.  Many of the same forces responsible for creating this political climate are becoming victims.  Folks who wanted to make government small enough to drown it in a bathtub (to paraphrase Grover Norquist) probably never stopped to think the tub might also be filled with toxic water that did no one—taxpaying neighbors, constituents, business interests, farmers—any good.” [Manganiello, ‘Southern Water, Southern Power,’ Roundtable Review (2016), H-Environment and H-Net: Humanities & Social Sciences Online]

I go on to describe some of the more egregious examples: King America Finishing’s fouling of the Ogeechee River (which is recovering).  Rayonier and the Altamaha River.  Duke Energy and coal ash in the Carolinas.  And I point out that the public has steadily lost trust in the state environmental agencies charged with protecting southern air, water, and land.

Despite the challenges, there is essentially one thing that makes conservationists, environmentalists, and ‘green conservatives’ successful in Georgia: they work together in their watersheds because clean water matters.  We practice a version of “watershed democracy” that works because we recognize our collective needs and harness our strength.  We all need clean water for drinking.  Clean groundwater adds value to our properties and communities.  And clean water makes our recreational pursuits—from fishing to floating—possible.

The next time you raise a glass, raise it to watershed democracy.

-Chris Manganiello

The State of Georgia’s Rivers, or Why Buffers Matter

May 10, 2016

There are more than 70,000 miles of streams, 425,000 acres of reservoirs and lakes, 400,000 acres of coastal marshlands, and 4.5 million acres of freshwater wetlands in Georgia.  The Environmental Protection Division (EPD) assesses those waters every two years as required by the federal Clean Water Act (1972). The Clean Water Act’s goal is “to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the nation’s waters.”

Unfortunately, an analysis of data collected by EPD from 2006 to 2014 shows that there has been little overall improvement in river and stream health.

Every water body in Georgia has one (or more) designated use: fishing, drinking water supply, recreation, coastal fishing, wild river, or scenic river.  Furthermore, each of those designated uses must meet specific water quality criteria (for dissolved oxygen, fecal coliform, metals, etc.).

Every two years EPD takes on the Herculean-effort to collect water quality data for a fraction—around 20 percent—of the total of all of Georgia’s rivers, streams, and lakes.  EPD then produces a “305b Report” to describe the quality of Georgia’s waters.  Waters on the 305b list that do not meet the water quality criteria for their designated use are placed onto the 303d list of “impaired waters.”

Once a water body is placed on the 303d list of impaired waters, EPD develops a total maximum daily load (TMDL) plan to create a strategy for restoring a water body’s quality and designated use. TMDL’s address the specific parameter(s) that caused water quality to degrade, like high fecal coliform concentrations, low dissolved oxygen, excess metals, and toxicity.  Identifying point and non-point sources of individual pollutants is a critical component to maintaining and restoring high water quality and protecting designated uses.

Data collected from Georgia’s biannual 305b lists from 2006 to 2014 shows that there has been insignificant change in river and stream health. As illustrated in these pie charts, there is little variation in the percentage of waters that either meet or fall short of their designated use.

From 2006 to 2014 the total number of rivers and streams assessed increased from 1,734 to 2,297.  While EPD assessed 32% more rivers and streams in 2014 over other years, regardless of the report year, the pie charts illustrate that over 50% of the assessed stream and river miles have not supported their designated use.  In short, while some previously impaired water-bodies have been cleaned up, the same percentage of streams and rivers have been “impaired” for nearly a decade.

It is difficult to argue that TMDL’s are making a significant impact.  The purpose of TMDL’s is to help responsible parties who are contributing to the impairment to resolve the situation by certain deadlines. This is only an effective strategy when pollution sources can be easily identified.  So, EPD must write enforceable permits that meet Clean Water Act standards, particularly for known discharges into known impaired waters.

For example, permits for industrial land applications systems (LAS), such as TenCate’s in the Flint River basin, must be protective of water quality.  Spring Creek, a tributary to the Flint in Upson County adjacent to TenCate’s operation, is currently not supporting its designated use for fishing.  Rayonier Advanced Materials’ permitted discharge has historically sullied the Altamaha River.  In these situations, EPD must write permits that fully protect Georgia’s streams and property owners.

Furthermore, EPD must ensure concentrated animal feeding operations are properly managing and land applying dry and wet manure in accordance with Georgia’s water quality rules.

The biggest problem, however, is resolving non-point source pollution—like agricultural, residential and storm water runoff.   A TMDL is only as effective as its ability to identify the source of the impairment.  TMDL’s are not comprehensive enough in addressing non-point source pollution.  The over application of fertilizers—nitrates and phosphates—in residential and agricultural situations are classic examples of non-point sources.  These pollutants inconspicuously enter our streams and contribute to water quality problems that affect designated uses.

Because non-point source pollution is a leading source of water quality impairment in Georgia, EPD argues that “the establishment and maintenance of vegetated riparian buffers is one of the most important and cost-effective” measures to protect “water quality” in Georgia. [Page 4-7]

We could not agree more with EPD.  And so we ask the agency’s leadership to work with us to protect all of Georgia’s rivers and streams with riparian buffers, even those rivers and streams lacking “wrested vegetation.”  All of these waters deserve equal protection.

-Chris Manganiello

Rise of the Zombies: Reservoirs on Hold

April 26, 2016

 

As already covered by the Gainesville Times, Hall County hit “pause” on Glades Reservoir about two weeks ago.

The project was “administratively withdrawn” on April 15, 2016.  You can read Hall County’s letter explaining why, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ response.  Glades joins four other reservoir projects—in Dawson, Carroll, Fulton and Newton counties—in this same category.

What exactly does this mean?

In the short term, it means there are no reservoir proposals under active consideration in Georgia right now.  That is big news.  And it also explains the ‘rise of the zombies.’  These projects will survive on paper and in the imaginations of some proponents.

According to the Corp of Engineers, when a project is administratively withdrawn the Corps will stop actively evaluating a project in the Section 404 permit application process.  A withdrawal can be made at the request of the applicant or the Corps.  In either case, when a project’s file is administratively withdrawn, the file moves from the desktop into the filing cabinet (which is different from the trash can) until the applicant provides relevant and updated information.  You can find more detail here; scroll down and look under the “Frequently asked questions about USACE reservoir” heading.

So, when a project is “administratively withdrawn,” the project is not technically dead.  But the onus is on the applicant to provide robust and relevant information to the Corps before the file moves from the file cabinet back to the desktop.

Why did Hall County withdraw the Glades Reservoir application?  For very simple and basic reasons that we have set forth previously.  First, the county needs to revisit new population projections.  Second, the county needs to re-evaluate future water demand.  And third, Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division rescinded the project’s certification of need.

We have long argued that water supply reservoir applicants used aggressive population projections and over estimated future water demand.  We were pleased to see the state agree that the project did not have any need as a water supply reservoir, but remain concerned the state will pursue the project as a flow augmentation project.  You can read more about Glades starting here.

-Chris Manganiello

The Tale of Two Pipelines: You Can’t Take My Land

April 14, 2016

In the closing days of Georgia’s 2016 General Assembly session, two very different pipeline proposals were widely rebuked by legislators.  The reason, however, was the same: property rights are more valuable than anything else.

When the Georgia General Assembly adjourned at the end of March, it was Governor Nathan Deal’s announcement to veto a so-called “religious liberty bill” that immediately gained national attention.  He did so because the bill would have enabled religious organizations to deny services to gay and lesbian citizens.  To justify the veto, Deal characterized the bill as discriminatory and not representative of the Georgia way.  He said Georgia “is a welcoming state filled with warm, friendly and loving people.”  He might have also added they are defensive of their property.

A contingent of not so welcoming Georgians have not gotten much national attention.  In the General Assembly’s final days and only days before Deal’s veto announcement, two of the nation’s largest energy corporations—Kinder Morgan and Spectra Energy—were sent packing by a vast majority of the members of the House of Representatives.

For over a year, the two energy giants independently pursued two different pipelines via distinct regulatory processes on opposite sides of Georgia.  Kinder Morgan’s Palmetto Pipeline, which was to carry liquid petroleum products, needed approval from the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT).  Spectra Energy wanted to build the Sabal Trail natural gas pipeline, so that project was subject to Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) review.

The two pipelines would have traveled under nine of Georgia’s fourteen major rivers. Both companies have a history of egregious pipeline failures and spills.  And neither project would have served Georgia customers: the pipelines only needed to traverse Georgia, one from South Carolina and the other from Alabama, to reach customers in Florida. Opponents—including conservationists, a newspaper publisher, an oil company, environmental justice activists, and property owners—had no trouble making environmental, safety and economic arguments against both pipelines.

However, right now, executives, consultants and lobbyists in Kinder Morgan and Spectra Energy board rooms are not trying to figure out how to counter those sound arguments.  Instead, they are trying to figure out how an essential tool they need to do business—the power of eminent domain—became as dirty as a four-letter word in a state dominated by business friendly Republicans.

Utilities like pipeline companies rely on eminent domain to acquire title to the property they need for a pipeline’s route from an unwilling seller.  Objection to this facet of pipeline planning drove hundreds of Georgia and South Carolina residents along Kinder Morgan’s pipeline route to public hearings in 2015.  The majority in attendance asked: How could a state give a private company such sweeping powers to take private property while providing no benefit to Georgians?  The pipeline was not the same as a public highway, they argued.

Kinder Morgan needed GDOT’s approval to obtain the authority to use eminent domain in the state.  In 2015, Georgia’s governor came out in opposition to the project and GDOT refused Kinder Morgan such authority (and the company lost a legal appeal in 2016).  Spectra Energy obtained eminent domain powers in February after FERC granted the company a license for the project.  The company has since initiated eminent domain proceedings on 160 properties including at least 30 in Georgia.

Legislators from all over the state got an earful from their constituents and a swarm of pipeline lobbyists.  At first they just weren’t sure what to think.  One veteran journalist cleanly summarized the legislators’ ultimate behavior: “Lawmakers admitted being confused about the details of the two proposals but knew many groups didn’t like either.”

To stop Kinder Morgan in Georgia, legislators approved House Bill 1036.  The bill will institute a moratorium on activities associated with petroleum pipeline construction, institute a moratorium on the use of eminent domain for construction, and prohibit state employees from processing and issuing “any approval, permit, or document necessary for the construction of” any petroleum pipeline until July 1, 2017.  Additionally, the bill calls for the creation of a study commission to investigate pipeline construction, operation and safety, and provide recommendations to the legislature.  In response to the bill’s passage, Kinder Morgan quietly suspended the Palmetto Pipeline project.

In South Carolina, legislators are contemplating a bill to prohibit unregulated pipeline utilities from using eminent domain and forcing private landowners to sell property for projects like Palmetto.  The project is also suspended in South Carolina.

To stymie Spectra Energy, legislators denied approval of easements on state property under the Chattahoochee River, the Flint River, the Ochlockonee River, the Withlacoochee River and other waterbodies for the proposed natural gas pipeline.  Without those easements, the pipeline cannot enter or travel across the state.  It is likely Spectra Energy will attempt to use eminent domain authority granted via the FERC licensing process and the Natural Gas Act to take the necessary state property for the Sabal Trail pipeline to pass under Georgia’s rivers.

There is a lesson here for those fighting pipelines and other environmental battles all over the country.  Property rights matter.  Environmental protection is a critical element of preserving property values and conserving resources well into the future.  Conservationists and environmentalists stand a good chance of finding common ground with unlikely environmentalists when they seek to protect property rights.  And then environment protection—for communities, air, land and water—is more likely to follow.

-Chris Manganiello

Legislative Wrap-Up: Sine die comes, goes

April 4, 2016

For the last three months, Georgia River Network devoted time, energy and resources to work on numerous legislative projects as a member of the Georgia Water Coalition.  During the 2016 General Assembly session, GRN worked intensively on HB 966, SB 36, SB 346 and SR 954.  While we did not witness positive movement on two priority issues—buffers (HB 966) and ground water (SB 36) protections—we did successfully arrest roll-backs and other measures.  Please read on to learn more.

The 2016 General Assembly officially came to a close on Thursday, March 24, also known as sine die, which means to adjourn without a date set for return.  Truth be told, legislators did not conclude their business until after midnight in the early hours of Friday morning.

To view the outcome of legislative proposals and vote counts to see how your legislators voted, click on the bill number below.  Additionally, you can visit the Atlanta Journal Constitution’s helpful “Georgia Legislative Navigator” tool: http://legislativenavigator.myajc.com/

Measures Now Awaiting Action by Gov. Nathan Deal

What’s next for the bills?  Governor Nathan Deal has 40 days to: sign a bill; veto a bill; or take no action.  In the event the Governor takes no action, a bill becomes law 40 days after passage of both chambers.

HB 1028 & HR 1872: Leaky Landfills & Coal Ash

House Bill 1028 will require the owner or operator of a municipal solid waste landfill to notify local city and county governments of “any release…which is likely to pose a danger to human health” within 14 days.  While this is an improvement over existing requirements, unfortunately, the bill gives the owners or operators a lot of discretion regarding when and what to report.

This bill was a response to the discovery of groundwater contamination at a Wayne County landfill that has been accepting and processing coal ash from a Florida utility.  Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division identified the contamination in 2011 but is not legally required to publicly disclose those releases.  The Wayne County situation came to light after a proposal to expand the landfill to accept more coal ash was made public.  As a result, House Resolution 1872 was introduced to will create a House Study Committee on Coal Ash to evaluate coal ash disposal, reuse and effects on Georgians.  The measure failed to pass.

The study committee’s action would have been will be timely given Georgia Power’s announcement to shutter 29 toxic coal ash storage ponds, and EPD’s plans to establish coal ash closure regulations in 2016.

HB 1036: Prohibition of Eminent Domain

House Bill 1036 is a response to Kinder Morgan’s proposed Palmetto Pipeline.  Kinder Morgan asserts that as a consequence the company suspended the project last week.  The proposed pipeline would transport petroleum (gasoline) products through Georgia from South Carolina to Florida.

HB 1036 will institute a moratorium on activities associated with pipeline construction through June 30, 2017.  This includes a moratorium on the use of eminent domain for pipeline construction.  And, state employees are prohibited processing and issuing “any approval, permit, or document necessary for the construction of” any pipeline until July 1.

Additionally, the bill calls for the creation of a study commission to investigate the impacts of pipeline construction, operation and safety; the current legal and regulatory framework associated with pipelines; eminent domain powers; and provide recommendations to the legislature.

SB 346: Bulldozing Cultural & Natural Resources

Senate Bill 346 will exempt “a project of a department, municipality, county, or authority to construct or improve a public road or airport does not exceed $100 million in costs” from Georgia Environmental Policy Act (GEPA) review if they are state funded, with no federal money, up to $100 million.

We oppose roll-backs like SB 346 and never supported the bill’s underlying intent to gut GEPA.  GRN actively supported efforts to successfully amend the bill in the House Transportation Committee to adequately protect historic buildings, sites, or resources.

SR 954: Sinkhole Trail Giveaway

Senate Resolution 954 is part of an annual affair to grants easements on state property to for-profit corporations and state agencies for the construction, operation, and maintenance of facilities, utilities, and roads.

When SR 954 reached the House, a single section was added including grants for easements on state property under the navigable waters of six state waters—the Chattahoochee River, Hannahatchee Creek, the Flint River, the Ochlockonee River (two crossings) and the Withlacoochee River—in Stewart, Dougherty, Colquitt, Brooks, and Lowndes Counties for Spectra’s proposed Sabal Trail natural gas pipeline.  The proposed pipeline would travel through Georgia from Alabama to Florida.

GRN actively lobbied in opposition to SR 954 because the Sabal Trail’s proposed natural gas pipeline will provide no benefit to Georgians and threatens Georgia’s air, water, and communities.

SR 954 was initially and overwhelmingly rejected by the House—34 (yes) to 128 (no).  Then SR 954 was successfully amended to remove the Sabal Trail easements before passing the House unanimously—167 (yes) to 0 (no)—on sine die.

Measures That Did Not Survive Crossover Day or Sine Die

HB 966: Buffer Housekeeping

All of Georgia’s waterways are supposed to be protected by a 25-foot buffer according to the Erosion and Sedimentation Control Act. These protected areas help keep water clean, protect habitat for fish and wildlife, and prevent damage to stream-side property.
However, in the wake of Turner v. Georgia River Network, 773 S.E.2d 706 (Ga. 2015), current law states that only those streams with “wrested vegetation” are required to have buffers.  In other words, current law does not enable the Georgia Environmental Protection Division to consistently establish streamside buffers on all Georgia creeks, streams, and rivers.  The Georgia Supreme Court said this problem can be fixed only by the legislature.

GRN actively worked on House Bill 966, a measure that would have fixed the E&S Act’s confusing language so buffers are consistently applied to all of Georgia’s waters.

Representative, and former judge, Johnnie Caldwell, Jr. (R-Thomaston) sponsored HB 966 with a long list of bi-partisan co-sponsors, including many lawyers who understand the Georgia Supreme Court’s recommendation to clean-up the E&S Act.  Rather than assign the bill to the Judiciary Committee, as would be typical for a bill of this nature, HB 966 was assigned to the House Natural Resources & Environment Committee.  Committee Chairman Rep. Lynn Smith (R-Newnan) elected not to allow the committee to vote on the bill on February 25, so the bill number died on Crossover Day.

SB 36: Protect Georgia’s Well Water

GRN has worked on ground water issues across south Georgia from the Dougherty Plain to the coast.  Current groundwater laws do not protect the health and safety of the public and the property rights of landowners.

Senate Bill 36, the Underground Water Supply Protection Act, would have fixed gaps in current laws and protects groundwater now and into the future.  The bill passed the Senate by a wide margin—48 to 3, and was stymied by the House Natural Resources and Environment committee chair.

SB 36 was good for Georgia, our economy, people, and children. SB 36 was a no-cost option requiring the Department of Natural Resources to write rules protecting our groundwater. These rules would have fixed gaps in our current laws—many of which only focus on surface water, water quantity not quality, and/or insufficiently regulate certain types of wells.  Finally, SB 36 would require action unlike a resolution (like House Resolution 1198) that merely suggested action.

SB 36 passed the Senate in 2015 and was bottled-up in the House Natural Resources and Environment Committee.  We look forward to working on this issue in the coming year.

HR 502: Putting the Trust Back in Trust Funds

House Resolution 502 called for a referendum to amend the Georgia Constitution.  HR 502 would have stopped Governors and legislators from raiding trust funds like the Solid Waste and Hazardous Waste trust funds.  Most Georgians assume that the fees they pay for new car tires, for example, will pay to clean up abandoned tire dumps as required by law.  The fees designated for the two funds have collected about $450 million since the 1990s.  But the legislature has only appropriated about $264 million for the fees’ intended purposes.  The remainder has been directed to the state’s general budget. Only a constitutional amendment can fix this problem, which must be fixed.

HR 502 was introduced by Rep. Andrew Welch (R-McDonough) and was passed out of the House Ways & Means committee.  This resolution unfortunately died on Crossover Day.

SB 321: Utility Bill Secrecy

Senator Hunter Hill (R-Atlanta) sponsored Senate Bill 321. This bill will have undone a water and energy conservation ordinance adopted by the City of Atlanta in 2015.  SB 321 would have created a “Property Usage Protection Act” aimed to make water and energy consumption data from public utilities confidential and prohibit the state or local governments from reporting this information without express consent from property owners.  Additionally, SB 321 violated Home Rule principles where local governments are free to pass laws and ordinances as they see fit.

SB 321 passed out of the Senate Economic and Tourism committee on February 17, but thankfully did not survive Crossover Day.

SB 326: E&S Roll-back

Senate Bill 326 would have created an unworkable environment by handcuffing land disturbance permit reviews, and in effect cause greater downstream property damage by allowing more mud in our rivers, lakes and streams.

SB 326 would have made two harmful changes to the E&S Act. First, the bill would have required all plan reviewers to be state licensed professionals. Local governments and the Soil and Water Conservation District offices cannot afford to staff these positions with professional engineers.

Second, the bill would have reduced the time for application and plan review from 45 to 14 days. A 14-day window is not enough time to conduct a thorough plan review, including site visits and necessary due diligence to ensure that plans will sufficiently detain sediment from washing off the construction site and polluting our rivers, lakes, and creeks downstream.

SB 326 was introduced by Sen. Rick Jeffares (R-McDonough), and on February 24, the Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities committee sent the bill into a study committee for further review.  Thankfully the bill did not survive Crossover Day.

-Chris Manganiello

More Nuclear on Lower Chattahoochee?

March 22, 2016

April Fools Day is still a little ways off, so it must be true that Georgia Power is considering a new nuclear reactor complex.  On the Chattahoochee River.  Read more in the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

This sounds crazy for many reasons.

First, the so-called nuclear renaissance ended for the same reason the nuclear boom of the 1970s boomed: the economics just don’t pencil out.  And, Georgia Power and parent company Southern Company have begun to see the light and invest in solar in Georgia and across the country.

Second: Did I mention the money?  When we consider the current cost-over runs and delays for Plant Voglte’s two new reactors on the Savannah River, nuclear looks like an albatross for any utility.

Third, the contested waters of the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF).  If Georgia Power goes ahead with this, perhaps Alabama will decide not to remain on the sidelines as they did with Florida’s recent legal action.

A while back Georgia Power floated word about additional nuclear facilities.  The Savannah River did not seem like a contender given the Vogtle expansion.  And, certainly not in the ACF.  An expansion at Plant Hatch on the Altamaha River—a river completely contained within the state of Georgia—was where I expected to hear future announcements for new nukes.  But I guess not.

Fourth—the Chattahoochee River is not immune to drought conditions.  It’s important to remember that the lower Chattahoochee River’s current nuclear complex was essentially hobbled by the drought of 2007.

Plant Farley is located in Alabama and operated by a Southern Company subsidiary.  The plant’s two nuclear units require a 2,000 cfs flow from the Chattahoochee River.

According to a May 2008 Congressional Research Report, in September 2007, one of the generators was taken offline for maintenance. In the depths of the region’s drought of record, flows past the Plant Farley dropped below 2,000 cfs in October.  By late November the river’s low flow bottomed out at 1,048 cfs.  While one unit can clearly operate at such extreme flows, a nuclear plant is a big investment to take off line when energy demand spikes on hot summer days.  Does the Southern Company really want four reactors on the same river if only two of them can operate at low flows?

Given the serious drought conditions in the past, one cannot withdraw water in the future that is not there.  There are cheaper energy alternatives that are less dependent upon contested waters.

Bottom line: More nuclear on the lower Chattahoochee just doesn’t make sense.

-Chris Manganiello

Legislative Update: Crossover Day 2016

March 1, 2016

Crossover Day has come and gone.

Monday, February 29, also known as Crossover Day, was a big day at the General Assembly.  Any bill number that failed to pass either the House or the Senate chamber by Crossover Day, Day 30 of the 40-day session, is now a dead bill number for the reminder of the session.

Next Big Day? Any bill number that survived Crossover Day could still be amended and acted upon before the last day of the session, Thursday, March 24, also known as sine die, which means to adjourn without a date set for return.

Here’s an update on the status of a number of issues Georgia River Network has been tracking:

Bills Still in the Mix

SB 36: Protect Georgia’s Well Water

Current groundwater laws do not protect the health and safety of the public and the property rights of landowners. Senate Bill 36, the Underground Water Supply Protection Act, fixes gaps in current laws and protects groundwater now and into the future.  The bill passed the Senate by a wide margin—48 to 3, but remains stalled in the House of Representatives’ Natural Resources & Environment Committee.  GRN supports SB 36: the bill must pass this session.

HB 1028: Leaky Landfill Bill

House Bill 1028 will require the owner or operator of a municipal solid waste landfill to notify local city and county governments of “any significant release” within 14 days.  HB 1028 unanimously passed the House—163 to 0—on Crossover Day.  Given the fact that releases in Georgia have not been shared with local communities—including a 2011 leak at a Wayne County landfill processing coal ash—GRN supports timely public notification of any violations by permitted facilities.

SB 346: Bulldozing Cultural & Natural Resources

Senate Bill 346 exempts the Georgia Department of Transportation and local government projects from Georgia Environmental Policy Act (GEPA) review if they are state funded—that is, with no federal money—up to $100 million.  SB 346 passed the Senate—36 to 15—on Crossover Day.   This is bad because GEPA protects natural and cultural resources by requiring alternatives analysis and consideration of impacts and ways to mitigate that the Erosion and Sedimentation Act does not. GRN opposes this roll back.

Measures That Did Not Survive Crossover Day

HB 966: Buffer Housekeeping

In the wake of Turner v. Georgia River Network, current law does not enable the Georgia Environmental Protection Division to consistently establish streamside buffers on all Georgia creeks, streams, and rivers.  The Georgia Supreme Court said this problem can be fixed only by the legislature.  House Bill 966 would have fixed the E&S Act’s confusing language so buffers are consistently applied to all of Georgia’s waters.

HB 966 was assigned to the House Natural Resources & Environment Committee.  GRN testified in support of HB 966.  Committee Chairman Rep. Lynn Smith (R-Newnan) elected not to allow the committee to vote on the bill, so the bill number died on Crossover Day.

HR 502: Putting the Trust Back in Trust Funds

House Resolution 502 called for a referendum to amend the Georgia Constitution.  HR 502 would have stopped Governors and legislators from raiding trust funds like the Solid Waste and Hazardous Waste trust funds.  Most Georgians assume that the fees they pay for new car tires, for example, will pay to clean up abandoned tire dumps as required by law.

The fees designated for the two funds have collected about $450 million since the 1990s.  But the legislature has only appropriated about $264 million for the fees’ intended purposes.  The remainder has been directed to the state’s general budget. Only a constitutional amendment can fix this problem.  GRN supported this measure.

SB 321: Utility Bill Secrecy

Senate Bill 321 would have undone a water and energy conservation ordinance adopted by the City of Atlanta in 2015.  SB 321 would have created a “Property Usage Protection Act” aimed to make water and energy consumption data from public utilities confidential and prohibit the state or local governments from reporting this information without express consent from property owners.  GRN opposed this roll-back.

SB 326: E&S Roll-back

Senate Bill 326 would have created an unworkable environment by handcuffing land disturbance permit reviews, and in effect cause greater downstream property damage by allowing more mud in our rivers, lakes and streams.  On February 24, the Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities committee sent the bill into a study committee for further review.  GRN opposed this roll-back.

WHAT CAN YOU DO?  Please SIGN UP to receive important and timely Protect Georgia action alerts to stay up to date on issues affecting clean water, the health of our rivers and Georgia’s vital natural resources.  Membership in Protect Georgia is free and allows you to easily contact your senator, representative or other decision maker via e-mail when an important decision is pending or a vote is scheduled.

-Chris Manganiello

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