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What’s Rollin’ Round the Budget Barrel

February 1, 2013

As the 2013 General Assembly and the Governor talk through the FY2014 budget, there are three items of note connected to the Georgia Water Coalition’s (GWC) 2012 Dirty Dozen.

First, the budget “retains 100% of appropriated” funds for the Hazardous Waste Trust Fund (HWTF), which the GWC supports.  When Georgians have their trash hauled and dumped at landfills, we pay a 75-cent-per-ton tipping fee that is used to create the state’s HWTF – a fund designed to clean up hazardous waste sites and help local governments remediate old, unlined landfills that pose a threat to drinking water and the environment. The HWTF is also sustained by fees on hazardous waste disposal and handling.

Of particular importance at the moment, the HWTF is set to expire in 2013.  We believe a renewed HWTF, or additional legislation such as Rep. Jay Powell’s (R-Camilla) recently introduced HB 127, must include a requirement that funds be appropriated for their stated purpose or the stated fees should not be collected.

Since 2004, fees and fines designated for the HWTF have totaled an estimated $143 million, but because the General Assembly has the discretion to redirect funds, only $53 million (40 percent) has actually been deposited in the Trust Fund and made available to clean up the 560 sites listed in the Georgia Environmental Protection Division’s Hazardous Site Inventory. (For an example, read about the Tift Site on a South River trib in the Dirty Dozen.)  The rest, $86.5 million, has been used by legislators to pay for other state expenses.

But the bad news is that the Solid Waste Trust Fund (SWTF) will be budgeted $57,000 less in FY2014 than the agency was budgeted in FY2013.  This is interesting since the City of Atlanta has made illegal tire dumps in urban neighborhoods, vacant lots, and city creeks a hot legislative item. (See this old Creative Loafing story if you like visuals).  These tire dumps symbolize a lack of environmental justice.  And the lack-of-will to appropriate the monies bares the hall-marks of environmental racism.  Read more about environmental inequity in metro Atlanta in Green Law’s excellent Patterns of Pollution report.  You can also read about the SWTF in the Dirty Dozen.

Second, the Environmental Protection Division (and the Georgia Chamber of Commerce) are advocating for a budget allocation to fund the Regional Water Councils.  The goal is to secure $500,000 in the next budget to provide some basic operations support.  The lion’s share of this money will finance additional data collection and implementation of the Councils’ recommendations as a part of the State Water Plan process.

Third, the Governor’s Water Supply Program (GWSP) is set for another infusion of cash to finance more un-needed reservoirs.  The GWC does not support unneeded reservoirs when all other water supply options – water conservation and efficiency, and reservoir expansion, for example – have not been fully utilized first.  The FY2014 budget will direct $25,250,000 to the Department of Community Affairs ($4.5M for state direct investment) and the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority ($21M for loans).  With this allocation, the total amount of money available for the second round of the GWSP comes to $92,000,000 ($48M for loans; $44M for state direct investment).

Stay tuned, there will be more to come as the bills drop…

-Chris Manganiello

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