2017 Legislative Update - Week 11


The mission of the Georgia Conservancy is to protect and conserve Georgia’s natural resources through advocacy, engagement and collaboration. That mission no better manifests itself than in our work at the Georgia State Capitol during the General Assembly’s yearly legislative session. 
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Welcome to the Georgia Conservancy's legislative update for the 12th and final week of the 2017 Legislative Session.

Yesterday, Thursday, March 30th, was the final day (Sine Die) of the 2017 Legislative Session. Bills that have passed both chambers will now move to the desk of Governor Nathan Deal.

Next week, look for our extended recap of the 2017 Legislative Session which will include a number of bills that we worked on during the session, as well as bills that we tracked but may not have reported on.

We're at the Georgia State Capitol every day of the legislative session pushing for conservation-minded bills and fighting against legislation that would roll back the advancements that we've already made. If you are interested in receiving our weekly legislative updates, please click here. We will provide you with updates every week of the legislative session.


BILLS FILED

The following bills have been filed and are of high importance to the Conservancy. We will keep a dedicated eye on them during this legislative session:


Petroleum Pipeline Regulation and Permitting -  House Bill 413

Last night, March 30th, House Bill 413, a bill that seeks to regulate the siting, permitting and construction of petroleum pipelines in Georgia, passed the Senate and will now move to the desk of Governor Nathan Deal.

The Georgia Conservancy is pleased with the outcome of House Bill 413, as it has addressed many of the concerns raised by last year’s State Petroleum Pipeline Commission, on which Georgia Conservancy President Robert Ramsay served. The final bill is the result of a broad group of stakeholders coming together to agree on legislation and to work with our elected officials to pass House Bill 413 through a complex procedural process. From our 50 years of perspective, such collaboration is where success is often achieved. Input from landowners, concerned citizens, petroleum companies, conservation and environmental groups, and state officials were crucial in producing this legislation.

House Bill 413 includes the following:

  • Requires a permit from the State Environmental Protection Division (EPD) Director and a certificate of necessity and convenience from the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) Commissioner before the construction or extension of any new pipeline in the state of Georgia. 
    • The permit and certificate of necessity and convenience would be required whether or not the pipeline company intends to exercise the power of eminent domain.
    • The EPD permitting application must include siting information, a cultural resource assessment, information on geologic and hydrologic features, information on the presence of threatened or endangered species, and evidence of financial responsibility.
  • Requires any company seeking a permit to construct or extend any petroleum pipeline in the state to first give proper notice to any property owner within 1000 feet of the proposed pipeline right-of-way.
  • Establishes a process in which any property owner within 1000 of the proposed pipeline can file a petition within 30 days of the issuance of public notice and provided the property owner the right to a hearing before an administrative law judge.

The Georgia Conservancy believes that House Bill 413 will provide the state with the necessary guidance in which to approve or deny the application of any future applicant seeking to site and construct a petroleum pipeline in Georgia.

We would like to recognize of the Savannah Riverkeeper, the Ogeechee Riverkeeper, the Southern Environmental Law Center, the forestry community and the landowning public for their efforts to see meaningful petroleum pipeline legislation passed.

We would also like thank the following legislators for the dedication to this issue: Senators Rick Jeffares, John F. Kennedy and Jack Hill; and Majority Leader Jon Burns, and Representatives Don Parsons, Chuck Martin, Barry Fleming and Bill Hitchens.

HB 413 has passed both the House and Senate and will now move to the Governor’s desk.

The Georgia Conservancy supports the passage and signage of HB 413.


State Hunting and Fishing License Fees - House Bill 208

HB 208, introduced by Representative Trey Rhodes (R-120), seeks to simplify purchases and adjust fees on hunting and fishing licenses issued by the Department of Natural Resources. License prices have not been updated since 1992.

Georgia has some of the lowest resident and non-resident hunting and fishing license fees in the Southeast. These fees are crucial to funding the conservation of state lands and waters, providing improved access for recreation and opportunities for more technical assistance, educational programs and habitat management.

DNR estimates that a license fee adjustment will bring in approximately $9 million each year in revenue to the State of Georgia. Adjustments will also allow the State to draw down additional federal matching dollars each year.

House Bill 208 has passed out of the House and has passed the Senate. It will now move to the Governor's desk.

The Georgia Conservancy supports the passage of House Bill 208, as it will provide DNR with the funds necessary to be consistent with the Southeast average for recreational licenses and to manage the lands and waters that our state's avid hunters and anglers hold dear.


Shore Protection Act Amendments - House Bill 271

Introduced by Representative Jason Petrea (R-166), HB 271 seeks to amend Georgia's Shore Protection Act (SPA) in order to redefine the landward jurisdictional boundary of the SPA.

The Shore Protection Act became law in 1979 to ensure that the sand sharing system was protected from adverse impacts from human activity. The sand sharing system is the network of dunes, beaches, shoals and sandbars. This network is what protects the barrier islands from storms, erosion and corresponding property loss or damage. 

Frequently seen on Tybee, Sea, St. Simons and Jekyll Islands, areas far removed from the sand sharing system are considered within the jurisdiction of the SPA because of the presence of a tree or structure. The current method of defining the landward boundary of the jurisdiction of the SPA is a line based upon the presence of a 20-foot or taller native tree and/or a pre-1979 habitable structure. The current jurisdictional line creates an unnecessary regulatory burden and often does not protect the fragile sand sharing systems closest to previously developed areas.

This bill seeks to redefine and clarify the jurisdictional line by using three methods:

  • 1) A line 25 feet landward of the ordinary high water mark on private land and 100 feet landward of the ordinary high water mark on state-owned land. This method would be used when there is an eroding shoreline and no dune field present at the upland sand sharing interface.
  • 2) A line 25 feet landward on private and public land from the landward most toe of the most landward sand dunes. This method would be used when there is an existing dune field at the upland/sand sharing system interface.
  • 3) A line 25 feet landward on private and public land from the crest of a visible and functional shoreline or stabilization structure. This method would be used when there is a rock revetment, bulkhead or seawall at the upland, sand sharing system interface.

The Georgia Conservancy is working with DNR and the sponsors of the bill to better clarify the definition of sand dunes for the purposes of measuring the jurisdictional line.

House Bill 271 has passed out of the House but has been tabled by the Senate Natural Resources Committee for further study during the summer and fall.

The Georgia Conservancy supports legislation clarifying and redefining the jurisdictional boundary of the SPA. We support the 25-foot jurisdictional line while continuing to explore options with our partners that will further the landward extension of the line to 50 feet on non-state owned land.


Fresh Water Stream Buffers - Senate Resolution 152 

SR 152, sponsored by Senator Frank Ginn (R-47), would create a Joint Study Committee on Stream Buffers in Georgia.

The committee will be comprised of 17 members, including five members of the Senate appointed by the President of the Senate, five members of the House of Representatives appointed by the Speaker of the House, the director of the Environmental Protection Division, and six members from the private sector with experience in water resource management with three appointed by the President of the Senate and three appointed by the Speaker of the House.

Stream buffers help to keep pollution, dirt from construction sites and other “run-off” from roads, roofs, farm fields, etc. out of our rivers and streams. By providing for a clear definition of state water buffers, potentially destructive development near rivers and streams - developments that could damage our water supply, harm species, and affect everything from property values to recreational opportunities, such as fishing, boating and swimming - can be stopped.

SR 152 passed the full House and will now move to the Governor's desk.


The Georgia Conservancy strongly supports the clarification of statutory regulations that define the line of demarcation from which the 25-foot and 50-foot buffers will be measured to protect waters of the state, and we hope to work with legislators to support the inclusion of representatives from the conservation community on this committee. We continue to advocate for a collaborative effort from a broad range of partners to clarify and strengthen the enforcement of our buffers.


Oil and Gas Extraction Regulations - House Bill 205

House Bill 205, introduced by House Rules Chair Representative John Meadows (R-5), proposes new rules and stronger regulations for the extraction of oil and gas in Georgia, and the authority to create an Oil & Gas Board under certain circumstances. 

The bill would establish much need regulations on the extraction methods commonly known as fracking. The intent is to put in place statutory measures to properly protect Georgia's waters, especially those in Northwest Georgia, an area of the state that has seen an increased interest in gas extraction from its Conasauga Shale.

HB 205 passed the House, but an amended Senate version could not be agreed upon in conference committee before the close of the session.

The Georgia Conservancy supports the passage of House Bill 205.


Georgia Space Flight Act - House Bill 1 

House Bill 1, sponsored by Rep. Jason Spencer (R-180), seeks to establish the Georgia Space Flight Act, which defines terms related to space flight and would limit the liability of space flight entities related to injuries sustained by any passengers of space flight. The bill is intended to further position Camden County as the chief candidate for the proposed Spaceport Camden. 

The proposed site is located in the northeast corner of the county near the confluence of the Satilla River and St. Andrews Sound. This area is one of the highest functioning estuarine ecosystems on the East Coast of the United States and, as such, has extensive value to plants, animals, and the people of Camden County.

The Georgia Conservancy has been fully engaged in the environmental subcommittee of the Spaceport Camden Steering Committee. On January 14, 2016 the Georgia Conservancy submitted a comment letter as part of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) scoping process for Spaceport Camden. The Georgia Conservancy will look to the EIS to use science to address the issues, such as environmental impacts for the project and any related development the project may bring to this ecologically-important area of Camden County.

Our concerns center on the following general topical areas

  • Environmental issues at a larger scale (regional),
  • Impacts to adjoining sites and landscape scale natural resources (including National Park wilderness), and
  • Site-specific development, mitigation and conservation measures

A separate but related issue for the project is addressing property rights and park operations related to “launch exclusion areas” that require periodic evacuations on Little Cumberland and Cumberland Island National Seashore. 

Last week, House Resolution 643 was introduced by Rep. David Knight (R-130). The resolution recognizes the unique economic and environmental attributes of coastal Georgia and urges the careful study by the state of the potential impacts that a commercial spaceport would have upon these qualities.

The Georgia Conservancy looks forward to the upcoming opportunity to review project plans and understand the long term vision Camden County has for this ecologically-important area of the lower Satilla River.

HB 1 passed both chambers and will now move to the Governor's desk.

House Bill 1 does not address any of our concerns as they relate to potential environmental impacts. We will continue to monitor these bills and any legislative activities as they relate to the proposed Spaceport Camden.

HR 643 was tabled by House Committee on Natural Resources and the Environment.

The Conservancy supports the passage of HR 643 and is currently working with the sponsor of the resolution to forward its intent.


Local Stormwater Management Fees Study Committee - Senate Resolution 224

Sponsored by Senator Frank Ginn (R-47), SR 224 would create a Senate Study Committee to review Stormwater Management Fees. The introduction of SR 224 is the result of discussions regarding Senate Bill 116, which failed to pass out of committee earlier this session. SB 116 sought to prohibit counties or municipalities from collecting storm water utility fees from water-neutral sites, which are defined as properties designed to achieve control of water runoff from a 25-year, 24-hour storm event in a manner consistent with the Georgia Stormwater Management Manual.

Water neutral sites are basins that are connected to the local drainage system which the local authority must operate and maintain, and therefore these sites have an impact on publicly owned facilities. Per the Georgia Association of Water Professionals: "A local government must bear the cost of maintaining the stormwater drainage system even if every property builds a detention pond to the 25-year, 24-hour storm event standard."

Such fee exemptions could potentially have devastating effects on a municipality's ability to provide essential services to residents, because much of the stormwater utility revenue comes from fees on water-neutral sites. Aside from essential day-to-day services, this revenue allows local authorities to reduce flooding, as well as replace or upgrade failing infrastructure. 

SR 224 passed the Senate and has passed the House.

The Georgia Conservancy opposed the passage of SB 116 during the legislative session. We will monitor the Study Committee as meetings are scheduled during the interim.


Recognition of Georgia’s Water Trails – House Resolution 281

HR 281, introduced by Representative Spencer Frye (D-118), seeks to recognize and encourage the proliferation and use of water trails in Georgia. A water trail is a designated recreation trail on a river and stream that provides a number of access points that provide for enjoyable pursuits such as paddling, fishing, swimming, birdwatching and other exploration. The resolution highlights the tremendous positive benefits that Georgia’s water trails have on education, recreation, conservation and the environment, and recognizes the dedicated public service of the Georgia River Network and their water trail partners.

The Georgia Conservancy is an active advocate for water trails along our state’s rivers and introduces hundreds of paddlers every year to Georgia’s existing water trails through our Stewardship Trips Program.

Learn more about HR 281 from the Saporta Report.

House Resolution 281 has passed the House.

The Georgia Conservancy supports the passage of HR 281.


other news

Last year, with House Bill 736, a new Marine Wildlife License Plate was created. The sell of this license plate provide voluntary funding for projects to restore and enhance marine habitats through oyster reef creation, construction of man-made reefs along the shorelines of tidal rivers and creeks, and the construction of man-made reefs in the Atlantic Ocean. The State is currently promoting the sale of these license plates to Georgia drivers. Click here for more information on how you can purchase your Marine Wildlife License Plate.


Thanks to the Georgia House of Representatives and the Georgia State Senate, Monday, February 27th was officially Georgia Conservancy Day at the State Capitol. A special thank you to Representatives Lynn Smith, Jon Burns, Stacey Abrams, Jan Jones, Buddy Harden and David Knight for sponsoring House Resolution 226 and to Senators Frank Ginn, Jack Hill, Matt Brass, Rick Jeffares, Lindsey Tippins and Freddie Powell Sims for sponsoring Senate Resolution 289 recognizing the Georgia Conservancy's 50 years of protecting and conserving Georgia's natural resources. Learn more and check out photos at www.georgiaconservancy.org/gcday


House and Senate Committees

The Conservancy works closely with members of the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and the EnvironmentHouse Committee on Natural Resources and the EnvironmentHouse Committee on Game, Fish and Parks, and the House Committee on Ways and Means.  Bills that originate in these committees often have the greatest impact on Georgia's natural environment.

Please advocate for sound environmental policies that benefit all of Georgia by reaching out to your elected officials.  This is our Georgia.


2016 Legislative Recap

 
 

For a statewide nonprofit organization, there are more barriers than incentives to including an Advocacy Program in its mission and work.

Advocacy work is difficult to resource. It takes a special disposition to balance various relationships with elected officials and between partners, and an interest not only in policy, but also in politics, process and strategy.

The 2016 Georgia General Assembly demonstrated again why the investment in an effective and engaged Advocacy Program at the Georgia Conservancy is so important – it’s necessary! Georgia Conservancy Advocacy Director Leah Dixon and our team reported on more than 30 pieces of legislation last year, in addition to the Governor’s budget.

The highlight of the 2016 Legislative Session was our tireless work to pass a moratorium on the permitting and the use of eminent domain for petroleum pipeline construction in Georgia and the establishment of a commission to review the current siting and permitting guidelines and procedures.

Click here to learn more about our advocacy efforts during last year's session.


QUESTIONS?

 
 

Please contact Georgia Conservancy Advocacy Director Leah Dixon at ldixon@gaconservancy.org with any questions regarding the 2017 Legislative Session.

The Georgia Conservancy is a member-supported organization. Learn more about how you can join the Georgia Conservancy and be a part of our mission to protect and conserve Georgia's natural resources.


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