2017 Legislative Update - Week 7


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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Important Dates to watch

  • Thanks to the Georgia House of Representatives and the Georgia State Senate, February 27th will officially be 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. Join us as we celebrate our 50th Anniversary from 8 am to 10:30 am in Room 216 at the Capitol. Learn more at www.georgiaconservancy.org/gcday

  • Crossover Day, the last day for a piece of legislation to pass the chamber in which it was introduced for it to be considered by the other chamber, is set for March 3rd. 
     
  • The General Assembly adjourns the legislative session on the 40th legislative day. Fondly referred to as Sine Die, Latin for "without day," this year's legislative session ends on March 30th.

FILED BILLS

Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Act - House Bill 332 & House Resolution 238

House Bill 332, the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Act (GOSA), sponsored by Rep. Sam Watson (R-172), would create a dedicated and sustainable source of funding for land conservation in Georgia. The Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Act, along with companion legislation, House Resolution 238, calling for a required November 2018 voter referendum, proposes that 75% of the existing sales and use tax on outdoor recreation equipment be dedicated for the protection of the state's water, wildlife and quality of life.

Our state currently lacks a dedicated funding mechanism for the conservation for priority lands, the stewardship of state parks and wildlife management areas, and the support of local parks and preserves - the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Act seeks to change that.

With the goal of conserving Georgia’s precious natural resources – its people, jobs, land and water – through a sustainable source of funding for land and water conservation, The Georgia Conservancy, The Nature Conservancy, Trust for Public Land, Georgia Wildlife Federation, The Conservation Fund and Park Pride joined forces in 2010 as a coalition advocating for dedicated conservation funding.

Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Act seeks to:

  • Dedicate 75% of all tax revenue collected annually from the sale of outdoor recreation equipment for the purpose of the protection and preservation of conservation land. 
  • Provide for the acquisition of critical areas for the provision or protection of clean water, game, wildlife, or fisheries, or natural-resource-based outdoor recreation.
  • Aid local governments in the acquisition and improvement of local parks and trails.
  • Provide for the stewardship of conservation lands through maintenance and restoration projects.

From within the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Act, dollars would also be made available in each fiscal year for loans to any city, county, or nongovernmental entity to defray the costs of acquisition of conservation land or of conservation easements placed upon property that ensure its permanent protection as conservation land.

To allow for the dedicated allocation of tax revenue, the Constitution of Georgia would first have to be amended and the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Act would seek to accomplish this through the creation of a ballot initiative presented to Georgia voters during the fall 2018 election cycle. House Resolution 238 introduces this ballot initiative.

It is estimated that the proposal would generate as much as $40 million annually and would better position Georgia to compete for additional investment from federal, private and philanthropic entities. 

HB 332 is expected to be heard and voted on by the Resource Management subcommittee of the House Committee on Natural Resources and the Environment. HR 238 has been assigned to the House Committee on Ways & Means.

The Georgia Conservancy strongly supports the passage of House Bill 332 and House Resolution 238.


Petroleum Pipeline Regulation and Permitting - Senate Bill 191

Senate Bill 191, sponsored by Rep. Rick Jeffares (R-17), seeks to resolve a number of issues regarding the permitting and regulation of petroleum pipelines in the state of Georgia. This bill is the result of a State Study Committee on Petroleum Pipelines, which was established during the 2016 Legislative Session and included Georgia Conservancy President Robert Ramsay.

SB 191 would prohibit the permitting of new construction, expansion or extension of petroleum pipelines in any area that is within 50 miles of a salt marsh. 

SB 191 also seeks to require a permit from the Director of the Environmental Protection Division (EPD) and a certificate of need from the Executive Director of the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority (GEFA) the before the construction of any new pipeline, as well as the expansion or extension of any existing pipeline, in the state of Georgia. No certificate of need my be issues unless and until the applicant has been issued a permit by the EPD. The permit and certificate of need would be required without regard to whether the pipeline company intends to exercise 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.

The EPD Director shall take into consideration a number of factors in making the decision as to whether the pipeline permit it granted, including: direct, indirect and cumulative environmental impacts; alternatives to the proposed pipeline or expansion; whether the proposed route is the least damaging environmental alternative; ample opportunity has been afforded for public comment; any additional protection measures that could impact water supplies and withdrawals; and more.

The GEFA certificate of need application must include siting information and information as to the need for new pipeline construction, expansion or extension

The GEFA Executive Director shall take into consideration a number of factors in making the decision as to whether the pipeline certificate of need it granted, including: whether petroleum pipelines currently within Georgia adequately meet the reasonable public needs of the state; whether current and future demand for petroleum in Georgia can bee supported through petroleum pipelines or some other means of distribution; the adequacy of the supply of petroleum to serve the public in this state. 

SB 191 has been assigned to the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and the Environment.

The Georgia Conservancy strongly supports the intent of SB 191 and is currently working with the bill's sponsors to include amendments that strengthen SB 191


Shoreline 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. 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 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 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.

A critical amendment was added to the bill this week that redefines the meaning of "sand dune" to exclude existing dune systems from this legislation. Under this new definition, "mounds of sand covered with a planted and maintained lawn or landscaping shall not be considered sand dunes" and, most importantly, "mounds of sand that are stabilized by indigenous vegetative cover shall also not be considered sand dunes." This amendment to House Bill 271 would leave such dune systems potentially exposed to human disturbance.

House Bill 271 has passed out of the House Committee on Natural Resources and the Environment and is not eligible for the House Rules Committee.

The Georgia Conservancy cannot support  the current form of HB 271 with this new amendment. We will work with the legislature and our partners to forward the bill in its original form. The Georgia Conservancy supports legislation clarifying and redefining the jurisdictional boundary of the SPA. We support the 25-foot jurisdictional line as defined in the original version of HB 271 while continuing to explore options with our partners that will further the landward extension of the line to 50 feet.


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, which limits DNR service delivery as they have not kept up with inflation.

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 opportunity 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 Committee on Game, Fish and Parks. It will now be eligible for the House Rules Committee.

The Georgia Conservancy supports the passage of House Bill 208, as it will provide DNR 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.


Fresh Water Stream Buffers - Senate Resolution 152 and House Resolution 362

SR 152, sponsored by Senator Frank Ginn (R-47), and HR 326, sponsored by Rep. Lynn Smith (R-70) 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.

Senate Resolution 152 and House Resolution 326 have passed out of their respective committees on Natural Resources and Environment.


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.


Scrap Tire Collection Fee - Senate Bill 65

Sponsored by Senator Frank Ginn (R-47), Senate Bill 65 would amend an existing Georgia code that requires the collection of a scrap tire disposal fee by retailers when replacing old tires with new tires. The amendment would require the fee to be collected by the retailer whether or not the customer decides to relinquish the old tires to the retailer for disposal. Those fees will then be used by the retailer to dispose of any scrap tires that they may acquire.

The bill would essentially require a scrap tire fee to be collected whenever new tires are replaced by a retailer.

SB 65 has passed out of the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and the Environment.

The Georgia Conservancy supports the passage of SB 65 as it will provide retailers with the additional means necessary to properly dispose of scrap tires.


Oil and Gas Exploration Regulations - Senate Bill 205

Senate Bill 205, introduced by Senator 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.

SB 205 has passed the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and the Environment

The Georgia Conservancy supports the passage of Senate Bill 205.


Coal Ash Landfill Regulations – House Bill 387 & House Bill 388
 
HB 387 and HB 388, introduced by Rep. Jeff Jones (R-167), largely seeks to make statute the Environmental Protection Division’s regulatory guidance for the disposal of coal combustion residuals (CCRs) in landfills.
 
The bills codify existing regulatory guidance which, through a robust public comment and public hearing period, were adopted by Environmental Protection Division in late 2016. In our view, with the exception of increased public notice, these statutes and the provisions within do not propose any new or meaningful regulations for the EPD to enforce or any new requirements for the department to follow. Codifying already strong CCR procedures will in effect hinder the flexibility of EPD to swiftly and effectively respond to changing science, new best practices and new technologies under their current guidance.

HB 387 & HB 388 have been referred to the House Committee on Natural Resources and the Environment.
 
The Georgia Conservancy strongly supports EPDs existing procedures, as well as increased public notice, but does not support a redundant statutes that will make it harder for EPD to continue to evolve in their efforts to properly regulate the disposal of CCRs in landfills in our state.

 
Coal Ash Producer Liability - Senate Bill 165
 
SB 165, introduced by Senator William Ligon (R-3), seeks to impose liability on any producer of coal who disposes ash in Georgia in the event of a release. The bill would require the owner of any coal ash disposal site to own at least $100 million in assets in this state or has posted a surety bond in an amount sufficient to cover any liability under this part.
 
The intent of this bill is to prevent the disposal of coal ash in Georgia from out-of-state operators. The Georgia Conservancy is supportive of efforts that will strongly limit the disposal of out-of-state coal ash within our borders, but does not feel that this bill effectively meets that standard.

SB 165 has been referred to the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and the Environment.
 
The Georgia Conservancy will continue to monitor and evaluate SB 165.


Georgia Space Flight Act - House Bill 1 & Senate Bill 46

House Bill 1, sponsored by Rep. Jason Spencer (R-180), and Senate Bill 46, sponsored by Rep. William Ligon (R-3) seek 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 Saint Andrews Sound in Georgia. 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. 

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.

House Bill 1 nor Senate Bill 46 address any of our concerns as they relate to potential environmental impacts. We will continue to monitor this bill and any legislative activities as they relate to the proposed Spaceport Camden.

HB 1 passed the House floor and SB 46 passed the Senate Floor.

The Georgia Conservancy will continue to monitor House Bill 1 and Senate Bill 46.


Creation of the Georgia Commission on Transit Governance and Funding -  House Bill 160

Sponsored by Representative Kevin Tanner (R-9), HB 160 would establish the Georgia Commission on Transit Governance and Funding so as to study and assess the needs and means for providing a system of mass transportation and its facilities for metropolitan areas in Georgia, as well as potential funding for such a system. Its findings, recommendations and proposals will be submitted to the Governor, President of the Senate, Speaker of the House and Director of Planning. 

The Commission is to be composed of three appointees of the Governor, four members of the Senate appointed by the President of the Senate and four members of the House appointed by the Speaker, as well as ex officio appointments: the Commissioner of Transportation, the Executive Director of the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority, and the CEO of MARTA. Ex officio members will not have voting rights on the Commission.

House Bill 160 has passed the House floor and will move to consideration by the Senate

The Georgia Conservancy supports the passage of HB 160, as it will provide a more thorough system in which to study and recommend mass transit projects in Georgia. 


Local Stormwater Fee Restrictions - Senate Bill 116

Sponsored by Senator Frank Ginn (R-47), SB 116 would 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. 

House Bill 116 had a hearing in Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities last week. Senate Resolution 224 was introduced to create a study committee that will study the issue over the interim.  SR 224 passed out of the Senate Committee on Regulated Industries and Utilities.

The Georgia Conservancy opposes the passage of SB 116.


Recognition of Georgia’s Water Trails – House Resolution 281

HR 281, introduced by Representative Spencer Frye (R-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 states rivers and introduces hundreds of paddlers every year to Georgia’s existing water trails through our Stewardship Trips Program.

House Resolution 281 has passed the House Committee on Natural Resources and the Environment.

The Georgia Conservancy supports the passage of HR 281.


ISSUES TO WATCH

As the session progresses and more bills are filed, our weekly summary will become more comprehensive. This session, we are focusing on a number of important issues and anticipate the filing of a number of bills that will have an impact on Georgia's natural resources, which may include:

School Siting / Minimum acreage requirements: Reduction of the minimum acreage requirements for new schools so as to reverse recent development trends that have contributed to sprawl and poor land use practices.

Coastal Greenway: State funding for the development of the Georgia segment of the East Coast Greenway, a bicycle trail that runs from Florida to Maine. 


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.


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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