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April 6, 2015 - 2015 Georgia Legislative Session ends!
The 2015 Georgia Legislative Session ended on midnight, Thursday, April 2nd. Over the course of the session, we saw numerous pieces of legislation arise on the environment. Our lobbying team worked tirelessly to ensure we supported good bills, and stopped the worst of them in order protect Georgia’s natural places. We had some significant wins and losses during the session, noted below and separated by category.
Passage of HB 57 by Rep. Mike Dudgeon, the Solar Freedom Bill, only 5 years after GA Power said it was too humid for solar to work in Georgia is a huge victory. This victory represents the culmination of several years of work by the Georgia Sierra Club, other energy and environmental groups, the solar industry, and the Green Tea Coalition to diminish the monopoly power enjoyed by GA electric utilities under the GA Territorial Service Act. The law had prohibited any third party financing of solar photovoltaic projects based on the power generated by the panels. Now, Georgia residents and business owners can lease solar panels for their homes, businesses, and schools.
HB 255 by Rep. Mike Cheokas was a backward-looking project of the Georgia Forestry Association arising from a dispute with the U.S. Green Building Council over the fact that that international body has chosen to endorse a forest sustainability standard that is not widely used in Georgia for projects seeking LEED certification. Of the 110 points available for LEED, 40 are needed for certification. A single point is available for using wood from the Forest Stewardship Council. Three points are available for locally sourced wood, which GA products have always received for LEED buildings in the state.
In order to show their contempt for LEED’s choice of forest certification, the GA Forestry Association has demanded that no state buildings be allowed to ever seek the LEED standard again. The bill passed on Tuesday, March 31. The change will result in the sale of no more Georgia timber that is being sold today, and it will do nothing but deprive buildings paid for by taxpayers of obtaining a certification that guarantees lower building operating costs.
HB 213 by Rep. Mike Jacobs is the bill that MARTA has been trying to pass for decade or longer, a bill to remove the “handcuffs,” or the legislative requirement that the transit system spend half of its sales tax income on capital costs, leaving only half the money to meet operating costs. No other transit system in the country labors under such a limitation on its use of the funds dedicated to it. While waiting for this restriction to finally be lifted, MARTA has actually had to borrow money to the point where almost half of its tax income is now being used to retire debt, so the removal of the 50%/50% limit is more symbolic than real at the present time.
The bill was also amended to allow the system an additional ten years of taxing authority to facilitate financing of system expansion. Additionally, in the late hours leading up to this bill, an amendment was approved by the State Senate that added authority for MARTA to add an additional one-half percent to its one percent sales tax collections in Fulton, DeKalb and Clayton Counties, if the voters in those areas could be persuaded to approve such an increase. That provision, which was part of a political bargain to win Democratic votes for the passage of HB 170 (see below), was removed by the House leadership before the bill passed on Thursday.
The loss of this additional potential revenue, around $200 million more per year, was a bitter pill for transit advocates to swallow at the end of the 2015 Session, in which a great deal of talk about funding transit was tossed about, but very little money was usefully committed to that increasingly important public function.
The most significant defeat we experienced was the Transportation Funding Act, HB 170, which was backed by the Governor. The bill went through numerous changes as it worked its way through the legislative process, yet it remained overwhelmingly a project of the road construction industry, which never lost sight of its goal of raising a billion dollars a year of new revenue to spend on paving.
The House leadership made much talk about transit when the bill was in gestation, and even included provisions that looked like transit funding in early versions. However, those provisions are more symbolic than real since Georgia’s Constitution prohibits the dedication of funds except by explicit provision, such as the dedication of “taxes on motor fuel” to a “system of public roads and bridges.” The tax on motor fuel is the excise tax, currently 7.5 cents per gallon. The bill raises that excise rate to 26 cents per gallon (29 cents for diesel).
The Senate dramatically revised HB 170, allowing the taxing of the sale of motor fuel by all local option taxes, and imposed a new daily fee on car rentals. The House later switched that fee to a $5 per night surcharge on all hotel/motel stays, plus imposing an annual charge on truck weights. These latter two fees were “dedicated” for “all transportation purposes,” ostensibly funding public transportation, but with no legal authority to do so.
HB 170 as passed also does away with the state income tax credit for the purchase of electric vehicles by July 1st, 2015, and also institutes a new $200 a year fee for electric vehicles. The governor is expected to sign HB 170, which will raise an estimated $900 million for roads during the first full year of collections.
As part of the GA Water Coalition, we were able to fix the worst loopholes in SB 101 and will have a marsh buffer in place in law about a year after the EPD Director wiped it out on Earth Day 2014. SB 101 by Sen. Ben Watson restores the legal mandate for a 25-foot wide vegetated buffer on the “high ground” adjacent to coastal marshlands. As Sen. Watson, of Savannah, introduced the bill, it was changed at the request of the lawyer for Sea Island Acquisitions to include several exemptions that posed significant threats to the health of the marsh. One exemption would have allowed anyone to substitute a “bulkhead,” an artificial wall at the marsh’s edge in place of the vegetated buffer. Another provision would have exempted anyone who had a federal permit to fill wetlands “near the marsh area” from obeying the marsh buffer requirement. The House leadership strengthened these provisions.
HB 397 by Rep. David Knight also passed, and was a project of the Deal Administration to take control of the State Soil and Water Conservation Commission, which it characterizes as “out of control.” 370 local Soil and Water District Supervisors, volunteers from all over the state, half of whom are elected, have provided invaluable service in protecting water and topsoil in the state since 1937.
By working cooperatively with farmers and developers the Commission has used its good will and persuasion to maintain high standards for land disturbing activity that threatens water quality and topsoil stability. It has the duty of setting standards in its “Green Book” for Best Management Practices” for land disturbing activity and has used that function to seek technological innovations that are more protective of resources at lower costs.
Because a Local Supervisor in Newton County did his job right at a site that was being scraped to build a plant for a newly recruited industry, Baxter Medical, the Commission came into the Deal Administration’s hostile sights. Rep. Knight’s bill takes away the requirement that the Commission be composed of Supervisors that are selected by the Governor to anyone selected by the Governor. The agency will no longer be independent, but will be attached to the Dept. of Agriculture, a regulatory agency, even though the Commission is non regulatory by design. Finally, approval of the Green Book is being taken from the Commission and handed over to the GA DOT and its contractors, coincidentally, the largest single group of violators of soil erosion laws in the state.
SB 36 by Sen. William Ligon started out as a bill to restore the moratorium on the use of Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR) in 11 counties of the coastal plain that are highly dependent on the Floridan Aquifer for water supply. That moratorium was allowed to expire in July of 2014, when a bill continuing it, by Sen. Ligon, was denied a vote in the Senate Natural Resources Committee. That committee formed a “study committee” to examine the issue during the interim. Following a negative report from the study committee that was not signed by all of the study committee members, the 2015 bill was assigned to the Senate Natural Resources Committee where it was vigorously opposed by the Environmental Protection Division and the State Chamber of Commerce.
The EPD said that the Administration would veto the bill if it were passed. After a suggestion was made that perhaps regulations on the subject might be appropriate, Sen. Ligon revised his bill to find that property owners have a property interest in the maintenance of high water quality from the Floridan aquifer, on which they rely. Therefore, the state must develop regulations to protect that water quality to preserve the property rights of landowners. There are obvious public health and safety issues that are also addressed by this exercise of the police power of the state. Although SB 36 passed the State Senate on the 30th Day of the 2015 Session, the Chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, Rep. Lynn Smith, suddenly introduced a resolution creating a “study committee on salt water intrusion in coastal aquifers,” thus providing an excuse to not consider the bill. The Chamber of Commerce showed up, along with EPD, to oppose the new version of the bill and it was parked for the session. The Georgia Sierra Club and the GA Water Coalition intend to participate in the House Study Committee process, and will continue seek passage of SB 36 in 2016.
HB 682 by Rep. Johnnie Caldwell is a new version of a bill introduced and ignored by the House Natural Resources Committee in 2014. The bill requires local water systems with surface water withdrawal permits to report on the percentage of water they use and return to the source from which they withdrew it. If the return flows fall below 25% of the withdrawals, the permittees are required to devise a plan to increase the rate of return flows under subsequent withdrawal permits. The upper section of the Flint River is drying up due to a lack of return flows from local water systems that are sending the returns to other river basins, or are disposing of them in various evaporative post use “treatment” options such as land application, which results in evaporation and transpiration and deprives the Flint and its tributaries of the flows needed to maintain the health of its aquatic systems. This bill is a project strongly supported by the Georgia Sierra Club and GA Water Coalition for passage in 2016.
SB 139 by Sen. Tyler Harper was a project of the chemical manufacturers, the grocers and some fast food restaurants. Because Tybee Island had considered an ordinance that would regulate the use of disposable plastic grocery bags to protect marine life, and Athens had looked at such a policy to cut litter, the industry groups sprang into action to ban local regulation of plastic bags. The proponents of the bill said they feared “regulatory mayhem,” if different communities had different rules for the use of plastic bags and similar litter creating nuisances. The threat of this “mayhem” was exaggerated, given the fact that different places in the state already have dramatically differing sales tax structures and merchants are perfectly capable of sorting through those differences. The issue that caused SB 139 to fail ultimately on the House floor was the fact that the bill negated local control over problems like litter in favor of a “one size fits all” state policy. A combination of local government advocates, both Democratic and Republican, as well as GOP Liberty Caucus members, who are strong advocates of local control, soundly defeated the measure on a vote of 67-85.
As this is the first year of a two year legislative term, many issues will be continued over to the 2016 session. Most notably, we will be watching for transit funding proposals. We will also be working with the Georgia Water Coalition to build support for SB 36 and HB 682 over the rest of 2015.
Thanks to everyone who contacted your elected officials on these legislative issues!
March 27, 2015 - Legislative Update
This year at the Georgia Legislature has been a lively one for environmental issues. Here's an update on a few that we have been following since the session began:
SB 101 restores the 25-foot buffer that protects our salt marsh which was eliminated by Georgia EPD in a memo last Earth Day. The bill as proposed contained a number of major loopholes, but the Georgia Water Coalition, working with their over 200 member groups fixed the two major exemptions. The Senate agreed to the changes late yesterday afternoon. Victory!
SB 139 was a very controversial bill pushed by the chemical, grocery and restaurant lobby that we are seeing pop up in a number of states. As passed by the Senate, the bill would have prohibited local governments from regulating plastic bag and any other "auxillary container." Plastic bags can take up to 1,000 years to break down (and they never fully decompose, they just break into smaller and smaller pieces). A broad coalition of Democrats and Republicans voted this down on Friday; the proponents only got 67 of the 91 votes they needed to pass it. Please thank your State Representative if they voted "no" on this issue.
Another victory was the passage of the Solar Feedom bill, HB 57, by a 51-0 vote in the Senate on Friday morning. The Solar Free-Market Financing Act will allow Georgia homeowners, businesses, and schools who want to install solar panels on their property to finance those projects instead coming with the tens of thousands out of pocket.
HB 255 will prevent the state agencies from constructing LEED-certified buildings (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). This legislation is the result of a long standing disagreement between the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and the forestry industry over how LEED awards credits for timber products. Unfortunately, this bill passed the Senate today with a 41-7 vote.
The big ticket proposal of this session, HB 170, The Transportation Funding Act will be decided over the last two legislative days this coming week. Despite months of platitudes of Georgia leaders saying that they’ve come around to the importance of public transportation, the AJC summed up the current bill with the headline, “$1 billion for roads, not a dime for transit.” As the Conference Committee negotiates the deal that will go to the Governor’s desk, now is the time to make sure our elected officials make transportation policy that will keep Georgia competitive with our neighbors in Texas, Florida and North Carolina, who are rapidly building public transportation networks and setting themselves up for success in the 21st Century and beyond. Please contact your legislators and ask them to support Public Transportation Funding in the HB 170 Compromise!
March 26, 2015 - SB 101 passes house with amendments!
SB 101 has been on our radar since the beginning of the legislative session. The bill requires a 25-foot buffer to protect our salt marsh, but had been flawed due to a number of loopholes in the bill that would allow large-scale commercial, residential, or industrial projects to bypass the buffer provision if they included a shoreline stabilization structure or received a federal permit to impact the marsh. This bill even divided environmental groups, with some supporting the bill as it is.
Today, the 404 permit exemption was fixed with an amendment on the House Floor, and the bill passed unanimously! Please thank your representatives for their vote! The bill must go back to Senate, so please contact your Senators and ask them to vote in favor of the bill now that the amendments have been included.
March 26, 2015 - URGENT: Tell Your Officials to Support Transit Funding in Transportation Bill
This year transportation funding has been the “must have” issue for the Governor, Lt. Governor and Speaker of the House. Despite months of platitudes of Georgia leaders saying that they’ve come around to the importance of public transportation, the AJC summed up where we are last week with the headline, “$1 billion for roads, not a dime for transit.”
As the Conference Committee prepares to work out the deal that will go to the Governor’s desk, now is the time to make sure our elected officials make transportation policy that will keep Georgia competitive with our neighbors in Texas, Florida and North Carolina, who are rapidly building public transportation networks and setting themselves up for success in the 21st Century and beyond.
Please help us spread the word by sending a tweet to your Senators and Representatives on Twitter:
Click the button below, then add your Senator or Representative's name to tweet them directly:
March 20, 2015 - Festivities on Senate floor leave the Transportation Funding Act Unchanged
This morning, groups opposed to HB 170 had a glimmer of hope when the AJC finally published a much-needed arcticle on the lack of transit in the bill:
Still, after hearing nine proposed amendments on the Senate floor, the Senate passed a bill that falls short of our outlined goals. As it stands, the Senate’s plan would raise nearly $840 million, and with no dedicated funding source for transit or "Fix it first" principle in place, the funds will mostly fund new roads and briges.
The bill passed includes:
Changes made today include:
The 29-25 vote on House Bill 170 sends the legislation back to the House, essentially starting negotiations over how best to raise the money needed for an aging network of roads and bridges statewide.
Source: Senate passes transportation plan, Kristina Torres, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
March 20, 2015 - Georgia Water Coalition Legislative Update
GWC Legislative Tracker
As of Friday March 20, the General Assembly will have convened for 33 days of the 40-day 2015 session—only 7 days remain. The General Assembly will convene again Monday March 23 through Friday March 27 (Days 33-38), and then on Tuesday March 31 (Day 39). On Day 40 (Thursday April 2), the General Assembly will adjourn Sine die, which means to adjourn without a date set for return. The session’s schedule can be found here.
SB 36: Protect Our Well Water
SB 36 passed the Senate Natural Resources Committee on March 5 by substitute. The bill originally reestablished a moratorium on aquifer storage and recovery in the 11 coastal counties, but the Deal Administration, acting through the Environmental Protection Division, rejected that proposal, so the substitute is a compromise.
The substitute bill finds that landowners overlying the Floridan aquifer have “significant property interests in the preservation and protection of high quality water provided by these public resources,” and further states the Board of Natural Resources shall initiate a rule making to protect and preserve the Floridan aquifer.
STATUS: SB 36 passed the Senate on Crossover Day, with 48 (yes) and 3 (no) votes. The bill has been assigned to the House Natural Resources & Environment committee. Rep. Lynn Smith (R-Newnan) appears to be attempting to stall SB 36 by establishing a House Study Commission on Saltwater Intrusion into Coastal Aquifers (HR 601).
ACTION NEEDED: Please thank Senator William Ligon (R-Brunswick) for championing and stewarding this bill from introduction to passage in the Senate. Please contact and ask your House Representative to vote in support of the SB 36 as soon as the opportunity arises.
SB 101: Restore the Coastal Buffer
SB 101 requires a 25-foot buffer to protect our salt marsh, but the bill is flawed. Giant loopholes in the bill would allow large-scale commercial, residential, or industrial projects to bypass the buffer provision if they included a shoreline stabilization structure or received a federal permit to impact the marsh.
These loopholes must be closed. The House of Representatives must amend the bill so federally permitted projects and projects including shoreline stabilization structures must incorporate a 25-foot buffer to protect the quality of our salt marsh.
STATUS: SB 101 passed a Senate floor vote on March 2. This week, SB 101 been unable to move out of the House Rules Committee.
ACTION NEEDED: Contact and ask your House Representative—particularly if he/she is a House Rules Committee member—to amend SB 101 by closing two loopholes.
HB 397: Dirty Water Bill
HB 397 will restructure the Georgia Soil and Water Conservation Commission (GSWCC). The GWC is opposed to this roll back.
First, HB 397 pulls the commission into the Governor’s orbit by radically changing the composition of the commission’s primary governing board. The bill allows the Governor to select Board Members with no affiliation to Georgia’s 40 Conservation Districts. The Board Members could be anyone from anywhere in the state with no institutional knowledge or trust of local communities.
Second, this bill shifts authority over the Manual for Erosion & Sediment (the “Green Book”) to a now-defunct council made up of Georgia Department of Transportation officials with potential conflicts of interest who are appointed by the Governor and Lieutenant Governor, while failing to actually resolve the confusion over which edition of the Green Book design professionals and road builders should use to keep dirt out of our waterways.
STATUS: HB 397 has passed the House and has been assigned to the Senate Agriculture & Consumer Affairs Committee.
ACTION NEEDED: Please contact members of the Senate Agriculture & Consumer Affairs Committee, and your local GSWCC Supervisor and ask them to contact their Senator: Senators should be asked to vote NO for HB 397 if it comes up for a floor vote.
SB 139: Plastic Bags Everywhere
SB 139 would prohibit local governments from regulating plastic bag use. The GWC opposes this bill because plastic bags end up in our state waters from the mountains to the coast. Plastic bags can take up to 1,000 years to break down (and they never fully decompose, they just break into smaller and smaller pieces). Since they do not decompose, plastic bags become a hazard to aquatic and marine life.
Home Rule is a long-established policy in Georgia whereby local governments can decide how to best govern themselves. These bills would stop local communities—like Tybee Island—from passing local ordinances or other regulations to better manage local waste streams.
STATUS: SB 139 passed a Senate floor vote on February 26. On March 18, after an un-announced and un-public meeting, the House Agriculture & Consumer Affairs Committee approved a substitute that does not change the problems with this bill. The bill will next be considered by the House Rules Committee.
ACTION NEEDED: Please contact your House Representative and ask them to vote NO on SB 139 if it comes up for a floor vote.
HB 255: LEEDing Nowhere
HB 255 will prevent the state agencies from constructing LEED-certified buildings (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). The General Assembly is not the place to take sides on a national disagreement about which forestry standards should apply to green building projects.
STATUS: HB 255 passed the House and will be considered by the Senate Agriculture & Consumer Affairs Committee.
ACTION: Please contact your Senator and ask them to fix HB 255. HB 255 must allow qualifying State and University System building projects to reach the world standard for renewability and sustainability in construction.
March 19, 2015 - HB 170 headed for Senate Floor vote. Contact your State Senators today!
Georgia HB 170, the Transportation Funding Act, is headed to the Senate Floor this Friday for a vote. Please contact your Georgia State Senators and ask them to fund transit, fix roads first and treat EVs fairly! Don't know who your senator is? Use the tool at the bottom of the page to find out!
March 18, 2015 - Take Action to Save the EV Tax Credits
Despite many changes to HB 170, the Transportation Funding Act, the bill still contains an unprecedented attack on electric vehicles. Owners of hybrid and zero-emission vehicles would be required to pay a punitive $200 annual registration fee. Additionally, the bill eliminates the popular $5,000 state tax credit for all-electric vehicles ($2,500 for low-emission vehicles) as of July 1. This comes at a time when Georgia has begun to recieve recognition as one of the fastest-growing markets for electric vehicles (EVs) in the United States thanks in part to this forward-looking state policy. As of July 2014, Georgia had the second-most registered EVs in the country, while Atlanta surpassed Seattle to claim the second-highest percentage of EV registrations among major U.S. metropolitan areas.
To help make the case that continued policy support is needed to advance the market for clean vehicles in Georgia, the Union of Concerned Scientists recently released new analysis that examines the benefits EVs are providing for Georgia's drivers, economy, and environment. They found that each year, EVs save Georgia drivers $10 million on fuel costs, avoid the burning of 4.5 million gallons of gasoline, and reduce heat-trapping emissions by more than 22,000 tons. Compared with an owner of a comparable conventional vehicle, an EV owner in Georgia saved more than $850 on fuel last year.
In addition to helping Georgia drivers save money, they also help keep more money in Georgia. In astudy conducted by the Keybridge Public Policy Economics consulting firm, it was concluded that the state stands to lose $107 million to its GDP in the next five years if it eliminates the consumer tax break. That amount jumps to $252 million by 2030. This is because spending less on fuel frees up households to spend more in other economic sectors, from education to construction, that are more job intensive than the oil and gas industry. EVs thus provide economic benefits to Georgia by enabling owners to direct some of their fuel savings to local businesses that create local jobs.
Please join us in asking Georgia Senators to further improve HB 170 through fair treatment for drivers of fuel-efficient vehicles. Environmental advocates have joined vehicle manufacturers and electric utilities to support language from a compromise bill, HB 220, that would phase out the EV credit gradually. Additionally, the proposed $200 user fee is significantly higher than similar fees in any other state and higher than what the average Georgian pays in gas taxes. It should be cut in half, to just $100. Instead of punishing Georgians who choose to drive more efficient and sustainable vehicles, legislators should adopt an equitable policy that is in line with those in other states.
Then, help us spread the word!
March 16, 2015 - "Crossover Day" Legislative Update
Friday, March 13th was "Crossover Day" at the capitol, the 30th day of the 40-day legislative session. On this day, general bills that have not crossed over to the other side of the Capitol will not be considered, effectively "killing" them. Though many bills failed to pass, there are several that continue to move forward, making this a particularly brutal year for enivronmentalists.
HB 170 - House Succumbs to Asphalt Fever, Passes Highway Contractors’ Dream Bill
On Thursday, March 5, the Transportation Funding Act moved a major step closer to realization when the House voted 123-46 to pass the bill. The legislation would eliminate the state sales tax on gasoline and replace it with an excise tax of 29.2 cents per gallon.
Our concerns with the bill remain. As is, the bill will raise over a billion dollars that will mostly fund new construction, rather than the backlog of maintenance that led us to this critical juncture in the first place. As Angie Schmidt of Streetsblog brilliantly points out in "More Money Won't Fix U.S. Infrastructure If We Don't Change How It's Spent";
But throwing more money at the problem overlooks the fatal flaw in American transportation infrastructure policy: The system is set up to funnel the vast majority of spending through state departments of transportation, and those agencies have an absolutely terrible track record when it comes to making smart long-term decisions. As long as state DOTs retain unfettered control of the money, potholed roads and decrepit bridges will remain the norm.
If Georgia is going to solve its transportation problems, we must first balance our funding formula and begin investing in multimodal networks that residents and businesses increasingly demand. HB 170 still does not include a long-term, sustainable funding source for transit. The $100 million budget item included in the bill for “transit” funds is a one-time allocation, only covers capital costs for state-owned assets, and provides no operating funds.
Further, the bill still contains an unprecedented attack on electric vehicles. Owners of hybrid and zero-emission vehicles would be required to pay a $200 annual registration fee, which is significantly higher than fees in any other state and higher than what the average Georgian pays in gas taxes. Additionally, the bill eliminates the popular $5,000 state tax credit for all-electric vehicles ($2,500 for low-emission vehicles) as of July 1. Instead of this approach, we suggest adding in language from HB 220 which proposes a phased-out approach to eliminate the credit, but unfortunately did not make the Crossover Day deadline.
The bill is now before the State Senate, and has been assigned to the Senate Transportation Committee. The Senate may either adjust the bill, or introduce their own legislation. Please reach out to your senators and tell them "HB 170 needs more for transit! Reform the EV tax credit, don't eliminate it, and cut the proposed user fee in half!"
Sen. William Ligon’s bill to put a permanent moratorium on the practice of aquifer storage and recovery in the Floridan Aquifer was so bitterly opposed by the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, the EPD and the Deal Administration, that even had it passed it would have been vetoed. Working with the Georgia Water Coalition, Sen. Ligon wrote a substitute for his bill that was able to pass through the Senate Natural Resources Committee easily on March 5.
The substitute bill finds that “Landowners overlying such aquifers have significant property interests in the preservation and protectionof high quality water provided by these public resources,” and also states that the Board of Natural Resources “shall adopt regulations onor before July 31, 2016 that provide for the protection andpreservation of aquifers that provide high-quality drinking water, including but not limited to the Floridan Aquifer...”
HB 397 - Dirty Water Bill
HB 397 will restructure the Georgia Soil and Water Conservation Commission (GSWCC). First, HB 397 pulls the commission into the Governor’s orbit by radically changing the composition of the commission’s primary governing board. The bill allows the Governor to select Board Members with no affiliation to Georgia’s 40 Conservation Districts. The Board Members could be anyone from anywhere in the state with no institutional knowledge or trust of local communities. Second, this bill shifts authority over the Manual for Erosion & Sediment (the “Green Book”) to a now-defunct council made up of Georgia Department of Transportation officials with potential conflicts of interest who are appointed by the Governor and Lieutenant Governor, while failing to actually resolve the confusion over which edition of the Green Book design professionals and road builders should use to keep dirt out of our waterways. HB 397 has passed the House and has been assigned to the Senate Agriculture & Consumer Affairs Committee.
Please contact members of the Senate Agriculture & Consumer Affairs Committee, and your local GSWCC Supervisor and ask them to contact their Senator: Senators should be asked to vote NO for HB 397 if it comes up for a floor vote.
SB 101 - Salt Marsh Buffer Bill Advances
The bill to restore the requirement for a vegetated buffer on the coastal salt marsh, sponsored by Sen. Ben Watson of Savannah, passed the Senate on Monday, March 2 with a large majority. The bill contains three troublesome exemptions, which were discussed at a House Natural Resources subcommittee meeting on Thursday, March 5, but no action was taken at that time.
The problematic portions of the measure are: 1) a missing “grandfather” provision in the section dealing with bulkheads, which would allow new bulkheads to be installed without permission; 2) a provision that deliberately confuses the Army Corps of Engineers 404 wetlands filling permit with the marsh buffer law, at the expense of the latter, and 3) a “utility crossing” provision that allows a “crossing” that could run in the buffer for long distances.
The bill was favorably reported by the House Natural Resources Committee on Crossover Day. It now heads to the House Floor for a vote. Please contact your representatives and urge them to fix SB 101, and then pass it.
RECYCLING & WASTE
SB 139 - Plastic Grocery Bag Bans, Banned
This bill seeks to limit local governments' ability to pass laws to regulate the use of plastic bags... and it is moving fast! Orginally passed from the Senate Agricultural Committee on Tuesday, Feb. 24, the bill passed the Senate on Thursday, Feb. 26. It then passed from the House Agriculture & Consumer Affairs Committee on March 3, but was recommitted to the committee for further consideration on Crossover Day. Please contact your representatives in opposition to this bill. Plastic bags are one fo the most common sources for street and stream litter, and can contaminate recycling streams. See our blog post below from February 25th for more talking points!
HB 255 - Forestry Association Attacks LEED Standards
House Bill 255, while on the surface appears to promote Georgia forest products, is actually intended to ban State Agencies from using the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) green building rating system. This legislation is the result of a long standing disagreement between the U.S. Green Building Council and the Forestry Industry over how LEED awards credits for timber products.
In recent years, the success of energy efficient and sustainable building standards has been a bright spot. Georgia has seen hundreds of LEED-certified buildings erected all over the state, benefiting numerous communities. LEED certification is a process in which a project may be awarded points, up to a number of 110. A single point my be obtained if the wood used in the building project is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. A rival certification group backed by the timber industry, called the Sustainable Forest Initiative, whose certification receives no points, resents the treatment accorded the FSC. Even though this only accounts for one point, the Georgia Forestry Association has decided that the state should simply give up seeking LEED certification for its own buildings.
HB 255 passed the House 120-44 on March 9th. It is now before the Senate and has been assigned to the Senate Agriculture & Consumer Affairs committee. If HB 255 passes, it will be the end of LEED certification for all buildings paid for by the state, even though the buildings may well qualify for the certification, which is often used in promotional literature soliciting visitors and users for such buildings.
UPDATE ON GEORGIA CHAPTER POSITIONS:
March 3, 2015 - Georgia's Transportation Bill Moving Forward; Expanded Gas Tax Must Fund Transit
Yesterday, the House Transportation Committee approved an upated version of HB 170. The bill is moving fast, and is headed to the House Floor for debate. The legislation aims to:
Although there have been many changes, the bill can still do more for transit. Check out this article on expanding the gas tax for transit written by David Emory, Chair of the Sierra Club - Georgia Chapter!
February 26, 2015 - Plastic Bags Everywhere: Tell Your Senators to vote NO on SB 139
SB 139, Plastic Bags Everywhere, is up for a vote of the State Senate today. The vote is expected between noon and 1 p.m. SB 139 would stop any kind of regulation of plastic bags by local governments. The first version would likely have even prevented local recycling ordinances. Tybee Island, Athens-Clarke County and Fulton County are considering regulation of plastic bags. This bill could also interfere with the Atlanta Airport's recycling and composting plans.
Please take a few minutes this morning and call your state senator and urge him or her to vote NO on SB 139. If you do not know who your Senator is, use our "Find Your Legislator" Tool at the bottom of this page. Please see the talking points below:
TALKING POINTS ON SB 139 (Vote NO!)
Facts about Plastic Bags:
Plastic Bags will increase costs to retailers
Change is hard, but ultimately this is better for the economy. Who cleans the plastic bags out of sewers, rivers, and oceans? It’s taxpayer money.
Also, if plastic bags aren’t provided at the checkout, consumers will start using their own reusable bags. This will save retailers money.
We don’t need a patchwork of confusing ordinances:
What’s the real solution?
We need a cultural shift away from our use-and-toss culture, which costs us money and harms the environment. Each reusable bag can eliminate hundreds (if not thousands) of plastic bags.
February 20, 2015 - Georgia Water Coalition Update
The Georgia Sierra Club is a member of the Georgia Water Coalition, a group of more than 200 organizations representing well over a quarter of a million Georgians. Check out their latest legislative update on water issues!
In this issue:
GWC Legislative Tracker
As of Friday, February 20, the General Assembly will have convened for 19 days of the 40-day 2015 session. The General Assembly will convene again February 23 through February 26 (Days 20 through 23). The reminder of the session’s schedule has been set and can be found here.
Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR) is the practice of injecting chemically treated wastewater, surface water or groundwater down into an aquifer with the intent to withdraw it later. Since 1999, the General Assembly repeatedly imposed a moratorium on ASR to protect drinking water in 11 coastal Georgia counties. However, in 2014 that protection was lost because the moratorium expired. Fortunately, several legislators across south Georgia have recognized this mistake. To resolve the situation, they introduced SB 36 and HB 116 to institute a permanent ban of ASR on the Georgia coast.
Over the past month, the Brantley, Bryan and Camden County commissions, and the Liberty Regional Water Resources Council have passed four individual resolutions opposing the injection of chemically treated water into the Floridan aquifer.
STATUS: The Senate Natural Resources & the Environment committee discussed SB 36 for a second time, and the bill was tabled on agreement between the bill’s sponsor, Senator William Ligon and committee Chair Senator Ross Tolleson. HB 116 has been referred to the House Natural Resources & Environment committee.
ACTION NEEDED: Please contact Governor Nathan Deal and Lt. Governor Casey Cagle and ask that they work with the General Assembly to enact legislation to protect wells and drinking water in Georgia.
Please thank the Senators and Representatives who introduced SB 36 or HB 116 for their willingness to protect the Floridan Aquifer. Encourage other legislators to either sign on to one of the bills or at least support the proposals when the bills come to their committee or for a floor vote.
SB 101: Restore the Coastal Buffer
STATUS: Sen. Ben Watson has sponsored the bill with five other senators—not all of the sponsors are from the coast. SB 101 has been assigned to the Senate Natural Resources & the Environment committee.
ACTION NEEDED: Please contact your Senators and ask them to support a marsh buffer bill that does not include blanket exemptions for maintenance projects or for federally permitted projects.
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February 20, 2015 - Update of Georgia Chapter Positions
The Legislative Committee has taken the following positions:
February 19, 2015 - Promising Compromise Bill for EVs Passes
On Wednesday, February 18th at 2 p.m. an Income Tax Subcommittee of House Ways & Means meeting convened, and a hearing was held on just 4 bills dealing with electric vehicles.
The hearing began with a brief discussion about Chairman Parsons' bill, HB 200. This bill would change the amount of the tax credit for installation of electric & alternative fuel vehicle chargers. BOMA testified in favor of the bill, since they are getting more requests for charging stations; however, they cost approximately $25,000 each. They caimed that without the credit, installing these chargers is hard to justify. Steve Draper of GA Power agreed, stating that they were fine with the BOMA language in the bill, but wanted to keep utilities in as well since GA Power is putting in 25 or more stations a year and not charging for the electricity while they are building the infrastructure.
HB 122 by Rep. Chuck Martin was next up. Rep. Martin's bill would eliminate the tax credit effective July 1st. The reasoning given was that the credit has been available for 17 years, and given the pace of EV technology, this credit is an outdated policy. "It's done its job," Rep. Martin declared as he noted that the credit is costing the state $50 million a year. Rep. Martin indicated that we need to give the House members a chance to clean this off the books before we look at other options. In addition to proposing this in HB 122, it has also been inserted into the Transportation Funding Act, HB 170. However, comments from committee members pushed back on the need to abruptly end the tax credit, citing it was too extreme. Instead all agreed on the need for a cap and sunset.
HB 176 by Rep. Tommy Benton was briefly considered before moving on to HB 220 by Rep. Ben Harbin. His bill expands the types of vehicles eligible for the credit and institutes a sunset date, making Rep. Martin's bill largely unnecessary. Several speakers commented in favor of HB 220, including the 34th Commandant of the United States Marine Corps General James Conway, retired. General Conway stressed that his support for EVs was not environmental in nature; instead, his concerns center around the fact that the U.S. is the largest consumer of oil and our dependence is a national security issue. Don Frances of Clean Cities Georgia, Eric Henning of General Motors and Susan Berryman Rodriguez of Mothers and Others for Clean Air were the others to speak in favor of the bill.
The meeting on Wednesday ended with a favorable leaning toward HB 220, which was confirmed at Thurday's 3 p.m. meeting of the same committee. Initially, Rep. Martin presented HB 122 and the measure passed 7-6. Luckily, Chairman Jay Powell, Minority Leader Abrams, Majority Whip Matt Ramsey, and Sam Teasley entered the room. A parliamentary problem was noted: Rep. Martin was informed that he is not on the Income tax subcommittee so he was not eligible to vote for HB 122. The motion therefore failed, 6-5. On a second "do pass" vote, HB 122 fails 7-8.
Harbin's HB 220 is motioned for a "do pass" vote. Despide Trey Kelly's failed motion for an amendment to cut the total tax credit from $150 million to $30 million, HB 220 passed the subcommittee. Now it heads to the full Ways and Means Committee. While the Georgia Sierra Club would prefer to keep the credits intact, if the credits must be reformed, then phasing them out rather than ending them abruptly is the favorable option.
February 18, 2015 - Still not enough transit in HB 170
HB 170 was reported on favorably by the House Transportation Committee after a meeting held at 3:30 pm on Wednesday, Feb. 18th. The version approved at the meeting changes the original plan to eliminate local governments' ability to collect taxes on the sale of motor fuel and instead let them charge excise taxes up to 6 cents per gallon.
The new version of the bill would let cities, counties and school districts keep collecting local option sales taxes (E-LOSTS and SPLOSTS) to fund specific priority lists as they have been. However, after the current taxes expire, whatever percentage of the tax that comes from motor fuel would have to be spent on transportation-related projects, including: capital and operations for roads, streets, bridges, rail, buses, airports, public transit, and services necessary to access transportation infrastructure including the repayment of general obligation bonds, revenue bonds, and other multi-year obligations. Other local taxes, including the HOST and LOST, would no longer apply to motor fuel and instead the taxes would increase from 1 percent to 1.25 percent to cover any potential loss in revenue.
State sales taxes on motor fuel will still be phased out, and a new state excise tax on fuel of 29.2 cents per gallon would be created. The most offensive parts of the new version include a new annual registration fee on electric vehicles of $200 to $300, and the elimination of a $5,000 state tax credit for electric cars.
As we stated in our press release below, this bill does very little for transit, biking and walkability in its current form. The provision to use EV user fees on transit projects has been struck from the bill, as does any language saying that funds raised from excise taxes may be spent on mass transit, bike, and pedestrian projects. The only money mentioned in the bill that is specified to go towards transit involves a promise to issue a $100 million bond for transit in the upcoming budgeting process. We need more certainty! The bill is now headed to House Rules for scheduling, where its next stop will be on the house floor for debate.
February 18, 2015 - Capitol Conservation Day success!
The Georgia Water Coalition hosted its annual Capitol Conservation Day on Wednesday, February 18th. Thanks to all who lobbied their legislators in favor of Georgia's environment!! We had a great turnout and flooded the Capitol halls to advocate for protection of the Floridian Aquifer and restoration of Coastal Marsh Buffers. Governor Nathan Deal also joined us on the steps to snap a photo with our group. Check out our photos below!
"It was wonderful to experience lobbying at the capital with you, Bettye, Karen, Woody, Brionté, Maria, Neill and all the other wonderful people I met! I will definitely recommend this experience to others in the LaGrange group for the future. The food was excellent as were the briefings. My friend Lisa and I were able to meet with 2 senators and speak with 1 representative on the phone soon after the house adjourned at noon. Two of them were in support of protecting the Floridian Aquifer by banning ASR and also were opposed to the Transportation bill 170 as it now stands. One was silent. I will write him. None of them were familiar with SB 101 to protect the marsh buffers, but said they would look it up!" - Laura Breyfogle, Chair of the LaGrange Group of the Georgia Chapter
February 11, 2015 - Still Time to Fix Transportation Funding Bill
Still Time to Fix HB 170
ATLANTA, GA -- The Georgia Chapter of the Sierra Club called on the Georgia General Assembly Wednesday to make substantial, ongoing funding for transit a centerpiece of the proposed Transportation Funding Act of 2015. Although sponsors have make some changes to the bill, it currently does not include a significant funding stream for mass transit or other alternatives to sitting in traffic.
“Support for transit in Georgia is at an all-time high,” said David Emory, Georgia Chapter Chair. “Clayton County residents voted to join MARTA with a historic 74 percent in favor, and recent polling in the 10-County Atlanta region shows transit garnering more support than any other option, including road expansion. With H.B. 170, legislators have a critical opportunity to craft a truly balanced funding plan that reflects Georgians’ growing demand for real transportation choices.”
H.B. 170 would add roughly $1 billion in annual transportation funding by reallocating existing state and local revenues to a consolidated state excise tax on gasoline, which under current law would be dedicated to spending on roads and bridges. Unless legislators act to correct this imbalance, the new revenue would go overwhelmingly to road expansion, worsening sprawl and congestion and denying Georgians the transportation options they deserve.
“The bill as currently written squanders a chance to bring long-overdue balance to state transportation funding,” said Georgia Chapter lobbyist Neill Herring. “Legislators should seize this opportunity to finally fix the dedication issue and open the gas tax to all transportation purposes.”
For the Sierra Club to support HB 170 the following changes would need to be made:
While Georgia debates its transportation future, other states are actively building the multimodal networks that residents and businesses increasingly demand. North Carolina, Texas and Florida have all made substantial investments in statewide rail that benefit both freight and passengers, connecting cities and rural areas and improving mobility for residents statewide.
“Georgia is in danger of being left at the station when it comes to multimodal transportation,” said Georgia Chapter Director Colleen Kiernan. “While neighboring states like Florida and North Carolina build the statewide transit networks necessary to thrive in the 21st-century economy, Georgia remains stuck in the past with an outdated roads-only policy.”
In addition to providing a meaningful state revenue stream for transit, H.B. 170 can be further improved through fair treatment for drivers of fuel-efficient vehicles. As written, the bill would impose punitively high fees on drivers of alternative-fuel vehicles, and would also abruptly end a popular tax credit for electric vehicles. Environmental advocates have joined vehicle manufacturers and electric utilities to support a compromise bill, H.B. 220, that would phase out the EV credit gradually.
“Instead of punishing Georgians who choose to drive more efficient and sustainable vehicles, legislators should adopt an equitable policy that is in line with those in other states.” said Georgia Chapter Transportation Organizer Brionte McCorkle. “These changes, together with a truly balanced and multimodal approach to state transportation funding, will result in a bill that a broad coalition of Georgians, including environmental advocates, can support.”
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February 9, 2015 - Solar Freedom Bill passes!
The Georgia House of Representative passed the Solar Feedom bill, HB 57, by a 165-0 vote. House Bill 57, The Solar Free-Market Financing Act, will allow Georgia homeowners, businesses, and schools who want to install solar panels on their property to finance those projects instead coming with the tens of thousands out of pocket. The bill now goes to the Senate where it will be assigned to a committee for futher consideration. Thanks to everyone who took action urging their Representatives to vote Yes! Stay tuned for updates and an opportunity to encourage your Senators to vote yes on the bill as well.
For more information about Third-Party Solar Financing, click here.
February 8, 2015 - Update of Georgia Chapter Positions
The Legislative Committee has taken the following positions:
January 2015 - Georgia Chapter Legislative Priorities
The 2015 Georgia Legislative Session has started, and already, the bills are rolling out. The Georgia Chapter's Legislative Committee is tasked with establishing our legislative priorities and deciding our position on bills in each category. Below are the priorities the committee has approved:
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Got Questions? Contact Us
The Georgia Sierra Club lobbies at the state Legislature in Atlanta to ensure that Georgia's environment is protected. This blog is provided to help our members and supporters learn more about our work in the Georgia legislature, find out about the latest information on key environmental bills, and provide opportunities to take action.
Please contact Conservation and Communications Coordinator, Brionté McCorkle at email@example.com if you have questions or to find out how to get involved.