From January to April, you can find OHM staff members under the Gold Dome advocating for our coast. We spend the months calling legislators to the ropes, testifying at committee meetings, and convening with our partners in the Georgia Water Coalition. In 2021, due to COVID-19 precautions, we moved our Georgia General Assembly to the virtual realm, to keep our staff and fellow Georgians safe.
Fortunately, our staff are experts when it comes to adaptation, and we didn’t let this transition slow us down. Our online action alerts have kept advocates from across the state engaged in the session and in touch with their elected officials. Since the onset of the pandemic, these alerts have resulted in more than 30,000 messages sent to legislators and other decision-makers.
This year, we successfully advocated for the passage of HB 244, a bill that opens new funding sources to flood risk reduction measures in unincorporated areas. And we celebrated the passage of HB 511, which officially restores the integrity of Georgia’s Hazardous Waste and Solid Waste Trust Funds.
We’ll return to Atlanta in 2022 to continue advocating for important coal ash cleanup, plastic pollution, and environmental justice bills that did not move in 2021 but remain active and carry over into next year’s session. Read on for an update on the priority issues from 2021.
Flood Risk Reduction
2021: Insurance; flood risk reduction; enumerated list of county purposes for ad valorem taxes
HB 244 (Rep. Don Hogan, R-St. Simons Island) makes existing tax revenue from insurance premiums and ad valorem taxes available for flood risk reduction projects and policies in unincorporated communities across Georgia. This simple change allows communities to prepare for and mitigate stormwater, riverine, and coastal flooding. Flood risk reduction projects and policies could include flood risk management strategies and plans, installation of stormwater management infrastructure, and acquisition of high-risk properties.
HB 244 passed the House and Senate in 2021 and is now awaiting the Governor’s signature.
2021: State treasury; establishment or revision of certain Trust Funds
HB 511 (Rep. Bert Reeves, R – Marietta) will finalize this long-awaited change, closing the loophole that allows these funds to be spent elsewhere. If this bill passes, millions of dollars that have previously been redirected through the General Fund will now be dedicated directly to cleaning up hazardous waste and illegal dump sites in communities across Georgia.
HB 511 passed the House and Senate in 2021 and is now awaiting the Governor’s signature.
HB 150/SB 102
2021: Public utilities and public transportation; prohibit governmental entities from adopting any policy that prohibits the connection or reconnection of any utility service based upon the type of energy or fuel
HB 150 (Rep. Williamson, R-Monroe) and its Senate counterpart SB 102 (Sen. Kennedy, R – Macon) prohibit local governments from passing policies that restrict, or have the effect of restricting, energy sources based on fuel type. If enacted, it would impede counties and cities from passing policies committing to the transition to renewable energy sources. Specifically, these bills will mandate continued use and installation of infrastructure for gas fossil fuels, such as natural gas and methane, even where local governments have committed to transitioning to 100% clean energy.
Despite strong grassroots opposition, HB 150 passed both the House and the Senate in 2021 and is now awaiting he Governor’s signature. SB 102 passed out of the Senate Committee on Regulated Industries but was never moved beyond the Senate Rules Committee (they were identical bills, so HB 150’s passage made SB 102’s irrelevant).
Single-Use Plastic Ban
2021: Waste Management; distribution of certain bags made of plastic film and items made of polystyrene foam by certain retail establishments; prohibit
SB 104 (Sen. James, D – Atlanta) would prohibit the distributions of single use plastic bags and Styrofoam in retail establishments by 2026. This bill is an important step in addressing the plastic pollution epidemic impacting our coastal landscapes and wildlife. The bill makes exceptions where there are not yet feasibly alternative such as trash, pet waste, garment, and bulk item bags. These bills are currently in the Senate Natural Resources and Environment Committee.
SB 104 did not receive a hearing in 2021, but could in 2022.
Requiring paper-based products in State-owned cafeterias
2021: Public Property; distribution of paper-based products at cafeterias operated by the Georgia Building Authority; require
SB 224 (Sen. Harrell, D – Atlanta) would require the Georgia Building Authority cafeterias (state owned buildings) transition all single-use plastic products (excluding lids) to paper products by 2022.
SB 224 is currently in the Senate Natural Resources and Environment Committee and did not receive a hearing in 2021, but could in 2022.
GA Environmental Justice Commission
2021: Georgia Environmental Justice Act of 2021; enact
House Bill 339, introduced by Rep. Karla Drenner (D-Avondale Estates), is referred to as the Georgia Environmental Justice Act of 2021. The bill would create the Environmental Justice Commission, a 22-person committee to provide oversight of the state’s performance related to environmental justice. The Commission would be tasked with first completing a study of Georgia’s current environmental justice issues, and would have authority to intervene in state agency proceedings on matters related to environmental justice for people of color and low-income communities.
HB 339 is currently in the House Natural Resources and Environment Committee. It did not receive a hearing in 2021, but could in 2022.
HB 176/SB 230
Coal Ash Disposal
2021: Solid waste management; issuance of a permit for solid waste or special waste handling for a coal combustion unit or landfill; provide for conditions
HB 176 (Buckner, D – Junction City) and SB 230 (Sen. Jordan, D – Atlanta) are companion bills, addressing the potential for coal ash to transport dangerous heavy metals into our waterways and requiring that it is disposed of in lined, permitted solid waste landfills. This legislation is needed before the state Environmental Protection Division approves weak permits that will allow permanent storage of coal ash in unlined pits where it is impacting our groundwater and rivers.
HB 176 and SB 230 are currently in the Natural Resources and Environment Committee in their respective chambers and did not receive a hearing in 2021; they could in 2022.
Coal Ash Monitoring
2021: Solid waste management; post-closure ground-water monitoring at closed coal combustion residual impoundments
House Bill 647 (Rep. Vance Smith, R- Pine Mountain) addresses post-closure groundwater monitoring at coal ash impoundments but does not address the issue of allowing heavy metals, found in coal ash, to be permanently stored in impoundments currently submerged in groundwater. We support the monitoring requirement in this bill, but will continue advocating for it to require increased measures to protect Georgians from coal ash toxins.
HB 647 passed the House by Crossover Day and has been assigned to the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee. It did not receive a hearing in the Senate committee in 2021, but it could in 2022.