Ga. Environmental Bills Had Wins, Losses In 2016 Legislature

During this year’s Georgia legislative session, the state blocked two bills that would have built pipelines in Georgia. In this May 9, 2015 file photo, pipes for the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline are stacked at a staging area in Worthing, S.D.

Environmental issues weren’t the biggest issues in Georgia’s 2016 legislative session, but a number of bills relating to the environment came up this year.

Overall this legislative session, like last year’s, “could’ve been worse,” longtime Georgia environmental lobbyist Neill Herring said.

A big win, Herring said, was blocking two proposed pipelines: one that would carry petroleum through Georgia and the other for natural gas. Lawmakers from both parties united against the pipelines, citing concerns about eminent domain, the environment and public health.

“The nexus between private property rights and the natural environment has become increasingly a political issue at the legislature over the last four years now or longer,” said Herring.

Environmentalists were less successful this year on introducing protections for clean water. Attorney Gil Rogers, with the Southern Environmental Law Center, said a of couple water bills he supported were stalled.

“We were disappointed that some of the bills dealing squarely with water protections, like groundwater and freshwater buffers didn’t make it,” said Rogers, “but these are projects that we’ll continue to work on.”

Advocates successfully fended off a bill that would have hampered a sustainable building ordinance in Atlanta.

And, along with archaeologists, they worked to soften the effects of a bill that streamlines road building projects. One version of the bill would have eliminated most archaeological studies.

A bill that would have created funding to protect more public land didn’t get anywhere. But another one, which would renew a tax credit for people who permanently protect their land for conservation, passed.

“I think the environment in the state of Georgia did pretty well during this legislative session, particularly when we look at competing interests of a growing population and a growing economy,” said Robert Ramsay, the president of the Georgia Conservancy.

The bills that passed still need Gov. Nathan Deal’s signature to become law.