The Georgia House has approved a bill that would prohibit local governments from placing a ban on certain types of energy connections.
The legislation is in response to cities in other states passing such ordinances. There are currently no bans in Georgia on natural gas connections – that would, say, power a gas stove for a home or businesses.
Democrat David Dreyer, who joined dozens of his colleagues in voting against the bill, says it preemptively favors the natural gas industry over cleaner forms of energy.
“If a local government wants to be innovative 15 years from now, when renewables are affordable, reliable and readily accessible, we are prohibiting them from doing that,” said Dreyer.
Dreyer said local officials continue to look for new ways to fight climate change. He says coastal Georgia could look very different in the future if these efforts are curtailed.
“There are good reasons for states to allow local governments to implement their own policies,” said Democratic Rep. Karla Drenner, who also opposed the bill. “City officials and residents know what is important to them and often have a better understanding of how to achieve their goals.”
The House passed the bill on a 103-62 vote. A companion bill gets a hearing in a Senate committee on Tuesday. Similar legislation is pending in a handful of other states with the backing of the natural gas industry.
“This bill would put such a burden on restaurants. I’m not even sure the Waffle House would even exist if we didn’t pass this bill,” said Republican Rep. Kasey Carpenter, a restaurant owner who voted for the bill. “Natural gas is important for my industry and for all restaurateurs. We’re all for ‘local control’ until locals get out of control.”
The bill’s sponsor, Republican Bruce Williamson, says more options mean a lower cost.
“House Bill 150 gives Georgians a resilient path for assuring the lowest possible energy pricing in their homes and businesses. It assures consumers freedom of choice,” said Williamson, who added that the bill wouldn’t preclude local government from offering incentives to residents who choose cleaner forms of energy.
The legislation has some local leaders in Georgia sounding alarm bells as they plan for the future.
“None of us are standing out on the curb with pipe cutters,” Athens-Clarke Mayor Kelly Girtz said. “We’re not talking about cutting off any individual recipient of energies’ options right now.”
Girtz was one of several local leaders who spoke during a virtual press conference Monday along with several Democratic lawmakers.
“Nearly three-quarters of our voting population voted for us to make the transition away from ‘dirty energy’ two years ago, and what we don’t want to do is be hampered in this effort,” said Girtz.
“Local officials, we deserve the right to make decisions that we deem to be in our own best interests, independent of outside interference,” added Savannah Mayor Van Johnson. “This is a long-honored principle, governing [by] what we know as ‘home rule’, which is now threatened.”