Georgia is making its first-ever climate change plan

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, and U.S. Sens. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, along with Hyundai executives and other officials, participate in a ceremonial groundbreaking for Hyundai's new electric vehicle plan near Savannah. A new state emissions plan will aim to bolster EV manufacturer's while addressing Georgia's leading source of carbon emissions. (Emily Jones/WABE)

This coverage is made possible through a partnership with WABE and Grist, a nonprofit independent media organization dedicated to telling stories of climate solutions and a just future.

For the first time, Georgia is working on a statewide plan to address climate change. There’s a plan in the works for metro Atlanta, too.

The efforts are thanks to federal funding in the Inflation Reduction Act, which was signed into law last year. It includes $3 million for each state to make a climate pollution reduction plan. There’s another million for large cities. Both Georgia and Atlanta have signed on to the program.

“This is a big deal because it’s all-encompassing,” said Anna Aponte, the manager of the planning and regulatory development unit of the Georgia Environmental Protection Division’s air protection branch, who’s spearheading the state planning effort.

Aponte said Georgia is taking a holistic approach: looking at different sources of emissions, working with communities across the state. But the governor’s office has offered direction:

“We are going to have a primary focus of economic development for the electric car industry,” she said.

Manufacturers of electric vehicles and the batteries that power them are building massive factories and promising to hire thousands of Georgians, with a key priority of the state emissions plan being to ensure people can drive those cars here too.

But it’s not only about economic development: Georgia’s biggest source of climate-warming pollution is the transportation sector. Aponte said that’s all the more reason to focus on it.

“It’s an amazing — possibly happy collision,” she said.

“Results follow policy. And so having a statewide policy … to prioritize bringing home the benefits of clean energy would be tremendously helpful.” 

Chris Carnevale, climate advocacy director for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy

The emissions plans will also be a huge collaborative effort, said Katherine Zitsch of the Atlanta Regional Commission, who’s leading the process for metro Atlanta’s plan.

She said she hopes places that haven’t started tackling their emissions can learn from cities and counties that are already electrifying their vehicle fleets or making their buildings more energy-efficient.

“One of our goals at ARC is to help link together those that are further along in the game to bring along those that are interested but just haven’t had the time or the resources to start the process,” Zitsch said.

And those cities and counties can also get money. Tens of billions of dollars will be available through competitive grants for projects that are part of the emissions plans.

“This first step in the plan unlocks dollars for all of our local governments,” Zitsch explained.

This process is still in the earliest stages, but advocates said it has the potential to make a major dent in Georgia’s emissions. 

“Results follow policy,” said Chris Carnevale, the climate advocacy director for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. “And so having a statewide policy … to prioritize bringing home the benefits of clean energy would be tremendously helpful.” 

He and other advocates noted that Georgia has made major strides without an emissions plan, especially in large-scale solar power. 

Georgia Tech Professor Marilyn Brown said lots of communities, businesses, faith groups and others are doing their best.

“There is plenty of climate action happening all over the state,” she said.

But the state ranks low for adoption of technology like rooftop solar and electric vehicles. A state plan, she said, could help fill in those and other gaps.

“The state has a lot of power,” she said — to set goals, to dole out funds and also make rules.

Brown and Carnevale both said they’ll be watching the plans closely to see if they have any teeth, and what kind of impact they have on climate change.