Altamaha Riverkeeper News
2015 Legislative Update – Not very encouraging
In spite of the overall pummeling that water, river, and coastal issues took at the hands of legislators in Atlanta this session, there were several bright spots. Our fearless Riverkeeper Jen cut her Riverkeeper teeth biting on the marble at the capitol in Atlanta on behalf of the Altamaha and its watershed!
Here are some highlights:
SB 101 Marsh buffers
This law will establish a 25-foot buffer in the Erosion and Sedimentation Control Act to protect coastal marshlands from sediment pollution. Efforts by developers to create a buffer exemption for all projects that receive an Army Corps of Engineers permit under section 404 of the Clean Water Act were successfully rebuffed by environmental groups. As amended, SB 101 will require a buffer variance for these specific types of projects rather than an automatic exemption. The legislation is not perfect but is much improved from proposals presented by the Environmental Protection Division and developers at the beginning of the session. Enforcement may be crippled by the law resulting from HB 397.
HB 397 (Rep David Knight of Griffin)
This new law may cripple efforts to enforce both fresh water and marsh buffers under the Federal Clean Water act.
- This bill is a Gubernatorial takeover of the Soil and Water Conservation
- The bill, as passed both chambers, shifts the agency from its present independent status to “attachment” to the Dept. of Agriculture, fires the existing Commission board, now composed of local District Supervisors and replaces them with random appointees of the Governor, and leaves approval of soil erosion standards and methods for determining “best management practices” in the hands of the Dept. of Transportation and its contractors. (The “Green Book” issue was rolled into this bill).
- Since the Soil & Water Commission is charged with requiring that the Clean Water Act be enforced in all earth-disturbing activities, this move effectively diminishes the power of elected S&W commissioners to do
SB 139 Prohibition on local ordinances against plastic bags/single-use container
The defeat of this bill means that local jurisdictions retain the right to create ordinances prohibiting these forms of pollution of our ocean and waterways
- Bill was defeated in the House despite intense pressure to pass
- Argument that prevailed was protection of “Home Rule”
SB 36 (Sen. William Ligon of Brunswick) – restore the moratorium on the use of Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR) in 11 counties of the coastal plain.
- Despite valiant efforts by Sen. Ligon in attempting to reach an acceptable revised bill to address property owners’ rights, this bill was effectively killed when the House Natural Resources Committee decided to “study” it. Sen. Ligon’s bill was opposed by EPD and by the Georgia Chamber of Commerce. No doubt that protecting the Floridian Aquifer will be a top priority in 2016 for all who are interested in clean water.