Legislative Updates from the Georgia Capitol
The Georgia General Assembly is back in session and Georgia River Network isn’t wasting any time! Rena Ann Peck, GRN Executive Director, is at work under the Gold Dome ensuring we’ll see legislation in 2023 that prioritizes the protection of our rivers and waterways.
This year, as Georgia’s legislators convene in Atlanta from January 9th through March 29th, GRN will keep you updated on the strides we’re making and share ways that you can make an impact throughout this 40-day legislative session.
On this page you will find the lastest news on our legislative priorities, helpful links for engaging in the legislative session from home, and, most importantly, ways to advocate for the conservation of our rivers!
HB 71 - The Okefenokee Protection Act
Since 2019, Twin Pines Minerals, LLC has been planning to operate a risky heavy mineral sand mine next to the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. The mining is proposed for Trail Ridge, which is the natural geological barrier that keeps the Swamp intact by holding back its rain-fed waters. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Secretary of the Interior, and respected scientists have warned that mining along Trail Ridge could affect the swamp by causing irreversible hydrological damage and increasing the frequency of disasters like drought and wildfires.
Despite the expert’s concerns, Twin Pines is still seeking permits from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) to begin the first phase of mining. This phase would destroy over 300 acres of wetlands, withdraw over a million gallons a day of fresh groundwater, discharge pollution, destroy important wildlife habitat, and cast noise and light over the refuge that threatens the visitor experience and local economy. But they wouldn’t stop there—Twin Pines plans to continue mining thousands of acres along Trail Ridge if given the chance. That is why we need legislation to protect the future of our Okefenokee. HB 71, the Okefenokee Protection Act, was introduced in January by Representative Darlene Taylor and was signed by over 40 other legislators. If passed, this bill would prohibit the Georgia EPD from granting or renewing any mining permits along Trail Ridge.
HB 71 is currently in the House Natural Resources and Environment Committee. Use the button below to ask legislators to support the bill so it can pass the House before Crossover Day.
HB 314 - Georgia Outdoor Recreation Office
From the North Georgia ridges to the coastal plain, Georgia’s five eco-regions provide countless ways to enjoy the outdoors. With these unique natural resources across the state comes the need for careful planning and protection to preserve the quality of recreational opportunities now and for future generations. That is why GRN worked as a member of the Georgia Outdoor Recreation Coalition to advocate for the introduction of House Bill 314.
This bill would create a Director of Outdoor Recreation, housed in the Department of Natural Resources, that is responsible for ensuring Georgia is making the most of all the state’s recreational opportunities, including:
- Increasing outdoor recreation based economic development, education, tourism, and ecotourism;
- Developing new business in Georgia by developing and marketing recreational opportunities;
- Enhancing access to the outdoors, particularly in underrepresented urban and rural communities;
- Providing opportunities for stewardship and conservation of natural resources;
This bill is currently in the GA House Committee on Game, Fish, and Parks.
HB 31 - Expanding Trust Fund Cleanups
HB 31 reinforces a 2020 Georgia ballot measure requiring revenue collected from taxes and fees be allocated solely for the environmental cleanups they were intended to fund. The Georgia ballot measure passed by an overwhelming majority (82%) and ensured $12million collected annually from landfill fees is now used to fund cleanups around the state. HB 31 would contribute an additional $1.4million annually to funding cleanups by adding Hazardous Waste Management and Hazardous Waste Reporting fees to the list of revenues that must be used solely for its intended purpose.
The integrity of water quality in Georgia’s rural communities is threatened by the use of industrial sludge and sewage as a source of unregulated fertilizer on farmland. Unfortunately, recent changes in regulations have left local governments without a means to address the issue. GWC legislative team members are working with elected officials at the capitol to introduce legislation that will improve regulation and give local governments the right to protect themselves from this destructive practice. To learn more, see the GWC Soil Amendments Fact Sheet
Other Legislative Issues and Coalition Work
Every year, the Georgia River Network works with our partners at the Georgia Water Coalition to advocate for or against legislation in order to protect our natural resources. The Georgia Water Coalition is a group of over 250 member organizations that collaborate to protect Georgia’s waterways and water resources.
In recent years, the Georgia Water Coalition has worked on issues like:
- Advocating for increased stream buffers;
- Increasing fees for coal ash sent to Georgia landfills;
- Fighting the “the right to harm” bill, which made it easier for industrial agriculture to operate in Georgia; and
- Passing a ballot amendment for trust fund honesty, which helped ensure money collected for tire fees was directly allocated for conservation and cleanups.
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