Crossover Day Scorecard

report-card-worry1This Monday was Day 30 of the 2016 Georgia legislative session. Day 30 is probably the second most important day of the session and arguably one of the longest for legislators, the media, and those concerned about the fate of certain bills. Day 30, also known as Crossover Day, is the day by which bills must favorably pass out of their chamber of origin in order to stay alive for the rest of the session. In other words, if a bill is dropped in the House of Representatives for consideration, it must be voted on and approved by the House on or prior to Crossover Day in order for it to remain a viable bill and be considered in the Senate later on.  

Now let’s talk specifics.  House Bill 966 is a bill designed to fix Erosion & Sedimentation Act language in order to provide for consistent application of buffers to all state waters. All of Georgia’s waterways are supposed to be protected by a 25-foot buffer according to the Act, because these protected areas, also 
The sandy bank receives no legal protection under the current law.
The sandy bank receives no legal protection under the current law.
known as buffers, keep dirt and pollutants out of our waterways, protect critical fish and wildlife habitat, and prevent damage to downstream properties. Unfortunately, due to a technical flaw in this Act, the current law does not enable Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division to consistently establish streamside buffers on the numerously different types of creeks, streams, and rivers found in Georgia leaving many banks without any buffer at all. Last year, the Georgia Supreme Court even advised the General Assembly to “fix [this] ambiguous and arbitrary law that leaves many of the state’s waterways without legal protection.”  HB 966 was sponsored by Representative Johnnie Caldwell, Jr. (R-Thomaston) and co-sponsored by a large, bipartisan group of representatives to fix this gaping hole in Georgia water protection.  The bill was sent to the House Natural Resources & Environment Committee in mid-February, and it never left. Chairwoman Lynn Smith (R-Newnan) and Sub-committee Chair Buddy Harden (R-Cordele) chose not to allow a committee vote on HB 966. Because there wasn’t a vote, the committee couldn’t send it along to the House floor for a vote, and the House couldn’t pass it by Crossover Day in order to keep it alive this year.  HB 966 died on Crossover Day.

 

Verdict: FAIL This was an incredibly disappointing loss for comprehensive water protection in GA.

 

Copy of fieldhandpumpSenate Bill 36, however, is still very much alive this year because it “crossed over” from Senate to House last year (the first of the two year session).  But again, Chairwoman Smith isn’t inclined to move this bill out of her committee either. Instead, she and some of our local representatives drafted and passed a House resolution (HR 1198). Like we’ve covered in previous posts dedicated solely to SB 36, resolutions do not carry the weight of a law and thus this resolution merely suggests things that should be required of our state to ensure clean water is protected. Please urge your representative to ask the Chairwoman to bring up SB 36 for a vote in the House Natural Resources & Environment Committee. Or better yet, get your rep to sign Rep. David Stover’s discharge petition which would move the bill along without a committee hearing.  You can find your representative here.

Verdict: NEUTRAL – While no immediate action was necessary for this bill on Crossover Day, we are still waiting for the House Natural Resources & Environment Committee to do the right thing for GA groundwater before the final day of the 2016 session, March 24.

 

The best news of Day 30 came late in the night, the very last bill to be heard in fact – HB 1036. This bill is connected to a heated issue that has captured the attention of landowners across the state – “Should private pipeline companies have the right to use eminent domain to take land away from GA landowners?”.  This issue gulf-coast-pipelineblasted into the spotlight immediately after Kinder Morgan proposed the Palmetto Pipeline and sought the right to utilize eminent domain along the pipeline’s path from South Carolina to Florida.  HB 1036 would enact a temporary moratorium on the use of eminent domain for the construction of petroleum pipelines so that a commission of elected officials and field experts could conduct a detailed study to ensure the exercise of eminent domain and environmental permitting are carried out in a prudent and responsible manner.  After passing unanimously through committee, HB 1036 landed on the House floor just in time on Crossover Day to be passed with only two representatives voting against the bill.

Verdict: VICTORY – We are looking forward to this bill swiftly passing the Senate. While this would not end the fight against the Palmetto Pipeline, it certainly would land a significant blow, especially when coupled with Kinder Morgan’s recently failed attempt to appeal DOTs decision to deny them the use of eminent domain.

 

Here are a handful of other bills we were watching – information pulled from Chris Manganiello’s Georgia Water Wire post that can be found here.

HB 1028, the “Leaky Landfill Bill,” would require owners or operators of municipal solid waste landfills to notify local city and county governments of any significant release within 14 days.  This bill unanimously passed the House on Crossover Day.

Verdict: VICTORY

 

SB 346 would exempt GDOT and local government projects from Georgia Environmental Policy Act (GEPA) review if they are state funded.  GEPA is meant to protect natural and cultural resources by requiring alternatives analysis and consideration of impacts and ways to mitigate that the Erosion & Sedimentation Act does not.  SB 346 passed the Senate on Crossover Day – 36 to 15.

Verdict: FAIL

 

House Resolution 502 calls for a referendum to amend the GA Constitution and stop Governors and legislators from raiding state trust funds (such as the Solid Waste and Hazardous Waste trust funds).  These funds collect revenue from various fees.  For instance, new tire fees are meant to cover the cost to clean up abandoned tire dumps.  These two funds have collected around $450 million in revenue since the 1990s, but legislators have only appropriated $264 million (or roughly 59%) to fund the intended purposes of these fees.  The remaining money was funnelled into the state’s general budget.  Only a constitutional amendment can fix this problem.  This resolution died on Crossover Day.

Verdict: FAIL

 

SB 321, the “Utility Secrecy” bill, would have allowed public utilities to keep their water and energy consumption data confidential as a “trade secret” unless they gave explicit permission to the state or local governments to release that data.  This bill would have been a large blow to utility transparency.  Fortunately, the bill died on Crossover Day.

Verdict: VICTORY

 

And finally, SB 326 would have altered the Erosion & Sedimentation Act in a way that would have harmed the permit review process for land disturbing activities.  In short, if this bill becomes law, the flimsy review process would allow projects to harm downstream property values by allowing more mud into our rivers, lakes, and streams.  This bill was relegated to a study committee for further review and did not survive Crossover Day.

Verdict: VICTORY

 

Looking back on this scorecard, we have plenty to celebrate, but there is much more work to be done in the ongoing effort to protect Georgia’s precious natural resources.  While Ogeechee Riverkeeper’s focus is to represent the environmental interests of the Ogeechee River basin and its people, we are proud to fight for clean water alongside other like minded organizations in the Georgia Water Coalition.  Only together can we ensure comprehensive water protections that cover our entire state.  We are deeply committed to supporting clean water policy and fighting environmental rollbacks in our ongoing effort to protect, preserve, and improve water now and for future generations.
Stay tuned for more legislative updates as we approach the end of the 2016 legislative session on March 24.

South Carolina Lawmakers Introduce Landowner Protection Bill – Action Needed!

South_Carolina_flag_mapA press release published by the Savannah Riverkeeper earlier today announced an amendment to an existing law establishing a permitting process for the use of eminent domain specifically by pipeline companies. The amendment offers a safeguard for landowners’ property rights and allows the State to have the final say about whether a project in question serves a public need.

The legislation would require pipeline companies in South Carolina to apply for a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity from the Public Service Commission, much like the law in Georgia, before being granted the use of eminent domain.

The bill was sponsored by Representatives Hixon (R), Corley (R), Taylor (R), Clyburn (D) and Wells (R) and is intended as follows:

So as to provide procedures for the exercise of eminent domain by pipeline companies, to provide necessary definitions, to provide certain related certification or permitting functions at the Public Service Commission and the Department of Health and Environmental Control, and to provide property owner rights and a cause of action for damages sustained by certain adjacent property of the owner of property condemned under the provisions of this act; and to designate the existing provisions in the chapter as Article 1 entitled “Gas and Water Companies.”

Citizens are urged to contact their legislators today and support the bill. A public meeting organized by Push Back The Pipeline will be held on Thursday, June 4 at 5:30pm at the Historic Home of General Samuel McGowan, 305 North Main Street, Abbeville, SC 29620.

 

Ogeechee Riverkeeper Applauds DOT’s Denial of Pipeline Certificate

SAVANNAH, GA – May 19, 2015 Today, Georgia’s prized coastline – tranquil, quiet and peaceful – won a battle that was anything but. Thanks to a decision handed down from Georgia Department of Transportation Commissioner Russell McMurry’s office, the proposed Palmetto Pipeline will be denied the Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity that would have allowed energy giant Kinder Morgan to desecrate a wide swathe of the state’s beloved natural resources.

To build its pipeline across the Savannah River and down the Georgia coast, Kinder Morgan wanted to dig an enormous trench straight through nearly 400 properties in 12 of the Peach State’s counties. The $1 billion project would have routed gasoline, ethanol and diesel from the Gulf Coast and South Carolina to North Augusta, Savannah and Jacksonville.

When many of the property owners refused to allow Kinder Morgan to survey, the company tried to resort to eminent domain to secure the land it needed. However, because Kinder Morgan failed to prove, in accordance with Georgia law, that there is a public need for the pipeline, they’ll rightfully and justly be denied the ability to acquire interest in property against the will of the owners. The decision truly is an environmental victory for our region.

Earlier this year, Kinder Morgan had its law firm hold open houses, which they attempted to pass off as official DOT hearings. Furthermore, the corporation was less than upfront about its supposed “small spill” in Belton, South Carolina, during which 8,000 barrels of oil leaked into the environment. Kinder Morgan claimed it was just 8,000 gallons and when their discrepancy was made apparent, the company blamed the press, claiming it was “mistakenly reported.”

The Palmetto Pipeline drew opposition from every corner of Georgia, and even had conservative elected officials openly contesting the proposed defilement of the state’s pristine wetlands, marshes and waterways. Both Gov. Nathan Deal and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle came out against the Palmetto Pipeline and encouraged McMurry and the DOT to disallow it.

Ogeechee Riverkeeper Emily Markesteyn praised McMurry for his decision, which clearly sends a message that Georgia absolutely will not stand for the destruction of its immaculate coastline.

“Commissioner McMurry is to be commended for his refusal to let Kinder Morgan annihilate some of our state’s most beautiful, prized natural resources,” Markesteyn said. “In addition to unfairly ousting many Georgians from their land, the Palmetto Pipeline would have endangered the coast by risking the safety of residents and wildlife, as well as the health of the ecosystem. Had the pipeline been put in place, a leak would have been environmentally catastrophic to the Peach State’s coastal region. We applaud the DOT for doing the right thing.”

Now that the certificate has been withheld, Georgia law allows Kinder Morgan to appeal to superior court. If the company’s vice president, Allen Fore, holds true to a statement he issued before McMurry’s decision, an appeal is imminent, which means the fight is far from over. Ogeechee Riverkeeper urges everybody to continue to voice opposition to this project in the hope that the state’s coast remains the eastern seaboard’s undisturbed crown jewel.

– ENDS –

 

For media inquiries, visit www.lesleyfrancispr.com, call 912-429-3950 or email ashley@lesleyfrancispr.com or lesley@francis.com.

 

Rally Against Palmetto Pipeline at Savannah Earth Day Festival

WHAT: Rally against the Palmetto Pipeline

WHEN: Saturday, April 18th at 12pm

WHERE: We’re meeting at the Forsyth Park fountain

(SAVANNAH, GA) Citizens in Savannah are up in arms against the new Palmetto Pipeline that is slated to cut through residential and coastal areas. A rally is scheduled for Saturday, April 18 at the Earth Day Festival in Savannah, GA. Push Back the Pipeline will host a booth alongside Ogeechee and Savannah Riverkeepers at the Earth Day Festival. We will meet at the Forsyth Park fountain at noon to rally to #PushBackThePipeline!

Savannah residents, please join us, the Push Back the Pipeline Coalition, to voice our opinions on the proposed pipeline and the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT)’s mishandling of this process.

Kinder Morgan, the largest energy infrastructure company in North America, plans to build the buried pipeline to transport gasoline, ethanol and diesel from the Gulf Coast to the South East. The company applied to the GDOT for a certificate of public convenience and necessity, which if approved, will authorize it to condemn property from private citizens using eminent domain and cannot be appealed. Time is running out on the 90-day period to fight the application and after the GDOT public hearing on Tuesday, April 21, it will be too late for Savannah citizens to voice their issues.

Top Five Reasons Why Savannah is Rallying Against the Texan Pipeline:

• Big Oil Monopoly = Higher prices at the pump.
• 250 Georgia jobs lost to Texas.
• Private Property will be Taken by force – Eminent Domain.
• Pipeline would endanger our rivers, marshes and wetlands.
• Texan pipeline is not earthquake proof; Savannah and Coastal Georgia run along a fault line and are exposed to seismic risk.

For more information on the rally, visit https://www.facebook.com/pushbackthepipeline

RALLY ORGANIZER:
KC Allan
Ogeechee Riverkeeper
pushbackpalmetto@gmail.com