ATLANTA — Georgia House lawmakers took up a several environmental bills Friday, marking the first foray back into bill-wrangling since the General Assembly suspended the 2020 legislative session in March due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Members of the House Natural Resources and Environment Committee held a “preliminary meeting” online Friday that offered a preview of the speed with which proceedings could move once lawmakers reconvene the remaining 11 days of the 40-day session on June 15.
In a roughly half-hour meeting, lawmakers on the committee heard rundowns of seven bills dealing with environmental matters like raising the landfill fee for storing toxic coal ash and new reporting requirements for the release of cancer-causing ethylene dioxide.
No votes were taken. The committee plans to hold another meeting next week in which authors of the bills and state agency staff will address questions submitted ahead of time about the bills, said Rep. Lynn Smith, who chairs the committee.
“My hope is by having these preliminary meetings, we’re able to both be more efficient and safer when the session resumes,” said Smith, R-Newnan.
Ahead of resuming the session later this month, lawmakers have been focusing on drafting a state budget starting July 1 that is poised for deep cuts due to the virus-prompted economic slowdown.
Budget-writing committees in the Georgia Senate have held meetings since last week over agency proposals to cut roughly $3.5 billion in spending for the 2021 fiscal year.
Bills on coal ash and ethylene oxide are among dozens that have cleared one chamber in the legislature only to stall in the other as lawmakers hit pause on the session amid mounting concerns over coronavirus.
Senate Bill 123, by Sen. William Ligon, would increase the landfill fee for storing coal ash from $1 per ton to $2.50 per ton, which matches the fee charged for other waste items. The move aims to discourage an influx of coal ash transported to Georgia from power plants in surrounding states like North Carolina and Florida.
“You could say we were subsidizing coal ash in our state,” said Ligon, R-Brunswick. “More and more people are becoming concerned about that.”
Coal ash, the toxic byproduct of burning coal at power plants, was a major subject of environmental legislation filed in the session prior to its suspension in mid-March.
Also tops on the environmental agenda this year are regulations providing public disclosure of harmful ethylene oxide releases, following controversy over unreported releases at the Sterigenics plant in Cobb County.
Senate Bill 426, by Sen. Brian Strickland, would require companies to report waste spills and gas releases to the state Environmental Protection Division (EPD) within 24 hours of their occurring. The EPD would then be required to report those spills and releases on a public website.
“Hopefully it restores some trust for the citizens in these communities,” said Strickland, R-McDonough.
Read More: Coal ash, ethylene oxide bills mulled in Georgia House – News – The Augusta Chronicle