Environmental Policy

6/10

Those of us who care about clean air and water have been trying to grapple with the implications of President Trump’s announcement to withdraw from the Paris Agreement last week and the general halting of climate change progress made through the EPA under the Obama administration.

It has been extremely refreshing to see the growing list of U.S. state, local, and business leaders joining the #wearestillin movement. Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has already joined the list. If your college, university or company is missing from the list, urge them to register through this participation form.

6/3

President Trump’s denial of climate change hit an extreme low point this week. The President confirmed on Thursday that he will pull the US out of the Paris Climate Agreement after weeks of speculation. He made the decision amid an intense campaign by both sides to influence his decision. To understand the implications of this horrible decision, read Politico’s summary here.

Despite the enormous environmental implications, the decision has foreign policy consequences as well. Exiting the deal makes the United States one of three countries (alongside Syria and Nicaragua!) to altogether dismiss the threat of climate change, and risks complicating already strained relationships with European allies and rising powers like China and India.

5/27

EPA Budget Cuts

The Trump administration’s proposed budget released this week recommends crippling cuts to essential federal protections in many areas, though few are as extreme as what is proposed for the Environmental Protection Agency. If Congress was to approve the budget as proposed, overall funding for EPA would drop by 31 percent. This is truly sickening.

The Southeast will be one of the regions most affected by reductions at EPA since state environmental enforcement agencies, which are expected to pick up any federal slack, have been managing underfunded budgets for years. The budget released today takes two hits at enforcement duties by cutting grants to states for this work by 45 percent, while at the same time slicing 24 percent for the federal budget for the same programs. The administration’s budget also cuts funding for Superfund cleanups, a program touted by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, by more than 30 percent.

The administration’s proposal will now move to Congress, where members of both chambers have the chance to edit the proposal. When the President recently presented a similarly drastic budget proposal for the current fiscal year, Congress rejected it, providing mostly level funding for federal services.

Urge your elected officials to reject these drastic cuts to the EPA!

Sources: Southern Environmental Law Center

4/30

There is so much happening in terms of pushing back environmental regulations and cutting back at the EPA. EarthJustice, the nation’s original and largest nonprofit environmental law organization, has an excellent timeline that provides ongoing updates on all that is taking place in terms of environmental deregulation within the current administration. EarthJustice leverages their expertise and commitment to fight for justice and advance the promise of a healthy world for all.

Erasing Democracy Timeline and Issue Round Up

Review of National Monuments Executive Order– President Trump signed an executive order that could end up shrinking — or even nullifying — some large federal national monuments on protected public lands, as established since the Clinton administration.

The move is largely seen as a response by the new administration to two controversial, sweeping national monument designations made late in the Obama administration: the new Bears Ears National Monument in Utah considered sacred to Native American tribes and the Gold Butte National Monument in Nevada near the Bundy Ranch, site of the 2014 armed standoff over cattle grazing on public land.

In a briefing with reporters at the White House, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said the order will direct his department to review all national monument designations on federal public land since 1996 that are 100,000 acres or more in size. The secretary didn’t say whether he would recommend that Bears Ears be shrunk or abolished, only that a review of the designations was long overdue.

“The executive order does not strip any monument of a designation,” Zinke said. “The executive order does not loosen any environmental or conservation regulation on any land or marine areas.”

The Bears Ears National Monument is full of cliff dwellings and ancient artifacts on land considered sacred to tribes in the Four Corners region. Zinke added that he expected the review to look at the boundaries of these monuments and whether sacred sites like cliff dwellings or other important national treasures, as he put it, could still be protected if the monuments were smaller.

Republican and Democratic presidents including George W. Bush and Barack Obama have used the 1906 Antiquities Act to protect large swaths of federal public lands, mostly in the West. Under the Act, only Congress, not the president, has the clear authority to reduce or nullify a monument designation. If the Trump Administration presses forward on its own, it’s widely thought the matter will swiftly land in court. Patagonia has already threatened to sue the White House over the order.

Designations like the recent Bears Ears often protect large amounts of public land, while grandfathering in certain historical uses like existing cattle grazing leases and mining claims. But new development is largely restricted, which is the source of heated controversy in rural towns surrounded by federal land where many residents make their living from natural resources.

On the other hand, sportsmen groups, conservationists and tribes in some of these same rural areas point to big job gains and tourist revenue where federal lands get protection.

 

Many of these groups aren’t mincing words either over the president’s expected order tomorrow.

Shawn Chapoose, chairman of the Ute Tribe in Fort Duchesne, Utah, called it an attack on Indian Country.

“Once you destroy these types of resources, these habitats, these areas that are untouched, you can never go back,” he said.

Under the order, the Interior Department is expected to review up to 40 monuments, dating back to the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument in Utah, first protected by the Clinton administration. Trump has ordered a preliminary report from the agency within 45 days.

EPA Budget Cuts- On April 13, 2017 in a meeting with Pennsylvania coal miners at the Harvey Mine in Sycamore, Pa., EPA administrator Scott Pruitt announced the agency’s new Back-to-Basics agenda. According to Pruitt, this agenda will refocus EPA on its intended mission, siphon off some of its current power to the states and create an environment in which jobs can grow.

Pruitt says EPA will work with state, local and tribal partners to create “sensible regulations that enhance economic growth.”

Pruitt also spoke with coal miners about the Trump administration’s Energy Independence Executive Order, which directs EPA and others to review the Clean Power Plan and work towards energy independence by revising regulatory barriers that may impede that goal.

President Trump also has set forth a budgetary blueprint that would cut EPA’s total budget by about one-fourth. The New York Times recently looked at which proposed cuts will be “likely to face resistance” by the time the budget reaches Congress, including:

  • Decreasing grants by almost one-third that help states monitor public water systems.
  • Reduces spending on civil and criminal enforcement of environmental penalties by 60%.
  • Eliminating regional cleanup initiatives, including with the Chesapeake Bay and the Great Lakes.
  • Eliminating the Climate Protection Program.
  • Eliminating research and screening effort for endocrine disruptors (which have been linked to cancer and birth defects).

Meantime, some energy experts have called into question the Trump administration’s hard push for the coal industry. That’s because coal use continues to decline globally, and while this “megatrend” hurts the coal industry, it benefits almost everyone else, according to David Tuttle, research fellow in the University of Texas Energy Institute, and Robert Hebner, the director of the Center for Electromechanics at the University of Texas. The two recently tackled the “war on coal” in a recent edition of UT News.

The two draw parallels between the coal industry today and the semiconductor industry in the 1980s and 1990s. That industry was on the verge of collapse when key players collaborated to prepare for global changes and make technological breakthroughs to save itself, rather than try to recapture the past.

“The coal industry needs to take the same approach, but it does not appear to have the industrywide leadership needed to try cooperative innovation to make coal a less costly and more desirable form of energy,” they write. “A way forward is needed for the industry to develop a credible cooperative plan for the beneficial use of coal itself or for the resources of the coal industry. That would provide governments an effective way to help.”

It is important to remember the real pain in the coal industry as people see livelihoods disappear, Tuttle and Hebner add.

“Overall, in the U.S., the number of wind and solar energy related jobs may well be greater than employment in coal producing regions, but the reality is that well-paying jobs are not being created in coal country to replace the ones lost,” they write. “It is unlikely that many traditional coal jobs will return, but we need to use this time of decline in the use of coal to build jobs that improve the quality of life for those in the coal industry.”

Aside from reviewing the Clean Power Plan, the EPA’s Back-to-Basics agenda has eight additional directives.

  1. Review the “Waters of the U.S.” (WOTUS) rule.
  2. Clear the backlog of chemicals awaiting EPA approval.
  3. Help states with air quality, toxic waste and water infrastructure issues.
  4. Rescind fuel economy standards for model year 2022-2025 vehicles, and review all vehicle standards jointly with the U.S. Department of Transportation.
  5. Review the Oil and Methane New Source Performance Standards.
  6. Allocate funds for vital environmental projects, such as $100 million to upgrade drinking water infrastructure in Flint, Mich.
  7. Stop the methane Information Collection Request (ICR), which the agency says costs U.S. businesses more than $42 million per year.
  8. Launch an EPA Regulatory Reform Task force to “undergo extensive reviews of the misaligned regulatory actions.”

For more information, visit www.epa.gov

Georgia Legislative Round Up- For a great recap of the most recent Georgia legislative session and the environmental issues that were discussed, visit the Georgia Conservancy website.

Climate Change Executive Order– President Donald Trump signed an executive order in March 2017 calling on every federal agency to loosen the regulatory reins on fossil fuel industries, the most significant declaration of the administration’s intent to retreat from action on climate change.

Trump directed all departments to identify and target for elimination any rules that restrict U.S. production of energy, and he set guidance to make it more difficult to put future regulations in place on the coal, oil and natural gas industries.

The White House sought to frame the Executive Order on Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth as an “all-of-the-above” energy policy. The primary aim is clearly to unleash fossil fuel development by undoing the policies that President Barack Obama put in place to curb the nation’s carbon emissions.

Trump’s executive order steered clear of whether the U.S. will remain a party to the Paris climate agreement. The White House has not yet made a decision, the official said. But gutting climate policies as the executive order seeks to do would make the U.S. obligations under the treaty virtually impossible to meet. It would also put in jeopardy the landmark agreement’s goal of keeping the global temperature increase below 2 degrees Celsius.

Trump specifically ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to initiate a review of the Clean Power Plan, the Obama administration’s signature climate initiative to slash carbon pollution from coal plants. The process of repealing that regulation, which is currently under a stay by the Supreme Court, could take years. But even as that battle wends its way through the process, Trump’s order will have a potentially sweeping impact by immediately rescinding a series of Obama executive orders that embedded consideration of climate change into all major decisions by the federal government.

The executive order did not address the Environmental Protection Agency’s endangerment finding—the Obama administration’s declaration in 2009 that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases constitute a threat to ecosystems and public health. That finding, which a federal appeals court in 2012 said was “unambiguously correct,” is the legal underpinning of the EPA acting to address climate change under the Clean Air Act. The senior White House official expressed a view, not widely shared, that the endangerment finding only applied to vehicle regulations and did not give the EPA an obligation to address carbon emissions from power plants under a different section of the law. (Supreme Court rulings in 2011 and 2014 further cemented EPA’s authority to use the Clean Air Act to address power plant pollution.)

Trump signed the order with great fanfare, in front of a group of about a dozen coal miners, at the EPA headquarters, and flanked by Vice President Mike Pence, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and his secretaries of energy and interior.

“This is the start of a new era in American energy production and job creation,” Trump said. “We will eliminate federal overreach, restore economic freedom and allow workers and companies to play on a level playing field for the first time in a long time, a long time.

“We’re going to have clean coal, really clean coal.”

Trump and his cabinet members made no mention of climate change as they made their remarks, nor did they talk about nuclear energy or renewables, as the White House official did the previous day in briefing reporters on the planned order. Instead, they framed the order as a job-creating, economic stimulus measure, turning repeatedly to the coal miners behind them on stage as they extolled its benefits. “You know what this says?” Trump asked them. “This says you’re going back to work.”

The repeal of U.S. climate policy efforts is sure to fire up environmental activists and scientists who gathered in protest outside EPA headquarters and were planning a rally in front of the White House later in the day. They are also organizing two significant marches on Washington, D.C. in late April. (InsideClimate News)

Dakota Access Pipeline- The Trump administration announced Friday March 24th that it would issue a permit for construction of the Keystone oil pipeline, a long-disputed project that would link producers in Canada and North Dakota with refiners and export terminals on the Gulf Coast.

The announcement by the State Department reversed the position of the Obama administration. It followed a 60-day review that was set in motion as one of the first acts of President Trump’s tenure. The announcement on Friday said the State Department “considered a range of factors, including but not limited to foreign policy; energy security; environmental, cultural, and economic impacts; and compliance with applicable law and policy.”

The Dakota Access Pipeline project would extend 1,168 miles across North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, and Illinois, crossing through communities, farms, tribal land, sensitive natural areas and wildlife habitat. The pipeline would carry crude oil from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota to Illinois where it will link with another pipeline that will transport the oil to terminals and refineries along the Gulf of Mexico.

Despite objections by the Standing Rock Sioux and other organizations, construction of the pipeline will begin at any time.

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has vowed to fight the project, as it has since last summer. The tribe is going to court to challenge the easement again, arguing the Trump administration improperly dismissed an environmental review of the project that Obama officials kicked off in December.

Clean Water Rule- On February 28, 2017, President Donald Trump signed an executive order attacking the Clean Water Rule and is expected to call for major budget cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency, threatening thousands of jobs in the Southeast and the health and safety of Southeastern families.

After years of uncertainty, the federal Clean Water Rule clarified environmental protections for streams, wetlands, and other waters that feed drinking water sources for nearly 20 million people in the Southeast specifically. The rule, managed by the Environmental Protection Agency, was finalized in 2015 following years of negotiations.

The Clean Water Rule protects 60 percent of our nation’s streams. Without the protections outlined in it, factories, sewage treatment facilities, and other polluters may be able to directly dump into these waterways without any public notice. The threat of losing these protections reiterates the important role the Environmental Protection Agency plays in protecting clean water in all 50 states.

Specifically, the Clean Water Rule (epa.gov):

  • Clearly defines and protects tributaries that impact the health of downstream waters. The Clean Water Act protects navigable waterways and their tributaries. The rule says that a tributary must show physical features of flowing water – a bed, bank, and ordinary high water mark – to warrant protection. The rule provides protection for headwaters that have these features and science shows can have a significant connection to downstream waters.
  • Provides certainty in how far safeguards extend to nearby waters. The rule protects waters that are next to rivers and lakes and their tributaries because science shows that they impact downstream waters. The rule sets boundaries on covering nearby waters for the first time that are physical and measurable.
  • Protects the nation’s regional water treasures. Science shows that specific water features can function like a system and impact the health of downstream waters. The rule protects prairie potholes, Carolina and Delmarva bays, pocosins, western vernal pools in California, and Texas coastal prairie wetlands when they impact downstream waters.
  • Focuses on streams, not ditches. The rule limits protection to ditches that are constructed out of streams or function like streams and can carry pollution downstream. So ditches that are not constructed in streams and that flow only when it rains are not covered.
  • Maintains the status of waters within Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems. The rule does not change how those waters are treated and encourages the use of green infrastructure.
  • Reduces the use of case-specific analysis of waters. Previously, almost any water could be put through a lengthy case-specific analysis, even if it would not be subject to the Clean Water Act. The rule significantly limits the use of case-specific analysis by creating clarity and certainty on protected waters and limiting the number of similarly situated water features.

Environmentalists have praised the rule, calling it an important step that will lead to significantly cleaner natural bodies of water and healthier drinking water. It has come under fierce attack from business interests like farmers, property developers, fertilizer and pesticide makers, oil and gas producers and golf course owners, who contend that it will stifle economic growth and intrude on property owners’ rights.

The American Farm Bureau Federation, which has led the legal fight against Mr. Obama’s rule, contends that it places an undue burden on farmers in particular, who may find themselves required to apply for federal permits to use fertilizer near ditches and streams on their property that may eventually flow into larger rivers.

Despite the controversy over the regulation, it has yet to be implemented. A federal court delayed it as the judges review the legal case against it.

Additionally, on its own, the President’s order will have almost no legal effect on the sweeping rule, according to many legal experts. The order essentially directs Trump’s new Environmental Protection Agency administrator, Scott Pruitt, to begin the lengthy and complicated legal process required to rewrite the rule — a process that could take longer than Mr. Trump’s first term, legal experts say.

Also expect to see in the coming weeks a similar order directing Mr. Pruitt to begin the lengthy legal process of withdrawing and rewriting President Obama’s signature 2015 climate change regulation, aimed at curbing emissions of planet-warming greenhouse gases from coal-fired power plants.

Because both the water protection and climate change rules were finalized under existing laws long before Mr. Obama left office, they cannot be simply undone with a stroke of the president’s pen, legal experts in both the Obama and Trump White Houses have said.

UPDATE: On March 15, the Southern Environmental Law Center filed a brief in the U.S. Supreme Court urging the nation’s highest court to follow through on its plans to hear the upcoming case on the Clean Water Rule, a landmark rule safeguarding streams, wetlands, and other waters that feed drinking water sources for nearly 20 million people in the Southeast. If granted, the judicial review requested in the brief would stop the Trump Administration’s improper executive order from derailing a case that affects the health and safety of millions of Southerners.

The brief was filed by SELC on behalf of the Coastal Conservation League and One Hundred Miles, jointly with the National Resources Defense Council and the National Wildlife Federation. (Southern Environmental Law Center)

 

Sources: Southern Environmental Law Center, EPA, New York Times, EarthJustice, Georgia Conservancy, Conservation Fund, National Resource Defense Council, NPR, Wall Street Journal

 

4/9

Welcome the Georgia Conservancy’s recap of the 2017 Legislative Session. We’re at the Georgia State Capitol every day of the legislative session pushing for conservation-minded bills and fighting against legislation that would roll back the advancements that we’ve already made. Whether working for or against legislation, we strive to find common ground solutions that will forward a Georgia where people and the environment thrive.

Before the session began, we made the passage of a number of pieces of legislation a priority for our team, including stronger regulations on the siting, permitting and construction of petroleum pipelines, as well as an increase in hunting and fishing licensing fees. Bills that successfully addressed these priorities passed the General Assembly and have moved to the Governor’s desk. Other priority legislation of the Georgia Conservancy, such as the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Act and the clarification of our freshwater buffer regulations were introduced during the session and will move forward into the 2018 Legislative Session for consideration.

Click here to read last week’s comprehensive update from the final week of the 2017 Legislative Session.

A recap of legislation that we reported on or tracked during the 2017 Legislative Session:

The Good

Petroleum Pipeline Regulations – House Bill 413

HB 413 passed both legislative chambers after a number of rounds of procedural back-and-forth. The final bill that will move to the Governor’s desk addressed many of the Georgia Conservancy’s concerns as they relate to the siting, permitting and construction of petroleum pipelines in Georgia, providing the state with the necessary guidelines from which deny or approve such projects.

Click here to learn more about our work on this issue

State Hunting & Fishing License Fees – House Bill 208

HB 208 will adjust and simplify the fee structure for Georgia’s hunting and fishing licenses. There has not been a fee increase since 1992. These fees are crucial to funding the conservation of state lands and waters, providing improved access for recreation and opportunities for more technical assistance, educational programs and habitat management.

Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) estimates that the license fee adjustment will bring in approximately $9 million each year in revenue to the State and will also allow for additional federal matching dollars each year.

Recognition of Georgia Conservancy 50th Anniversary – House Resolution 226 & Senate Resolution 289

This joint resolution recognizes the Georgia Conservancy 50 years of advocating for the protection and conservation of our state’s natural resources.

Click here to see photos from Georgia Conservancy Day at the State Capitol

Recognition of Georgia Water Trails – House Resolution 281

This resolution encourages the use of and highlights the tremendous positive benefits that Georgia’s water trails have on education, recreation, conservation and the environment.

In Progress

Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Act – House Bill 332 & House Resolution 238

House Bill 332, the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Act (GOSA), seeks to establish a dedicated and sustainable source of funding for land conservation in Georgia. GOSA did not pass the House before Crossover Day. The Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Act, along with companion legislation (House Resolution 238) that called for a required November 2018 voter referendum, proposed that 75% of the existing sales and use tax on outdoor recreation equipment be dedicated for the protection of the state’s water, wildlife and quality of life. The bill will be considered again during the 2018 legislative session.

The Georgia Conservancy and a coalition of partners will continue to encourage support for GOSA legislation during the interim and in 2018.

Click here to learn more about the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Act

Shore Protection Act – House Bill 271

HB 271, which was tabled during the 2017 session, seeks to amend Georgia’s Shore Protection Act (SPA) in order to redefine and clarify the landward jurisdictional boundary of the SPA. Though tabled, HB 271’s proposed measures will be studied by the Senate Natural Resources Committee during the interim.

The Shore Protection Act became law in 1979 to ensure that the sand sharing system was protected from adverse impacts from human activity. The sand sharing system is the network of dunes, beaches, shoals and sandbars. This network is what protects the barrier islands from storms, erosion and corresponding property loss or damage. The current jurisdictional line creates an unnecessary regulatory burden and often does not protect the fragile sand sharing systems closest to previously developed areas.

The Georgia Conservancy is working with DNR and the sponsors of the bill to better clarify the definition of sand dunes for the purposes of measuring the jurisdictional line.

Fresh Water Stream Buffers – Senate Resolution 152 

SR 152 will create a Senate Study Committee to research and recommend a clarification of Georgia’s existing statutory stream buffer regulations. The Georgia Conservancy supports clarifying the line of demarcation from which the 25-foot and 50-foot buffers are measured to protect waters of the state.

Also, House Bill 525, a measure sponsored by Rep. Debbie Bucker to ensure that tax assessors consider buffer acreage in the assessment of fair market property values, did not pass, but its intent will be studied by the Committee established by SR 152.

The Georgia Conservancy will continue to monitor the Study Committee during the interim and will continue to advocate for a collaborative effort from a broad range of partners to clarify and strengthen the enforcement of our buffers.

Local Stormwater Fee Restrictions – Senate Bill 116

SB 116 seeks to prohibit counties or municipalities from collecting stormwater utility fees from water-neutral sites, which are defined as properties designed to achieve control of water runoff from a 25-year, 24-hour storm event in a manner consistent with the Georgia Stormwater Management Manual.
Such fee exemptions could potentially have devastating effects on a municipality’s ability to provide essential services to residents, because much of the stormwater utility revenue comes from fees on water-neutral sites.  Aside from essential day-to-day services, this revenue allows local authorities to reduce flooding, as well as replace or upgrade failing infrastructure.

SB 116 was tabled before crossover day and, through Senate Resolution 224, a Joint Study Committee has been established to review the intent of the bill and to make recommendations.

The Georgia Conservancy does not support the intent of SB 116 and will monitor the Senate Study Committee during the interim.

Oil and Gas Extraction Regulations – House Bill 205

House Bill 205 proposes new rules and stronger regulations for the extraction of oil and gas in Georgia, and the authority to create an Oil & Gas Board under certain circumstances.

The bill would establish much needed regulations on the extraction methods commonly known as fracking. The intent is to put in place statutory measures to properly protect Georgia’s waters, especially those in Northwest Georgia, an area of the state that has seen an increased interest in gas extraction from its Conasauga Shale.

HB 205 passed the House, but an amended Senate version could not be agreed upon in conference committee before the close of the session.

Scrap Tire Collection Fee – Senate Bill 65

Not passed during the 2017 session, Senate Bill 65 seeks to amend an existing Georgia code that requires the collection of a scrap tire disposal fee by retailers when replacing old tires with new tires. The amendment would require the fee to be collected by the retailer whether or not the customer decides to relinquish the old tires to the retailer for disposal. Those fees will then be used by the retailer to dispose of any scrap tires that they may acquire. The bill would essentially require a scrap tire fee to be collected whenever new tires are replaced by a retailer.

The bill up for consideration during the 2018 Legislative Session.

Coal Ash Landfill Regulations – House Bill 387 & House Bill 388

These bills largely seek to make statute the Environmental Protection Division’s current regulatory guidance for the disposal of coal combustion residuals (CCRs) in landfills.

The Georgia Conservancy strongly supports EPD’s existing procedures, as well as increased public notice and wants to ensure that any codifying of such procedures through legislation will not hinder the flexibility of EPD to swiftly and effectively respond to changing science, new best practices and new technologies under their current guidance.

HB 387 and HB 388 did not pass the House before Crossover Day and will be considered again during the 2018 Legislative Session.

Coal Ash Producer Liability – Senate Bill 165

SB 165 seeks to impose liability on any producer of coal who disposes ash in Georgia in the event of a release. The bill would require the owner of any coal ash disposal site to own at least $100 million in assets in this state or has posted a surety bond in an amount sufficient to cover any liability under this part.

The intent of this bill is to prevent the disposal of coal ash in Georgia from out-of-state operators. The Georgia Conservancy is supportive of efforts that will strongly limit the disposal of out-of-state coal ash within our borders, but does not feel that this bill effectively meets that standard.

SB 165 did not pass the Senate before Crossover Day and will be considered during the 2018 Legislative Session.

Georgia Commission on Transit Governance and Funding – House Bill 160 

HB 160 seeks to establish the Georgia Commission on Transit Governance and Funding so as to study and assess the needs and means for providing a system of mass transportation and its facilities for metropolitan areas in Georgia, as well as potential funding for such a system. Its findings, recommendations and proposals would be submitted to the Governor, President of the Senate, Speaker of the House and Director of Planning.

Though the bill did not pass before Sine Die, House Resolution 848 passed and establishes a House Study Committee to review the intent of House Bill 160.

Other legislation

Georgia Space Flight Act – House Bill 1 

HB 1 seeks to establish the Georgia Space Flight Act, which defines terms related to space flight and would limit the liability of space flight entities related to injuries sustained by any passengers of space flight. The bill is intended to further position Camden County as the chief candidate for the proposed Spaceport Camden.

HB 1 does not address any of our concerns as they relate to the potential environmental impacts of a Spaceport in Camden County. We will continue to monitor these bills and any legislative activities related to the proposed Spaceport Camden.

Click here to learn more about the proposed Spaceport Camden

Easing of Solar Installation Restrictions – House Bill 238

HB 238 allows for a breach of covenant without penalty for landowners whose property is under Conservation Use Valuation (CUVA) and/or Forest Land Protection (FLPA) for the purpose of the construction large-scale solar installations.

The bill passed and has moved the Governor’s desk.

Downtown Revitalization Tax Credits – House Bill 73

HB 73, which passed and will now move to the Governor’s desk, seeks to provide tax credit incentives to promote the revitalization of vacant rural Georgia downtowns by encouraging investment, job creation, and economic growth in long-established business districts.

Through our Sustainable Growth Program, the Georgia Conservancy is actively working to better the economic and environmental sustainability of Georgia’s small, rural towns. An active and thriving downtown is a key component to the future of such communities and HB 73 helps to encourage such growth.

 

Climate Change Executive Order– President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Tuesday March 28th, calling on every federal agency to loosen the regulatory reins on fossil fuel industries, the most significant declaration of the administration’s intent to retreat from action on climate change.

Trump directed all departments to identify and target for elimination any rules that restrict U.S. production of energy, and he set guidance to make it more difficult to put future regulations in place on the coal, oil and natural gas industries.

The White House sought to frame the Executive Order on Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth as an “all-of-the-above” energy policy. The primary aim is clearly to unleash fossil fuel development by undoing the policies that President Barack Obama put in place to curb the nation’s carbon emissions.

Trump’s executive order steered clear of whether the U.S. will remain a party to the Paris climate agreement. The White House has not yet made a decision, the official said. But gutting climate policies as the executive order seeks to do would make the U.S. obligations under the treaty virtually impossible to meet. It would also put in jeopardy the landmark agreement’s goal of keeping the global temperature increase below 2 degrees Celsius.

Trump specifically ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to initiate a review of the Clean Power Plan, the Obama administration’s signature climate initiative to slash carbon pollution from coal plants. The process of repealing that regulation, which is currently under a stay by the Supreme Court, could take years. But even as that battle wends its way through the process, Trump’s order will have a potentially sweeping impact by immediately rescinding a series of Obama executive orders that embedded consideration of climate change into all major decisions by the federal government.

The executive order did not address the Environmental Protection Agency’s endangerment finding—the Obama administration’s declaration in 2009 that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases constitute a threat to ecosystems and public health. That finding, which a federal appeals court in 2012 said was “unambiguously correct,” is the legal underpinning of the EPA acting to address climate change under the Clean Air Act. The senior White House official expressed a view, not widely shared, that the endangerment finding only applied to vehicle regulations and did not give the EPA an obligation to address carbon emissions from power plants under a different section of the law. (Supreme Court rulings in 2011 and 2014 further cemented EPA’s authority to use the Clean Air Act to address power plant pollution.)

Trump signed the order with great fanfare, in front of a group of about a dozen coal miners, at the EPA headquarters, and flanked by Vice President Mike Pence, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and his secretaries of energy and interior.

“This is the start of a new era in American energy production and job creation,” Trump said. “We will eliminate federal overreach, restore economic freedom and allow workers and companies to play on a level playing field for the first time in a long time, a long time.

“We’re going to have clean coal, really clean coal.”

Trump and his cabinet members made no mention of climate change as they made their remarks, nor did they talk about nuclear energy or renewables, as the White House official did the previous day in briefing reporters on the planned order. Instead, they framed the order as a job-creating, economic stimulus measure, turning repeatedly to the coal miners behind them on stage as they extolled its benefits. “You know what this says?” Trump asked them. “This says you’re going back to work.”

The repeal of U.S. climate policy efforts is sure to fire up environmental activists and scientists who gathered in protest outside EPA headquarters and were planning a rally in front of the White House later in the day. They are also organizing two significant marches on Washington, D.C. in late April. (InsideClimate News)

Clean Water Rule UPDATE: On March 15, the Southern Environmental Law Center filed a brief in the U.S. Supreme Court urging the nation’s highest court to follow through on its plans to hear the upcoming case on the Clean Water Rule, a landmark rule safeguarding streams, wetlands, and other waters that feed drinking water sources for nearly 20 million people in the Southeast. If granted, the judicial review requested in the brief would stop the Trump Administration’s improper executive order from derailing a case that affects the health and safety of millions of Southerners.

The brief was filed by SELC on behalf of the Coastal Conservation League and One Hundred Miles, jointly with the National Resources Defense Council and the National Wildlife Federation. (Southern Environmental Law Center)

Dakota Access Pipeline- UPDATE

The Trump administration announced Friday March 24th that it would issue a permit for construction of the Keystone oil pipeline, a long-disputed project that would link producers in Canada and North Dakota with refiners and export terminals on the Gulf Coast.

The announcement by the State Department reversed the position of the Obama administration. It followed a 60-day review that was set in motion as one of the first acts of President Trump’s tenure. The announcement on Friday said the State Department “considered a range of factors, including but not limited to foreign policy; energy security; environmental, cultural, and economic impacts; and compliance with applicable law and policy.”

The Dakota Access Pipeline project would extend 1,168 miles across North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, and Illinois, crossing through communities, farms, tribal land, sensitive natural areas and wildlife habitat. The pipeline would carry crude oil from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota to Illinois where it will link with another pipeline that will transport the oil to terminals and refineries along the Gulf of Mexico.

Despite objections by the Standing Rock Sioux and other organizations, construction of the pipeline will begin at any time.

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has vowed to fight the project, as it has since last summer. The tribe is going to court to challenge the easement again, arguing the Trump administration improperly dismissed an environmental review of the project that Obama officials kicked off in December.

For ongoing updates about the Standing Rock litigation, please visit EarthJustice

 

 

State of Georgia-Local Legislation- Petroleum Pipeline Regulation and PermittingSenate Bill 191

Senate Bill 191, sponsored by Rep. Rick Jeffares (R-17), seeks to resolve a number of issues regarding the permitting and regulation of petroleum pipelines in the state of Georgia. This bill is the result of a State Study Committee on Petroleum Pipelines, which was established during the 2016 Legislative Session.

A new amendment to SB 191 was added last week that would prohibit the permitting of new construction, expansion or extension of petroleum pipelines in any area that is within the Coastal Management Zone. The original bill prohibited such activities from taking place 50 miles within the presence of salt marsh. The Coastal Management Zone includes the 11 coastal counties.

SB 191 also seeks to require a permit from the Director of the Environmental Protection Division (EPD) and a certificate of need from the Executive Director of the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority (GEFA) the before the construction of any new pipeline, as well as the expansion or extension of any existing pipeline, in the state of Georgia. No certificate of need may be issued unless and until the applicant has been issued a permit by the EPD. The permit and certificate of need would be required without regard to whether the pipeline company intends to exercise power of eminent domain.

The EPD permitting application must include siting information, a cultural resource assessment, information on geologic and hydrologic features, information on the presence of threatened or endangered species, and evidence of financial responsibility.

The EPD Director shall take into consideration a number of factors in making the decision as to whether the pipeline permit it granted, including: direct, indirect and cumulative environmental impacts; alternatives to the proposed pipeline or expansion; whether the proposed route is the least damaging environmental alternative; ample opportunity has been afforded for public comment; any additional protection measures that could impact water supplies and withdrawals; and more.

The GEFA Executive Director shall take into consideration a number of factors in making the decision as to whether the pipeline certificate of need it granted, including: whether petroleum pipelines currently within Georgia adequately meet the reasonable public needs of the state; whether current and future demand for petroleum in Georgia can be supported through petroleum pipelines or some other means of distribution; the adequacy of the supply of petroleum to serve the public in this state.

The amended version of SB 191 passed the Senate on Crossover Day. It will now move to the House.

The General Assembly adjourns the legislative session on March 30th.

Action- Please call your State Representative to say you are in SUPPORT OF SB191. This needs to be done in the next week as the session ends on March 30th. The bill is currently being read by the House.

 

Clean Water Rule-

On February 28, 2017, President Donald Trump signed an executive order attacking the Clean Water Rule and is expected to call for major budget cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency, threatening thousands of jobs in the Southeast and the health and safety of Southeastern families.

After years of uncertainty, the federal Clean Water Rule clarified environmental protections for streams, wetlands, and other waters that feed drinking water sources for nearly 20 million people in the Southeast specifically. The rule, managed by the Environmental Protection Agency, was finalized in 2015 following years of negotiations.

The Clean Water Rule protects 60 percent of our nation’s streams. Without the protections outlined in it, factories, sewage treatment facilities, and other polluters may be able to directly dump into these waterways without any public notice. The threat of losing these protections reiterates the important role the Environmental Protection Agency plays in protecting clean water in all 50 states.

Specifically, the Clean Water Rule (epa.gov):

  • Clearly defines and protects tributaries that impact the health of downstream waters. The Clean Water Act protects navigable waterways and their tributaries. The rule says that a tributary must show physical features of flowing water – a bed, bank, and ordinary high water mark – to warrant protection. The rule provides protection for headwaters that have these features and science shows can have a significant connection to downstream waters.
  • Provides certainty in how far safeguards extend to nearby waters. The rule protects waters that are next to rivers and lakes and their tributaries because science shows that they impact downstream waters. The rule sets boundaries on covering nearby waters for the first time that are physical and measurable.
  • Protects the nation’s regional water treasures. Science shows that specific water features can function like a system and impact the health of downstream waters. The rule protects prairie potholes, Carolina and Delmarva bays, pocosins, western vernal pools in California, and Texas coastal prairie wetlands when they impact downstream waters.
  • Focuses on streams, not ditches. The rule limits protection to ditches that are constructed out of streams or function like streams and can carry pollution downstream. So ditches that are not constructed in streams and that flow only when it rains are not covered.
  • Maintains the status of waters within Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems. The rule does not change how those waters are treated and encourages the use of green infrastructure.
  • Reduces the use of case-specific analysis of waters. Previously, almost any water could be put through a lengthy case-specific analysis, even if it would not be subject to the Clean Water Act. The rule significantly limits the use of case-specific analysis by creating clarity and certainty on protected waters and limiting the number of similarly situated water features.

 

Environmentalists have praised the rule, calling it an important step that will lead to significantly cleaner natural bodies of water and healthier drinking water. It has come under fierce attack from business interests like farmers, property developers, fertilizer and pesticide makers, oil and gas producers and golf course owners, who contend that it will stifle economic growth and intrude on property owners’ rights.

The American Farm Bureau Federation, which has led the legal fight against Mr. Obama’s rule, contends that it places an undue burden on farmers in particular, who may find themselves required to apply for federal permits to use fertilizer near ditches and streams on their property that may eventually flow into larger rivers.

Despite the controversy over the regulation, it has yet to be implemented. A federal court delayed it as the judges review the legal case against it.

Additionally, on its own, the President’s order will have almost no legal effect on the sweeping rule, according to many legal experts. The order essentially directs Trump’s new Environmental Protection Agency administrator, Scott Pruitt, to begin the lengthy and complicated legal process required to rewrite the rule — a process that could take longer than Mr. Trump’s first term, legal experts say.

Also expect to see in the coming weeks a similar order directing Mr. Pruitt to begin the lengthy legal process of withdrawing and rewriting President Obama’s signature 2015 climate change regulation, aimed at curbing emissions of planet-warming greenhouse gases from coal-fired power plants.

Because both the water protection and climate change rules were finalized under existing laws long before Mr. Obama left office, they cannot be simply undone with a stroke of the president’s pen, legal experts in both the Obama and Trump White Houses have said.

Confirmation of Scott Pruitt as head of the Environmental Protection Agency

The Senate confirmed Scott Pruitt as head of the Environmental Protection Agency, placing him in charge of a government body that he sued more than a dozen times and that President Donald Trump has pledged to scrap. It seems that Pruitt was selected because he has made something of a career out of battling against the EPA, in the courts and in the political arena.

Pruitt is likely to target a series of environmental standards put into place under President Obama, including the Clean Power Plan and higher fuel economy standards for vehicles. Rolling back those regulations would make it increasingly difficult for the nation to meet its already ambitious commitments to the landmark Paris climate agreement.

As of February 8, more than 600 former EPA officials have signed a letter to the U.S. Senate strongly urging a vote against Scott Pruitt.

Based on several articles, it looks like Pruitt won’t be able to force through these changes without a fight. Scaling back most of these rules, which are grounded in hard-won legal battles and well-established climate science, would require protracted public review and almost certain challenges in court.

While Scott Pruitt is obviously a dangerous choice as head of our country’s environmental agency, in the case of the EPA and its regulations, any changes will be slow going because of the protracted process of public notice and lengthy legal battles. There will also be pushback by individual states, who have a great deal of influence over their own environmental policies.

(References: Technology Review, Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, Rand Corporation, NY Times)

Dakota Access Pipeline-

Trump administration officials informed Congress and a federal judge in early February 2017 that they would issue the easement — originally approved last year — after Trump in January ordered construction on the project to move forward. The Army approved the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline on Tuesday, paving the way for an infrastructure project that has been surrounded by protest and controversy. Robert Speer, the acting secretary of the Army, announced the decision to Congress, saying he was ready to offer the pipeline’s owner a 30-year easement on a disputed patch of land.

The move drew outrage from opponents, including the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, whose reservation in North Dakota sits less than a mile from the proposed pipeline route. And it drew cheers from supporters, who said the planning process for the completion of the $3.7 billion project had already lasted too long.

The Dakota Access Pipeline project would extend 1,168 miles across North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, and Illinois, crossing through communities, farms, tribal land, sensitive natural areas and wildlife habitat. The pipeline would carry crude oil from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota to Illinois where it will link with another pipeline that will transport the oil to terminals and refineries along the Gulf of Mexico.

Despite objections by the Standing Rock Sioux and other organizations, construction of the pipeline will begin at any time.

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has vowed to fight the project, as it has since last summer. The tribe is going to court to challenge the easement again, arguing the Trump administration improperly dismissed an environmental review of the project that Obama officials kicked off in December.

For ongoing updates about the Standing Rock litigation, please visit EarthJustice

Sources: Southern Environmental Law Center, EPA, New York Times, EarthJustice

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