Georgia’s legislative session recently adjourned for the year from under the Gold Dome, and the Georgia Conservation Voters team was on the ground every step of the way, pushing back on anti-clean energy legislation and moving forward with bills that will advance our climate agenda. Below are our main takeaways from the session:
Our biggest challenges:
Gas industry preemption in Georgia continues:
As renewables become more affordable and gas prices rise, people in the gas industry are afraid of losing their grip on Georgia consumers. They are pushing preemptions (which are bills that allow state governments to limit or even eliminate power from local governments) so they can maintain their profits by locking consumers into high energy prices for decades to come.
What started as a preemption gas leaf-blower bill ended up taking on all kinds of other amendments, including banning governments from enacting policies that would restrict fuel sources for appliances like gas stoves. These bills are a power grab by the gas industry and an attack on local control – outlawing restrictions on gas-powered appliances will further pollute the air and cause health problems for Georgians. While advocates fought hard against HB 374 and SB 145, these pro-gas bills passed in the final days of the session.
Blocking popular bipartisan bills from making it to the floor:
The Okefenokee Protection Act (HB 71) is important legislation that permanently protects our beloved Okefenokee from future mining operations. Mining corporations continue to threaten the largest blackwater swamp in North America, and it’s up to Georgia’s leaders to protect it. Even with over 90 sponsors and strong bipartisan support, the Chairwoman of the Natural Resources Committee, Lynn Smith (R-70), did not allow the bill to be voted on.
The Georgia Homegrown Solar Act of 2023 (SB 210), sponsored by Republican Senator Jason Anavitarte (R-31), also failed to make it to the floor. This bill would establish a program to fairly compensate rooftop solar customers for the excess power they generate. Most Georgia homes and businesses with solar panels have been underpaid for the solar energy they send to the grid. Georgia must catch up to states like Florida, North Carolina, and South Carolina in rooftop solar power generation.
These bills will be back next year and we’ll be at the Capitol with allies strongly advocating for the passage of both.
Adding yet another fee to electric vehicles:
Due to the increased number of electric vehicles (EVs) on our roads, we saw an enormous amount of EV bills competing for our attention this session. While most of those bills didn’t make it through, SB 146 was passed. This bill adds a new tax on EV charging stations to compensate for lost revenue from taxes collected at the gas pump that are used to build our roads and bridges. However, this extra tax is unnecessary, given that EV drivers in Georgia already pay a whopping $211 additional fee per year, one of the highest fees in the nation. EVs still account for less than 1% of cars on the road in Georgia, and adding yet another fee to EVs will stunt future growth. While we managed to push back and lower the tax, GCV still opposes this legislation and will continue to work with legislators to amend it since the fee doesn’t go into effect until 2025.
Passing more anti-voting rights legislation:
GCV was disappointed by the last-minute passage of SB 222, which criminalizes election workers and county officials for attempting to fund the rising cost of elections through private means. In 2021, SB 202 imposed significant administrative burdens on counties and their ability to adequately fund and run elections. Securing additional funding is crucial as counties struggle to recruit staff and increase the number of early voting locations. Instead of supporting county election workers, our State Legislature will now subject them to 1 year in jail and a $10,000 fine simply for attempting to fund their work properly. There are now major concerns going into election season about how elections will operate with limited resources and funding.
Despite the challenges this session, we had lots of big wins to celebrate, including:
Expanding and restoring trust funds that will continue to clean up our state:
Sponsored by Representative Debbie Buckner (D-137), HB 31 reinforces a 2020 Georgia ballot measure requiring revenue collected from taxes and fees to be allocated solely to the environmental cleanups they were intended to fund. This ensures an additional $1.4 million is allocated annually to fund environmental cleanups by requiring Hazardous Waste Management fees and Hazardous Waste Reporting fees be used solely for their intended purposes.
SB 95, sponsored by Senator Randy Robertson (R-29), changes the method for collecting the $1 per tire recycling fee by requiring distributors of new tires to pay it rather than the tire dealers. An audit revealed that collections would grow by up to $3 million through this method. The money will continue to be deposited in the Solid Waste Trust Fund, which is used to clean up scrap tires, support statewide recycling initiatives, and ensure the safe management of abandoned landfills.
Killing damaging “Build-to-Rent” bills:
This session, there were a host of bills that would curtail local building standards, lower investment costs per housing unit, and prevent young working families from building wealth with new homeownership. Hedge funds are scooping up affordable housing, creating more pump-and-dump renters. GCV is also concerned about the environmental threats posed by some legislation. First, developers want easier paths to build in wetlands, and second, they would increase the use of petroleum plastic building materials (PVC), which have significant carbon footprints and are highly flammable. Luckily, all the bills in their worst forms didn’t make it through. Just a heavily amended HB 514 passed, which prohibits local governments from imposing moratoriums on the building of housing for longer than 180 days, but was narrowed to just moratoriums on single-family housing.
Obtaining $500K for the Agriculture Department to increase oversight on soil amendments:
Industrial sludge and sewage often end up in our agricultural lands across the state due to poor regulation, which has been causing havoc on our waterways. HB 477 was introduced this year to address these issues, but unfortunately, the bill failed to pass. However, we still had a significant win: the Agriculture Commissioner admitted that the industry has bad actors, and the General Assembly appropriated $500K to the Agriculture Department to hire more staff and provide more oversight. We’ll see what this does to clean up our state and will be watching this closely in the future.
Defeating multiple anti-solar bills:
GCV played a significant role in ensuring that bills that would have stifled the solar industry did not pass this session. HB 73 would have required people who want to install rooftop solar panels to obtain a Certificate of Authority (COA) from the Public Service Commission. It’s supposed to protect residential solar customers from “bad actors” in the rooftop solar industry. There are problems with out-of-state companies ripping people off, but the solution is for the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division to do its job more effectively. Consumer protection legislation is warranted, but requiring a COA would have been an overreach.
HB 300 would have established a $15/kilowatt fee on the sale of all new solar. There is some fear about solar panels being a big solid waste problem in the future once they need to be replaced. End-of-life solar panel disposal is currently handled at the local level, and we believe there are better ways to push for more sustainable practices without crushing the solar industry.
Passing a last-minute bill that will protect fishing rights for the public:
Earlier this year, the state agreed to a settlement that granted a landowner along the Flint River the right to control fishing access near their property. However, SB 115 asserts that the state can’t convey rights like regulating fishing on navigable rivers. This should decisively end the practice of landowners asserting control over the free use of state waters by its people for recreation.
A well-deserved spotlight on environmental justice:
Three Environmental Justice Acts were introduced: HB 260, HB 491, and HB 495. These bills would identify overburdened communities with a history of pollution, create a regulatory body to ensure actions are taken to mitigate health hazards, and create a new process for obtaining specific permits. Next year we’ll push lawmakers to give these Environmental Justice Acts a fair hearing and vote.
Introduction of a bipartisan resolution urging the Public Service Commission (PSC) to protect ratepayers from nuclear construction overrun costs
SR 300 was led by Senator Josh McLaurin (D-14) alongside a coalition of 22 bipartisan legislators. The resolution calls on the PSC to protect millions of Georgians from unjustly paying for construction mistakes, delays, and work corrections on the Vogtle Nuclear Plant. The resolution would also prohibit Georgia Power from profiting from these delays. This resolution indicates strong bipartisan support from legislators to hold the PSC and Georgia Power accountable for their decisions that reflect corporate greed and incompetence, leading to continuous rate increases on Georgia Power customers.
Onward to 2024:
The above list of accomplishments is a credit to the tireless work of our legislative team and allies, and a testament to the strength of Georgia’s diverse environmental coalition! Our team is already looking forward to next year’s session to strategize on how to advance bills that didn’t quite make it over the finish line and ensure that the bills we opposed never see the light of day again.
While the session might be over, your legislators still work for you year-round! Hearing directly from constituents like you is crucial: Click here to send a personalized message to your legislators to demand that they pass legislation that takes bold climate action.