Originally created 03/03/98

Environmental legislation passes House



ATLANTA -- Businesses with less-than-stellar environmental records could be stopped from gaining water withdrawal permits from the state under legislation which passed the Georgia House on Monday.

A bill by state Rep. Ann Purcell, D-Rincon, would authorize the state Environmental Protection Division to consider three years of pollution activity by a business before granting a permit.

The legislation was sparked from a debate over the hog farming issue in a House committee meeting two months ago, when Ms. Purcell learned that state environmental director Harold Reheis did not have the legal authority to reject an application based on fines for pollution levied by another state or the federal government.

"It's a good way of looking at what we're getting in the state of Georgia, Ms. Purcell said. "They (environmental officials) need to be able to look a little closer than they do now. This can give them the authority to do a little more than they are doing now."

Water withdrawal permits are used for a range of industrial activity including paper processing, irrigating crops and supplying residential users.

Hog farm operators also need withdrawal rights, but often draw criticism for polluting streams from pig waste runoff. Recent proposals for hog farms in Taylor and Tattnall counties have met heated opposition from local residents.

Under the measure, the state would be able to turn down a company that has been convicted of, pleaded guilty to, or paid a civil penalty for violating federal or state environmental laws.

The measure was changed during the committee process to consider only the past three years, rather than an earlier five-year provision. A state Department of Natural Resources official said it was changed based on information that three years would hold up better if a permit rejection was challenged in court.

Environmentalists praised the bill's passage in the House, but said they wish it was tougher.

"But as far as it goes, we're delighted," said Neill Herring, a lobbyist with the Georgia chapter of the Sierra Club. The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration.