ATLANTA -- The Georgia Senate appears headed toward removing a section from a bill that would allow the General Assembly to override all regulations put forth by the state's Environmental Protection Division.
During a meeting Wednesday of the Senate Natural Resources Committee, state Rep. Henry Reaves, D-Quitman, conceded that his bill is aimed only at water-quality regulations that could affect family farmers.
But EPD Director Harold Reheis told the panel the legislation also includes a provision that could affect his agency's ability to ensure that Georgia complies with all federal environmental rules.
The bill, passed overwhelmingly by the House two weeks ago, calls for the creation of a 12-member panel to review changes in water-quality regulations proposed by the EPD before they're voted on by the state's Board of Natural Resources.
Mr. Reaves, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, told senators Wednesday the bill stems from a major overhaul of rules governing hog farms that the board approved last June.
"This has just about put the hog industry out of business in Georgia," he said.
"This bill would give farmers a little more input into the rules that affect their very survival," added state Sen. Harold Ragan, D-Cairo, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee.
But environmental advocates are most dismayed over a section of the bill that goes beyond water-quality regulations to allow the Legislature to veto EPD regulations. Currently, the EPD is the only state agency not subject to legislative veto.
"Can't we narrow this bill down to agricultural interests only?" asked state Sen. Eddie Madden, D-Elberton.
An effort to amend the bill on the House floor to eliminate that section was defeated easily.
However, the Senate committee might be preparing a similar effort. Committee Chairman Hugh Gillis, D-Soperton, asked Mr. Madden to head a subcommittee that will try to come up with a way to make the bill apply just to agriculture.
Although environmental advocates who attended Wednesday's meeting were encouraged by that development, some are against the proposed committee.
"All this committee is going to do is get the same information that I, as a citizen, already get," said Stan Booher of Augusta, chairman of the Georgia chapter of the Sierra Club. "They could get together on their own. I'm concerned about my tax dollars paying to fund an agricultural advisory committee that's going to meet and spend a lot of money."
In other business Wednesday, Gov. Roy Barnes' green-space protection plan sailed through the committee as expected in its first legislative airing. The bill would provide state grants to fast-growing counties willing to set aside 20 percent of their undeveloped land as open space.
Reach Dave Williams at (404) 589-8424.
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