ATLANTA - For the second year, Georgia environmental officials are working to persuade state lawmakers to give them a revenue source independent of the whims of the General Assembly.
But the proposal still faces long odds in a legislature reluctant to give up control of the Environmental Protection Division's purse strings.
The EPD is asking for money to hire 70 employees next year, nearly a 10 percent increase in the agency's work force, as the second installment in a five-year plan to beef up the agency. This year, lawmakers authorized an additional 50 workers to help the EPD reduce a growing backlog of inspections and cleanups.
To pay for the staffing increases, agency officials are proposing to give the Board of Natural Resources authority to impose a series of fees on utilities and other businesses for wastewater discharges, water withdrawals, surface mining and other activities regulated by the EPD.
According to the division's number crunching, the fees would bring in $10 million per year by the end of a five-year phasing-in period. That would put the EPD on par financially with environmental agencies of other Southeastern states, said David Word, the division's assistant director.
Mr. Word said the fees would provide a more reliable source of income than the current system, which forces EPD officials to go to the General Assembly seeking support for budget requests.
He said it's fair to levy fees for permits on users of Georgia's environmental resources because they stand to benefit directly from those resources.
But Jeff Dimond, spokesman for the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, said businesses aren't the only beneficiaries. He said the benefits of clean air and water extend to the general public.
Mr. Dimond also argued that industries alone are not responsible for harming the environment. So-called "non-point" sources of pollution include stormwater runoff from farms or suburban lawns, he said.
"That's the main source of EPD's worry," Mr. Dimond said. "What are you going to do? Assign me a fee every time I buy a bag of fertilizer?"
Reach Dave Williams at (404) 589-8424.
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