Georgia could generate $4.8 million in annual revenues by imposing user fees for cities and factories that empty waste into streams and rivers, according to the Georgia Public Interest Research Group.
"Pardon the pun, but it's coming down the pipe, and we'd really like to see this enacted before the end of next year's Legislature," said Meg Smothers, the Atlanta-based environmental group's clean water associate.
Georgia does not charge potential polluters a fee when they apply to Georgia's Environmental Protection Division for a discharge permit under the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System program.
The permits are required for factories and municipal wastewater plants and other major dischargers of toxics or treated sewage into public waterways. EPD and its employees administer and enforce those programs.
Ms. Smothers said Georgia is one of only two states in the Southeast that does not collect such a fee. Mississippi is the other. The fees collected in Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee totaled more than $13.7 million.
"Georgia has everything to gain if they do this," she said. "The primary point-source polluters should pay, and the fees should be based on the type of pollution, and how much of it is entering our waterways."
David Word, EPD's assistant director, said Friday that the fees are a viable option and have been discussed extensively in recent years.
"The Board of Natural Resources, for the last three or four years, has endorsed those fee proposals," he said.
But new fees would require new legislation. In 1999, EPD asked the Legislature to adopt the fees to add staff to the department's regulatory programs. Gov. Roy Barnes and the General Assembly agreed to fund 110 new positions, but without adding the new fees, Mr. Word said.
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