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Georgia Legislature provides a few wins for environmentalists: Solar energy, plastic bags

Athens plastic bags The state House has rejected a Senate bill intended to prevent cities from curbing the use of plastic bags, as Athens has done. Credit: onlineathens.com

By David Pendered

Georgia lawmakers have resolved two bills in favor of environmentalists – by passing one bill that promotes the installation of solar power, and by killing another that aimed to prevent local governments from regulating plastic bags.

Solar panels on the roof the Atlanta Community Food Bank. Credit: David Pendered

Georgia lawmakers have approved legislation that is to enable greater financing options for the installation of solar power. File/Credit: David Pendered

The House and Senate have approved a solar financing bill, House Bill 57. It intends to help property owners install solar power equipments by enabling loans, leases and other agreements that facilitate third-party financing, according to the Georgia Solar Energy Association.

This is how the Solar Energy Industries Assoc. defines the financing model:

  • “Third-party financing of solar energy primarily occurs through two models. A customer can sign a traditional lease and pay for the use of a solar system or the customer can sign a power purchase agreements (PPA) to pay a specific rate for the electricity that is generated each month.”

HB 57 was sponsored by a bipartisan group of lawmakers from metro and exuburban Atlanta. House signers include Rep. Mike Dudgeon (R-Johns Creek); Rep. Karla Drenner (D-Avondale Estates); Rep. Buzz Brockway (R-Lawrenceville); Rep. Harry Geisinger (R-Roswell); Rep. Ed Setzler (R-Acworth); and Rep. Mark Hamilton (R-Cumming).

The Senate sponsor was Sen. Steve Gooch (R-Dahlonega), the chamber’s majority whip.

Tybee Island clean up

Volunteers who cleaned Tybee Island in September say the collected 121 plastic bags, 322 food containers and more than 3,000 cigarette butts in a morning clean-up event that included students from Georgia Tech’s Savannah campus and Armstrong Atlantic State University, Georgia Conservancy members, and Savannah Ocean Exchange participants. Credit: georgiaconservancy.org

“This shows how working together toward a common goal can transcend political divisions and produce lasting, productive results for all of Georgia,” GSEA Chairman Brion Fitzpatrick said in a statement.

“This stride forward would not have been possible without the coalition that collaborated on this effort throughout the legislative process,” Fitzpatrick said. “That coalition includes Georgia Power, Georgia’s EMCs and MEAGs, the Georgia Solar Energy Industries Association, the Georgia Property Rights Council, the environmental community, and consumer protection advocates, as well as many others.”

The plastic bags bill has traveled under the moniker, “plastic bags everywhere.”

Senate Bill 139 was sponsored by six senators and intended to prevent local governments from restricting the use of plastic bags and Styrofoam containers commonly used to transport retail items and food from shops to their destinations.

The bill responded to steps in Athens and Tybee Island to restrict the use of plastic bags.

In the Senate, sponsors included Sen. Tyler Harper (R-Ocilla); Sen. Jeff Mullis (R-Chickamauga), who chairs the powerful Rules Committee; Sen. John Wilkinson (R-Toccoa); Sen. Ross Toleson (R-Perry); Sen. Freddie Powell Sims (D-Dawson); and Sen. Dean Burke (R-Bainbridge).

The House sponsor was Rep. Tom McCall (R-Elberton).

The Senate approved the legislation fairly quickly. The bill was introduced Feb. 19 and, seven days later, the Senate passed a slightly modified version of the bill. The proposal met some resistance in the House, which offered two substitute versions before voting March 27 to reject the proposal. The vote to pass the bill failed with a vote of 65 to 85.

Athens plastic bags

The state House has rejected a Senate bill intended to prevent cities from curbing the use of plastic bags, as Athens has done. Credit: onlineathens.com

Opponents of the bill were able to muster a fair level of support for their position.

A national symposium to discuss the worldwide plastic pollution issue just happened to be hosted March 26 and 27. It was sponsored by Georgia State University and the David J. Sencer Centers for Disease Control Museum.

In a statement announcing the conference, Pam Longobardi, GSU Distinguished University Professor, Professor of Art and founder of the Drifters Project, said:

  • “This is a unique conference that brings together top scientists, artists, activists and industry leaders as partners in exposing the environmental and public health issues of plastic pollution and collaboratively working to offer solutions.”

Former state Rep. Stephanie Stuckey Benfield, executive director of GreenLaw, observed of SB 139 in a statement release March 25:

  • “Home rule is a long-established policy in Georgia whereby local governments can decide how to best govern themselves.  The Georgia Legislature should respect Tybee’s right to control litter in their community.”


David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.


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1 Comment

  1. urban gardener March 31, 2015 10:53 am

    whooo hooo!
    Who woulda thunk!
    Surprise, not, that the pro-plastic-bag crew were all from areas no where near the beach, who don’t see the beach pollution… Further, the Republican establishment coming down more and more on the side against local home rule is quite something; the NY Times article awhile back on how it is all playing out in Texas was very eye opening.
    And I trust the stalwart women of the Garden Club(s) of Georgia had something to do with this – THANK YOU, LADIES! Here’s to those who take preserving Creation as a call to actually DO something…Report


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