Governor's Green Plan on the Way Environmentalists Backing Proposal

Article excerpt

ATLANTA -- Gov. Roy Barnes will introduce his green-space preservation plan early this week, to the delight of environmental activists across Georgia.

But environmentalists are not happy with some of the bills circulating around the Capitol early in the 2000 General Assembly session. They concede it already may be too late to stop the top target on their hit list, a measure passed overwhelmingly by the House last week that would allow lawmakers to override regulations sought by the state's Environmental Protection Division.

Environmental activists were excited by the advances made on their issues last year. The General Assembly approved Barnes' plan to create a regional transportation authority whose main purpose is to find a way out of metro-Atlanta's chronic traffic congestion, a key contributor to the region's smog woes during the summer.

Lawmakers also enacted a moratorium on a controversial method of water storage that would involve injecting treated river water into the Floridan Aquifer beneath coastal Georgia.

And the state's Board of Natural Resources adopted tough new rules governing hog farming designed to clamp down on corporate mega-farms.

To environmentalists, the governor's green-space proposal is this year's equivalent to the transportation authority.

While the bill won't be unveiled until this week, Barnes already has requested $30 million in next year's budget for grants to local governments that submit plans showing how they would preserve 20 percent of their remaining undeveloped land.

When the governor first revealed his plans last summer, he talked about making green-space preservation mandatory for the state's fastest-growing counties. But he now says there's enough money in the pot to attract interest with the carrot approach.

Making the program voluntary also should help assure the same level of support in the General Assembly that Barnes enjoyed last year with his transportation authority.

Another piece of legislation that so far has found smooth sailing in the General Assembly is the bill giving lawmakers veto power over EPD rules and regulations. Currently, the agency enjoys an exemption from legislative override authority that applies to the rest of state government.

Ironically, the measure arises from one of the actions last year that most encouraged environmental activists: passage of the new hog-farming rules.

"This was all about revenge against the [Board of Natural Resources] for doing a good job with the hog regulations," said Mark Woodall, a lobbyist with the Sierra Club.

The bill's supporters say it's only fair to treat the EPD like every other agency in state government, and they picked up a key ally before last week's House vote when EPD Director Harold Reheis agreed with that argument. …