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The issue of environmental justice attracted more attention with the inauguration of the Biden Harris government. On February 11th, HB 432 was introduced by six Democrats in the Georgian House of Representatives. The bill is entitled “Georgia Environmental Justice Act of 2021” and is the first bill in Georgia that deals directly with environmental justice. The following are the main contents of the proposed bill.

Creation of an environmental justice commission

The proposed law would create an Environmental Justice Commission (the “Commission”) composed of 22 members. The proposed law specifically states that there should be one member representing each of the following groups: African Americans, Native Americans, and Asian Americans. There must also be three members representing low-income communities. In addition, at least two of the persons appointed must come from municipalities with fewer than 50,000 inhabitants.

The commission is to identify a “representative sample” of facilities across Georgia currently subject to Georgian and / or federal environmental permit requirements. The Commission will then investigate and report on the impacts of environmental justice on Georgians who use the “targeted facilities” identified by the Commission.

If constituted, the commission should present a report by April 2022 and hold public hearings on its results across Georgia. In addition, the commission is expected to prepare model pieces of legislation that it deems appropriate for consideration by the General Assembly of Georgia during the 2023 session.

The commission should also decide whether a permanent board or body should be created to further address environmental justice issues Georgians face.

Intervention of the Environmental Justice Commission in proceedings by the authority

The draft law gives the Commission the power to intervene in proceedings before government agencies in relation to environmental issues that affect “people of color and people from low-income families”. The bill does not describe the role of the Commission in such proceedings, and the only limitation on the Commission’s powers is that the Commission “may not take any action that would lead to an investigation by the department, law enforcement agency or any judicial authority.”

Consideration of environmental justice in the development in targeted postcodes

The proposed law provides that prior to the approval of a waste disposal or aviation permit “for the construction, substantial modification or operation of a facility in a postcode area with a majority population consisting of colored people or people from low-income families” the permit applicant “must oblige to carry out basic studies for the environmental assessment through the aim of the environmental impact assessment in the production unit ”. In addition, the applicant must provide the licensing authority with a proposal for a pollution prevention plan and community health studies. The pollution control plan must include an obligation to make a report on its inventory of chemical uses available to the public. The pollution prevention plan and community health study must be signed by the applicant’s CEO.

The proposed law does not provide instructions for the licensing authority on how to apply the results of a community basic health study, nor does it describe when an application should be rejected based on these submissions.

Consideration of environmental justice in the context of GEPA

Georgia’s Environmental Policy Act (GEPA), Georgia’s federal counterpart to the National Environmental Policy Act, requires that the governments of Georgia consider the environmental impact of proposed government measures and consider alternatives and mitigation strategies to the proposed measures. The bill also requires Georgian governments to consider “the disproportionate impact of environmental hazards on neighborhoods populated by people of color or low-income families” when determining whether government action is materially affecting the quality of the environment. These disproportionate effects must also be taken into account when preparing environmental impact reports within the framework of the GEPA.

The fate of the bill is unclear as Crossover Day is happening this week and the legislature has still not cleared its committee.

The content of this article is intended to provide general guidance on the subject. You should seek expert advice regarding your specific circumstances.

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