The House Transportation Committee on Wednesday approved a bill that would give the Georgia Department of Transportation and its contractors 30 days to fix any violation of sediment and erosion laws. Only then could the state levy a fine, which also would be set as low as legally possible.
The bill caps fines at $5,000 per day, down from state code limit of $50,000. The larger fine hampers DOTs ability to deliver projects, said the bills sponsor Rep. Bubber Epps, R-Dry Branch, who pointed out that the lower figure complies with the minimum requirements of the federal Clean Water Act.
He said the bill wont result in more sediment -- the states No. 1 water pollutant -- washing into streams and rivers because its not reducing the protection. The same laws apply, enforced by the same agency.
Indeed, this version of the bill is a bit of a climb down from an earlier draft that would have prevented the state Environmental Protection Agency from fining DOT at all.
Bill sponsor Rep. David Lucas, D-Macon, and others have argued that its unconstitutional for DOT to essentially move funds legally obligated to transportation projects to the EPDs budget.
Yet, such transfers would happen under House Bill 131 as passed. Said Epps, I dont know that weve removed the constitutional issue.
So, EPD inspectors will keep issuing fines, but the bill cements a 30-day window to fix a sedimentation or erosion problem first. Right now, some warnings are issued as little as 48 hours before a fine can be levied.
The 30-day window is not appropriate, EPD Director Allen Barnes said in previous testimony against the bill.
House Bill 131 also revives the Erosion and Sediment Overview Council to mediate any fine disputes between EPD and DOT.
It would have seven members. First, one each appointed by the House speaker and the lieutenant governor, then five appointed by the governor who must include: one DOT employee, one Department of Natural Resources employee, one environmental engineer, one representative of the highway contracting industry and a chairman.
A range of environmental groups and at least one organization of fishermen testified against the bill.
But since the beginning, the proposals been fishy to the Georgia Association of Water Professionals, the people who run water treatment plants and thus deal with cleaning dirt out of drinking water.
Our view is that state government ought to be setting a good example, not trying to get out of environmental legislation, Executive Director Jack Dozier said.
It passed the committee in a 12-6 vote. Now it moves to the Rules Committee for a floor debate date.