The topic of environmental justice garnered more attention as the Biden-Harris administration took office. On February 11, HB 432 was introduced by six Democrats in Georgia’s House of Representatives. The proposed bill is titled “Georgia Environmental Justice Act of 2021” and is the first proposed legislation in Georgia that directly addresses environmental justice. Below are the highlights of the contents of the proposed bill.

Creation of Environmental Justice Commission

The proposed bill would create an Environmental Justice Commission (the “Commission”) composed of 22 members. The proposed bill specifically instructs that there should be one member representing each of the following groups: African Americans, Native Americans, and Asian Americans. There also must be three members representing low-income communities. Moreover, at least two of the appointees must be from communities having a population of less than 50,000 people.

The Commission is to identify a “representative sampling” of facilities throughout Georgia that are currently subject to Georgia and/or federal environmental permitting requirements. Then, the Commission is to study and report on how environmental justice impacts Georgians using the ‘targeted facilities” identified by the Commission.

If constituted, the Commission is to issue a report by April 2022 and hold public hearings on their findings throughout Georgia. Additionally, the Commission is to prepare model legislation that it deems appropriate for the consideration of the Georgia General Assembly during the 2023 session.

The Commission is also to determine whether a permanent board or entity should be created to further consider environmental justice issues facing Georgians.

Intervention by Environmental Justice Commission in Agency Proceedings

The proposed bill provides the Commission with the authority to intervene in proceedings before state agencies related to environmental matters affecting “people of color and people from low-income families.” The proposed bill does not describe the role of the Commission in such proceedings, and the only limitation on the Commission’s authority is that the Commission “shall not take any action which would impede or obstruct an investigation by the division, any law enforcement agency, or any judicial authority.”

Consideration of Environmental Justice in Development in Targeted ZIP Codes

The proposed bill provides that before a waste management or air permit is approved “for the construction, major modification, or operation of a facility located in a ZIP code area having a majority population consisting of people of color or people from low-income families” the permit applicant “must commit to implementing unit of production pollution prevention goal environmental assessment baseline studies.” Additionally, the permit applicant must submit a proposed plan for pollution prevention and community baseline health studies to the permitting authority. The pollution prevention plan is required to include a commitment to make a report of its inventory of chemical use available to the public. The pollution prevention plan and the community baseline health study must be signed by the applicant’s CEO.

The proposed bill does not provide the permitting authority with instructions on how to apply the findings of any community baseline health study, nor does it describe when an application should be denied due to these submittals.

Consideration of Environmental Justice Under GEPA

Georgia’s Environmental Policy Act (GEPA), Georgia’s state counterpart to the National Environmental Policy Act, requires that Georgia’s governments consider the environmental impact of proposed government actions and consider alternatives and mitigation strategies to the proposed action. The proposed bill also requires that Georgia’s governments consider “the disproportionate effects of environmental hazards upon neighborhoods whose residents are people of color or people from low-income families” when determining if a government action significantly adversely affects the quality of the environment. These disproportionate effects must also be considered when preparing environmental effect reports under GEPA.

The fate of the bill is unclear as Crossover Day occurs this week, and the legislation has still not cleared its committee. Troutman Pepper will continue to track HB 432 as the proposed bill develops.