Bill to preempt local bans on natural gas hookups clears Senate

Environmental advocates are now left to pressure Gov. Brian Kemp to veto a bill the Georgia Senate passed Monday intended preempt cities and counties from banning new natural gas hookups. Quentin Young/Colorado Newsline

The state Senate has now backed a measure that would block cities and counties from trying to ban natural gas hookups as part of any local plan to reduce their carbon emissions.

The 34-to-15 vote Monday in the Senate saw some bipartisan support, but a slight change made to the bill will send it back to the House, where lawmakers approved the concept last month. Advocates have shifted their focus to pressuring Gov. Brian Kemp to veto the bill.

There is no local push to ban natural gas in Georgia, but prohibitions in cities in a handful of states like California have GOP state lawmakers wanting to get ahead of any attempt that may emerge here later.

The Georgia bill blocks governmental entities from adopting “any policy that prohibits, or has the effect of prohibiting,” a connection or reconnection at a home or business because of it is a specific type of fuel source. Cities and counties could still ban natural gas connections in government-owned buildings.

The preemptive measure has popped up in a similar form in more than a dozen other states, like North Carolina, with the backing  of the natural gas industry. Four states – Tennessee, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Arizona – passed preemption laws last year.

In Georgia, the proposal has also found support among the Georgia Farm Bureau and representatives for restaurants and real estate groups.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. John Kennedy, pointed to Berkeley, which banned new gas hookups and where city officials are now exploring phasing out gas-powered vehicles by 2027, as a cautionary tale for why Georgia lawmakers need to act.

“That’s really what this is aimed at and where this is headed,” the Macon Republican said Monday.

But environmentalists and officials from cities mapping out clean energy goals said the measure caters to the gas industry while tying their hands for many years to come.

“The writing is on the wall for the gas industry – solar and other renewables are more affordable than ever, buildings are becoming more efficient and all that means the gas industry is eager to preserve its role in the energy landscape through continued investment in new gas infrastructure,” said Jennette Gayer, director of Environment Georgia, which opposed the legislation.

Senate Democrats tried unsuccessfully Monday to put an expiration date on the limitation that would force lawmakers to reevaluate in five years.

“What can seem like a good idea now can prove to have been an extremely bad idea that everyone will be making fun of us for 10 years down the line,” said Sen. Elena Parent, an Atlanta Democrat.

“Which is why I’m offering this sunset so that we can sort of assess the landscape of appliance technology and energy policy in five years and determine if this legislation is still needed,” she said.

As in the House, a few Senate Democrats sided with Republicans on the issue. But Sen. Ben Watson, a Savannah Republican, peeled away from his colleagues. Savannah is one of a five Georgia cities beginning to look at ways to shrink their carbon footprint. Savannah has pledged to hit 100% clean energy by 2035.