This week the state senate is expected to vote on a bill that would make it harder to appeal environmental permits.
When a group disputes a proposed landfill or coal plant, it usually challenges the permit given out by the Environmental Protection Division. It does that by presenting evidence contrary to the company’s building the project. But if SB 486 passes, that won’t be possible says Neil Herring with the Sierra Club.
"We will not be able to persuade the judge to overturn anything EPD has determined," says Herring. "He has to go along with them. He has to as a matter of law."
Herring says the bill is pushed by companies wanting to build coal plants.
Its sponsor Republican Senator Ross Tolleson says he wants judges who hear such cases to defer to experts of a state agency like the EPD on technical matters.
"The administrative law judges... they don’t have the expertise all the time, say in the air quality permits, so they’re a lot of things they really need to defer to experts when they’re dealing with these kinds of permits."
Tolleson says the issue came to light in 2008 when an Atlanta judge ruled a proposed coal-fired plant in Early County had an invalid permit. The ruling halted construction on the first coal plant to be built in Georgia in 20 years.