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You know it's an election year when ...

At the start of each legislative session, environmental lobbyists give lawmakers a wish list of wannabe bills that would benefit human health and protect Earth. Most of the time, lawmakers take those lists and promptly throw them in the trash — and not the recycling bin.

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But election years are different. Most legislators want to be a friend of the environment on the campaign trail, even while they assault it under the Gold Dome.

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Later this year, every state lawmaker and most elected officeholders will be up for election. The fun part will be watching the candidates try to out-green each other in the General Assembly, which opened Jan. 9.

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For instance, you know it's an election year when two gubernatorial candidates, Gov. Sonny Perdue and Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor, RSVP for the annual Georgia Environmental Council's legislative reception Jan. 25 — one of the environmental community's biggest events of the year. Don't be surprised if a third candidate, Secretary of State Cathy Cox, shows up as well. (For the record, none of the three candidates have launched direct environmental attacks, though some activists argue that Perdue has harmed the environment through inaction and industry-heavy executive appointments.)

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Now, borrowing ideas from two of the state's top environmental groups, Perdue has announced two major policy recommendations that have been well-received by environmentalists statewide.

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Perdue is seeking to restore the Hazardous Waste Trust Fund, which uses fees and fines to pay for the cleanup of contaminated sites. For the past two years, Perdue and the General Assembly have raided the $32 million in the trust fund, meaning that cleanup work on at least eight hazardous sites had to be abandoned.

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Restoring the trust fund was at the top of the Georgia Conservation Voters' legislative priority list for 2006 — and for the past two years.

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Perdue also is pushing to give landowners who choose to permanently protect their property from development a 25 percent income tax credit. That idea was pushed by both the Georgia Conservation Voters and the Georgia Public Interest Research Group.

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What's more, Rep. Jill Chambers, R-Atlanta, has introduced a bill to ban MTBE, a gasoline additive and suspected carcinogen. And Rep. Jeff Lewis, R-White, has authored a bill that would use tax breaks to encourage power plants that run off landfill gas.

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Heather Hedrick, Perdue's press secretary, points out the governor has introduced several environmentally friendly pieces of legislation over the years, including incentives for telecommuters and a program to preserve greenspace.

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"Gov. Perdue's environmental efforts started before he took office," Hedrick says. "This is not an election-year gimmick."

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GET INVOLVED: For more info, visit www.georgiapirg.org, www.protectgeorgia.org, and www.gecweb.org.




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