Writer: Roger Nielsen
The Legislative Environmental Policy Academy allows members of the House and Senate Natural Resources and Environment Committees to enhance their understanding of key environmental issues facing Georgia’s coast.
Nearly three dozen members of the Georgia General Assembly explored current and developing environmental issues at the 2019 Legislative Environmental Policy Academy presented by the Institute of Government with support from the Dobbs Foundation.
State Sen. Tyler Harper of Ocilla and state Rep. Lynn Smith of Newnan convened the academy as committee chairs. The academy provides committee members an opportunity to learn more about critical topics such as oyster aquaculture, flood protection and saltwater intrusion through personal instruction and site visits to installations like the University of Georgia’s Marine Institute on Sapelo Island.
The curriculum helps citizen legislators make informed decisions about complicated environmental issues, according to Smith, who was elected to the House in 1996 and represents portions of Carroll and Coweta counties.
“Understanding issues such as how saltwater intrusion affects coastal water resources requires continual engagement with experts and resource managers,” she said. “We must educate ourselves regularly as we manage and monitor our water resources.”
Harper, who pointed out the many benefits of effective resource management, represents Atkinson, Bacon, Ben Hill, Berrien, Coffee, Irwin, Pierce and Ware counties and portions of Charlton and Wilcox counties.
“Connecting natural resource management to community values and economic development makes Georgia stronger,” he said. “Land conservation efforts such as the Altama Plantation Wildlife Management Area can protect habitat while also providing outdoor recreational opportunities that bring hunters, anglers, hikers and birders to our more rural areas.”
At the UGA Marine Institute, committee members learned about resilience measures implemented to protect the institute from hurricanes and flooding. They also visited Sapelo Sea Farms, where they inspected a clam aquaculture site and discussed oyster aquaculture, according to Shana Jones, who coordinated the Academy and heads the Institute’s Planning and Environmental Services unit.
“All of these activities were designed to help legislators better understand the challenges local leaders face as they work to sustain and enhance coastal Georgia’s economy and environment,” Jones said.