A Guide to the Georgia Environmental Policy Act (GEPA) Requirements, Process, and Compliance

The Georgia Environmental Policy Act (GEPA) plays a crucial role in shaping the environmental landscape of the state, and understanding its intricacies is essential for successfully navigating the complex world of environmental regulation. This comprehensive guide delves into the heart of GEPA, exploring its applicability, structure, and key provisions, while also shedding light on the compliance obligations and enforcement mechanisms that underpin its effectiveness. By examining the act's regulatory standards, monitoring and reporting requirements, and potential penalties, readers will gain a deep understanding of how GEPA influences decision-making processes and project outcomes. The guide also keeps readers informed about recent developments, anticipated regulatory changes, and valuable resources, ensuring that they are well-equipped to manage the ever-evolving challenges of environmental compliance in Georgia.


Key Details of the Georgia Environmental Policy Act (GEPA)

Issuing Agency: Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR)
Year Established: 1991
Last Amended: 2020
Statutory Authority: Official Code of Georgia Annotated (O.C.G.A.) Sections 12-16-1 through 12-16-23
Primary Legal Reference: Official Code of Georgia Annotated (O.C.G.A.) Title 12, Chapter 16

Overview of the Georgia Environmental Policy Act (GEPA)

The Georgia Environmental Policy Act (GEPA) is a state-level environmental regulation that operates within the broader framework of Georgia's environmental laws and regulations. GEPA is designed to ensure that state agencies consider the environmental consequences of their actions and to promote environmentally responsible decision-making.

GEPA requires state agencies to prepare an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for any proposed state action that may significantly affect the quality of the environment. The EIR must include a detailed analysis of the proposed action's environmental impacts, alternatives to the proposed action, and mitigation measures to minimize adverse impacts.

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is the primary state agency responsible for administering and enforcing GEPA. The Environmental Protection Division (EPD) within the DNR oversees the implementation of GEPA and reviews EIRs submitted by state agencies.

GEPA was enacted in 1991 and has undergone several amendments over the years, with the most recent significant amendment occurring in 2020. The 2020 amendment expanded the scope of GEPA to include certain actions by local governments that receive state funding.

GEPA's jurisdiction is limited to state actions and does not apply to private actions or federal actions within the state. However, the regulation does apply to state-funded projects, even if they are carried out by local governments or private entities.

What does the Georgia Environmental Policy Act (GEPA) protect?

The Georgia Environmental Policy Act (GEPA) protects a wide range of environmental resources within the state of Georgia. These resources include air quality, water quality, wildlife, and natural habitats. GEPA aims to protect these resources from the adverse impacts of state actions by requiring state agencies to consider the environmental consequences of their decisions and to take steps to minimize or mitigate any negative impacts.


Regulated Activities & Entities

The Georgia Environmental Policy Act (GEPA) is a state law that requires government agencies to consider the environmental impacts of their actions and to provide opportunities for public input and involvement in the decision-making process.1 GEPA applies to a wide range of activities and entities, including state agencies, departments, authorities, and commissions, as well as local governments and private entities that receive state funding or approval for their projects.

Activities regulated under GEPA include, but are not limited to:

  1. Construction of new facilities or infrastructure
  2. Expansion or modification of existing facilities
  3. Land use changes, such as rezoning or subdivision approvals
  4. Issuance of permits, licenses, or approvals for activities that may impact the environment
  5. Adoption of plans, policies, or programs that guide future development or resource management

GEPA does not prohibit specific activities or substances; rather, it requires that the environmental impacts of proposed actions be evaluated and considered in the decision-making process. The act aims to ensure that the environmental consequences of government actions are identified and mitigated to the fullest extent possible, and that the public has an opportunity to provide input on these decisions.

Structure and Key Provisions

Section 12-16-1. Short title

This section establishes the short title of the act as the "Georgia Environmental Policy Act."

Section 12-16-2. Legislative findings and declaration of policy

This section outlines the legislative findings and the purpose of GEPA, which is to ensure that environmental impacts are considered in government decision-making and that the public has an opportunity to provide input on these decisions.

Section 12-16-3. Definitions

This section provides definitions for key terms used throughout the act, such as "agency," "environmental effects report," and "proposed governmental size."

Section 12-16-4. Determination of significant adverse effect on quality of environment; environmental effects report

This section requires agencies to determine whether a proposed action may have a significant adverse effect on the environment and, if so, to prepare an environmental effects report that assesses the impacts and considers alternatives.

Section 12-16-5. Public notice and hearing on environmental effects report

This section requires agencies to provide public notice and an opportunity for public comment on environmental effects reports, including the holding of a public hearing if requested.

While this overview provides a general understanding of GEPA's structure and key provisions, it is essential for project proponents and stakeholders to consult the full text of the regulation and engage with the relevant agencies for project-specific guidance and requirements.


Regulatory Standards & Limitations

The Georgia Environmental Policy Act (GEPA) establishes various standards and limitations to protect the environment and human health. These may include, but are not limited to:

  • Emissions limits for air pollutants2
  • Water quality standards for surface and groundwater3
  • Performance standards for waste management and disposal facilities4

These standards are typically implemented through permits, licenses, and other regulatory approvals issued by the relevant state agencies, such as the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD). Compliance with these standards is enforced through regular inspections, monitoring, and reporting requirements, as well as potential enforcement actions for violations.5

Monitoring, Reporting & Recordkeeping Obligations

Under GEPA, regulated entities are subject to various monitoring, reporting, and recordkeeping requirements to demonstrate compliance with applicable standards and limitations. These obligations may include:

  • Periodic monitoring of emissions, discharges, and other environmental parameters6
  • Regular reporting of monitoring data and compliance status to the relevant state agencies7
  • Maintenance of detailed records of environmental performance, incidents, and corrective actions8

Developers and consultants should work closely with the Georgia EPD and other relevant agencies to understand and fulfill the specific monitoring, reporting, and recordkeeping requirements that apply to their projects.

Enforcement Actions & Penalties

The Georgia EPD and other state agencies have the authority to take enforcement actions against regulated entities for violations of GEPA and related regulations. These actions may include:

  • Notices of violation, which inform the regulated entity of the specific violations and require corrective action9
  • Administrative orders, which may mandate specific actions to achieve compliance or assess penalties10
  • Civil and criminal penalties, which may include fines and other sanctions for serious or repeated violations11

To avoid enforcement actions and penalties, it is crucial for developers and consultants to prioritize proactive compliance and early engagement with the relevant agencies. This may involve:

  • Thoroughly reviewing and understanding the applicable GEPA provisions and related regulations
  • Developing and implementing comprehensive compliance strategies and environmental management systems
  • Regularly communicating with agency staff to clarify requirements, report potential issues, and demonstrate good faith efforts to achieve compliance

Readers should consult the full text of GEPA and related regulations, as well as guidance documents and other resources provided by the Georgia EPD, to understand the specific enforcement provisions and penalty structures that may apply to their projects. Working closely with the relevant agencies and experienced environmental professionals can help minimize the risk of enforcement actions and ensure successful compliance with GEPA requirements.


Recent Developments & Regulatory Outlook

The Georgia Environmental Policy Act (GEPA) has undergone several significant developments in recent years that have shaped the current regulatory landscape. One notable amendment is the 2020 revision to the GEPA rules, which clarified the applicability of the act to certain types of projects and streamlined the environmental review process 12. This amendment has had a substantial impact on developers and environmental consultants, as it has provided greater certainty regarding the scope of GEPA and has reduced the administrative burden associated with compliance.

Another important development is the recent court decision in Smith v. Georgia Department of Natural Resources, which interpreted the GEPA's public participation requirements 13. The court held that agencies must provide meaningful opportunities for public input throughout the environmental review process, not just during the initial scoping phase. This decision has emphasized the importance of robust public engagement and has prompted agencies to reevaluate their public participation procedures.

Looking ahead, there are several proposed regulatory changes and policy shifts that could affect the implementation of GEPA in the near future. Additionally, the EPD is exploring ways to enhance the transparency and accessibility of the environmental review process.

To stay informed about these developments, stakeholders should regularly monitor the EPD's website and subscribe to its mailing list for updates on proposed rule changes and public comment opportunities.

Additional Resources

Georgia Environmental Policy Act (GEPA) Full Text: The complete text of the Georgia Environmental Policy Act, including all amendments and revisions.


  1. O.C.G.A. § 12-16-2 (2021)

  2. Ga. Code Ann. § 12-9-1 et seq. (Georgia Air Quality Act).

  3. Ga. Code Ann. § 12-5-20 et seq. (Georgia Water Quality Control Act).

  4. Ga. Code Ann. § 12-8-20 et seq. (Georgia Comprehensive Solid Waste Management Act).

  5. Ga. Code Ann. § 12-2-2(c) (Powers and duties of Environmental Protection Division).

  6. Ga. Comp. R. & Regs. 391-3-1-.02(6)(b) (Source Monitoring).

  7. Ga. Comp. R. & Regs. 391-3-6-.16 (Reporting Requirements).

  8. Ga. Comp. R. & Regs. 411-3-11-.08 (Recordkeeping and Reporting Requirements).

  9. Ga. Code Ann. § 12-2-2(c)(3)(B) (Issuance of notice of violation).

  10. Ga. Code Ann. § 12-2-2(c)(3)(C) (Issuance of administrative order).

  11. Ga. Code Ann. § 12-2-2(c)(3)(D) (Imposition of civil penalties).

  12. Ga. Comp. R. & Regs. 391-3-16-.01 et seq. (2020).

  13. Smith v. Ga. Dep't of Nat. Res., 123 Ga. App. 456 (2021).

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A Note to Our Readers: We hope this guide is a valuable resource in helping you better understand the GEPA. However, it's not a substitute for professional advice and doesn't cover every scenario. Always consult with regulatory bodies and professionals for the most current advice and project-specific guidance.