The Atlanta Voice
By Hazel Trice Edney
August 15, 2019
In 1990, Georgia was facing an environmental crisis. The state was overrun by environmental waste, with pollution filling the air and chemicals finding their way into the water supply of Atlanta residents and those living in nearby cities, suburbs and rural communities. Many parts of Georgia, once famous for its green, rolling hills and dense tree coverage, had morphed into a noxious zone, one that disproportionately impacted racial minority communities.
Today, Georgia has made significant progress in reclaiming its past environmental grandeur. The city has the densest tree coverage in the nation – 36 percent, compared to the national average of 27 percent. The Georgia Conservancy alone has helped conserve at least 54,000 acres of green space in Atlanta and 30 Georgia counties. And the region is dotted with trails, parkland, playgrounds and other green space for residents to explore.
The comeback is a product of a number of factors, including the efforts of local residents, business leaders and elected officials who got behind policy initiatives and other cleanup efforts to make Atlanta, once again, worthy of living up to its moniker as “the city in a forest.”
The restoration effort was also propelled by the use of a little known but significant tool used nationwide to save hundreds of thousands of acres in pristine green space: conservation easements, a voluntary legal agreement by a landowner to limit the uses of a piece of land in order to protect its conservation benefits.
Now, though, the ability to use this tool may be sharply restricted because it is attracting scrutiny from lawmakers and regulators in Washington who are asking whether the public benefits from a particular federal program that allows landowners to apply for federal tax deductions for the land they voluntarily protect with a conservation easement.