State Rep. Park Cannon, D-Atlanta, wants to repeal a 61-year-old finders fee that the Georgia Legislature created to encourage oil exploration. She’s concerned it would contribute to environmental problems surrounding fossil fuels, such as climate change. (Brandon Thibodeaux/The New York Times)

Georgia legislator seeks repeal of state’s $250,000 finder fee for oil

The Georgia General Assembly in 1958 was searching for ways to encourage oil exploration in the state.

To spur interest, lawmakers passed a law that would grant $250,000 as a finders fee to the first person or company to locate commercial oil.

No one cashed in on that incentive — oil has yet to be found in Georgia — but an Atlanta Democrat wants to remove the award from the state’s code.

Times are different now, state Rep. Park Cannon said. The youngest member in the House said she doesn’t believe the state should encourage oil exploration because she is concerned it would contribute to environmental problems surrounding fossil fuels such as climate change and the threat of potential spills harming fish, animals and tourism.

Park said she plans to file legislation that would eliminate the finders fee — which the law requires to be paid out of the state’s “surplus funds or contingent funds, or both” — saying she believes that money would be better spent elsewhere.

“We would hope that Governor (Brian) Kemp would move forward with efforts to address Georgia’s failing health care crises as well as the outcome of clean energy in the state of Georgia, instead of using any contingent or surplus funds to support oil (exploration),” she said.

A memo from the House Budget and Research Office said the 61-year-old legislation was passed to encourage the discovery of commercial sources of oil. But Cannon, who is among a national wave of young Democrats who are focusing on environmental policy, said she wants the state to explore clean energy options such as wind or solar power.

Cannon said she plans to file the legislation to repeal the incentive when the legislative session begins next week.

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