Water runs downhill and, if polluted, it carries contamination with it to larger waterways. Pollution in small bodies of water – or even in dry gullies that flow only when it rains – impacts the quality of water in larger bodies downstream.
Many clean water advocates, including those trying to protect Alabama’s 132,000 miles of waterways, think that rationale ought to be enough reason to include small river tributaries, headwaters and wetlands under the federal Clean Water Act. That act protects the nation’s “navigable waters.”
The definition of navigable waters, however, has always been up in the air. In 2015, after a years-long rulemaking process, the EPA under President Barack Obama came up with what’s called the waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule, covering not just waters navigable by ship or boat, but also upstream tributaries, headwaters and wetlands.
Large businesses and other interests opposed that rule, saying only major streams should be regulated by the federal government, with jurisdiction over intermittent, ephemeral, seasonal waters left to the states.
The EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spent years compiling scientific evidence and public opinion in an attempt to clarify how far the federal government’s regulatory jurisdiction extended.
President Donald Trump, less than two months into office, issued an executive order starting the process to rescind the WOTUS rule. The rule had been tied up in court since 2015. Now it could be overturned as the result of a directive EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt signed June 27, which allowed 30 days for public comment. Read more.
Jefferson County will get more time to comment on proposed standards for the level of phosphorus that can be dumped into Locust Fork and Village Creek by its wastewater treatment plants.
Phosphorus levels in the two water bodies are linked to algae blooms, weeds and slimes in the water and may impair their use for such things as public drinking water, swimming and other recreational activities. Algae blooms are a nuisance primarily during the summer.
Commissioners said on June 21 that they had not been notified by the county’s Environmental Services Department in time to meet a July 10 deadline to comment on the proposal. In part, they are worried about the financial hit the rule could have on Jefferson County’s sewer costs, and its ratepayers, and wanted more time to study the situation. Read more.
Jefferson County Commission members expressed concern when they learned of a July 10 deadline to respond to plans to cut phosphorus emissions allowed at the county’s water treatment plants. The changes could cost the county millions, commissioners say. Read more.
President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate change agreement thrilled his backers in solid red Alabama and alarmed the state’s environmentalists, who say Alabama is less prepared than other places to handle on its own the effects of a warming planet.
Alabama Republican Party Chairman Terry Lathan called the Paris accord ineffective, too-costly, toothless and “not in our best interests.” Both of Alabama’s U.S. senators signed letters backing the nation’s withdrawal from the pact.
Nationally, environmentalists called for states and cities to continue to work to solve problems, especially the impact carbon dioxide emissions have on global warming. But those solutions “are virtually nonexistent in Alabama,” said Michael Hansen, executive director of Gasp, a health advocacy organization headquartered in Birmingham. “There are no plans to reduce climate risks, nor have we implemented any adaptation strategies.” Read more.
If a tanker truck overturns and spills a load of petroleum on a roadside or into a creek, local governments likely will have to cover the cost of the clean-up.
The Alabama Department of Environmental Management used to set aside $500,000 to help counties and municipalities with disaster response. That went away with state budget cuts last year, and ADEM expects the same this year, according to Director Lance LeFleur. They also are bracing for another financial whammy with the president’s proposed severe budget cuts to the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
“Don’t depend on us to be on-site” for anything other than major disasters such as the recent gasoline pipeline incidents in Shelby County, LeFleur said. “Don’t depend on us to be on-site” for anything other than major disasters such as the recent gasoline pipeline incidents in Shelby County, LeFleur said. Read more.
Holes are appearing in Alabama’s official safety net for environmental protection.
A consistent loser in recent battles for state funding, the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) is seeing delays in enforcing regulations.
It also is seeking to hand off to local governments the primary responsibility for emergency response to environmental accidents.
And its lack of matching funds helped dash hopes for federal clean-up of long-standing industrial contamination in several north Birmingham neighborhoods.
A recent sign of the problems came Feb. 10 with landowner James Hodges’s plea to ADEM’s oversight commission for more timely enforcement of regulations to prevent construction runoff from damaging his cypress wetlands in Houston County. Read more.
However temporary it was, the Trump administration’s freeze on federal grant awards at the Environmental Protection Agency alarmed Alabama environmentalists still reeling from a recent gasoline pipeline leak and fatal explosion in Shelby County. The Alabama Rivers Alliance’s program director Mitch Reid said, “Federal money isn’t extra money for us, it’s absolutely fundamental to the
On Sunday, Dec.4, one pipeline was stopped in North Dakota. On Monday, workers began putting another pipeline in the ground in east Alabama.
That’s where, with little apparent opposition, the 515-mile Sabal Trail Transmission Pipeline will transport natural gas from an existing pipeline in Tallapoosa County through southeast Georgia to supply energy for growing needs in central Florida.
Environmental groups are now assessing whether successful nonviolent protest strategies used at the Standing Rock Sioux reservation against the Dakota Access Pipeline might be transferrable to the South.
The Sabal Trail owners have swatted away one legal challenge after another from environmental groups. The court hurdle remaining will come in the spring, just weeks before the pipeline’s announced completion date of June 1. Read more.
The fatal gasoline pipeline explosion that occurred Monday – the second incident in six weeks involving Colonial Pipeline’s infrastructure in Shelby County – came on the heels of a report critical of the federal agency responsible for pipeline regulation and safety.
On Oct. 14, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Inspector General released an audit that concluded “insufficient guidance, oversight, and coordination hinder the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration’s (PHMSA) full implementation of mandates and recommendations.”
PHMSA develops and enforces regulations for the “safe, reliable, and environmentally sound” operation of the nation’s pipeline transportation system and hazardous materials shipments. Read more.
The Alabama Department of Environmental Management is continuing to collect weekly samples from drinking water drawn from the Coosa and distributed by Gadsden Water Works Board.
The average of the most recent four samples was 70 parts-per-trillion, according to State Toxicologist John Guarisco, of the Alabama Department of Public Health.
Still in effect, Guarisco said, is a public reminder issued in September for pregnant women, nursing mothers, formula-fed infants and other sensitive populations “to consider using alternate sources of drinking water.”