Category: Environment

Regulators Discount Climate Effects, OK Sabal Trail Pipeline

Conservationists trying to shut down a new natural gas pipeline that starts in Alabama failed to convince federal regulators that greenhouse gas emissions from burning natural gas for power would have a “significant” effect on climate change.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission this week voted three to two along party lines to reissue certification for the Sabal Trail and related pipelines. The Sabal Trail runs from near Alexander City to central Florida.

The pipeline has been in service for several months, but environmental attorneys had hoped it would be stopped after a federal appellate court last year ruled the commission, known as FERC, failed to adequately consider potential climate impacts before initial approval.

“It’s disappointing that federal regulators continue to move us backwards on issues of environmental protection and climate action at a time of such great urgency,” said Michael Hansen, executive director of the Birmingham-based clean-air advocacy group Gasp. Read more.

Coal Ash Ponds Leach Toxins into Alabama Groundwater, Waterways, Analysis Finds. ADEM Fines Power Companies, but Route to Remedy Uncertain.

Significant levels of toxic materials are leaching into the state’s groundwater and waterways from the millions of cubic yards of coal ash stored in massive, unlined storage ponds adjacent to six electrical power generating plants, including plants in Shelby, Jefferson and Walker counties.

On Friday, the Alabama Department of Environmental Management proposed fines of $250,000 for each case. Five of the plants are owned by Alabama Power Company.

Groundwater tests were required of utilities by the Environmental Protection Agency last year, and the utilities’ analyses of results were announced Friday. A “statistically significant increase” over background levels of pollutants was found seeping into groundwater at each plant, the analyses found. The utilities were cited by ADEM for causing or allowing the unpermitted discharge of pollutants from the power plants to “waters of the state.”

Alabama Power spokeswoman Amoi Geter said, “We have taken reasonable and responsible actions at every step of the way and do not believe the amount of the penalty is warranted.” Read more.

New Tariff on Solar Panels May Give Companies Second Thoughts About Doing Business in Alabama

President Trump today imposed a stiff tariff on cheap solar cells and panels imported from China and other countries, a move industry experts said may decimate the growth of solar energy in Alabama and stunt it elsewhere in the country.

The tariff starts at 30 percent for the first year.

“That level would squash Alabama business for us and similar businesses that operate in Alabama to provide turnkey solar systems to residential and small commercial customers,” said Larry Bradford, of north Alabama’s Southern Solar Systems.

About $5.6 billion in projects in just four Sunbelt states – Georgia, Florida and the Carolinas – could be jeopardized by a tariff, according to E&E News, which follows energy and environmental matters.

The tariff could have been worse, though. It drops by 5 percent each of the four succeeding years. It also exempts a substantial portion of initial imports each year.

Alabama is particularly vulnerable to the added cost of a tariff, experts in the field say, because policies of investor-owned utility Alabama Power Co. already limit solar energy penetration in a variety of ways that make solar installations more expensive here. Read more.

What to Watch in 2018

2018 promises to be an interesting time, as the Chinese blessing (or curse) goes. Alabama and Birmingham, specifically, will be tackling many issues involving education and school management, jobs and the economy, the environment, crime and, of course, party politics and political leadership, to name a few.

BirminghamWatch asked community leaders and contributors for insight on important issues that are likely to be demanding attention this year. Read what they had to say. Read more.

What news are you watching for in 2018? Visit our Facebook post and tell us in a comment, or send us an email at, and and we might watch it, too. We always want to know what’s important to people in the community.

From Gardendale to Syria: BirminghamWatch Reprises Its Most Interesting Stories of 2017

BirminghamWatch stepped out of the mainstream in 2017 to give you stories that didn’t just recap the news, but also explained how the news was affecting our culture and the people in it.

BW has followed, and continues to follow, arguments for and against Gardendale’s attempts to break away from the county and form its own school system. It has brought you stories of immigrants who have made Alabama their home, of the state’s attempts to improve student performance regardless of high poverty rates in schools, and of the effect the state’s budget decisions are having on the environment.

2017 also was a year of elections, from the culmination of the presidential election with the inauguration of President Donald Trump, to the Birmingham city elections, to the U.S. Senate special election that attracted national attention. BirminghamWatch worked to give voters the information they needed before going to the polls, in addition to delivering that something extra that helped explain the issues, the politics and the ramifications of the elections.

We hope you’ve enjoyed reading BirminghamWatch in 2017, and please continue reading to see what we have in store for 2018! Read more.

Alabama Faces Another Drought Season With No Plan for Water Use; Governor Shifts Direction in Who Will Produce One

Memories of Alabama’s devastating 2016 drought must be short.

A reminder: The Cahaba and other rivers stopped flowing in places, and water utilities were slow to place restrictions on their customers when reservoirs ran almost dry. The worst of the eight-month drought didn’t end until spring 2017.

Now, as Alabama’s climatologist predicts dryer months ahead, Gov. Kay Ivey has disbanded a broad panel charged with developing a comprehensive water use plan for the state.

Environmental groups are voicing surprise and dismay. The leader of one says disruption in the planning process delays a plan that is needed quickly.

The action puts future water plan efforts in the hands of an appointed commission that has no public members and has not produced an actionable water management plan in its 27 years of existence. Read more.

Proposal to Build Bridge Over the Little Cahaba Open for Comments. Opponents Fear Danger to the Drinking Water Supply, ALDOT Points to Improved Traffic

The river runs through it – the “it” being the undeveloped areas adjacent to the Little Cahaba River. But will a new road also run through this pristine watershed that protects the quality of a major source of drinking water for most residents of Jefferson and Shelby counties?

The Alabama Department of Transportation is taking written comments from the public until Nov. 1 on whether to widen and extend Cahaba Beach Road from near U.S. 280 across a new bridge and connect it to Sicard Hollow Road.

ALDOT regional engineer DeJarvis Leonard said the cut-through project would take many years to complete but would improve access between roads on either side of the Little Cahaba River and reduce travel times.

Environmentalists’ concerns include potential degradation of drinking water by the construction, traffic and potential future commercial development. They also point out the river is a prime recreation area for canoeing, kayaking and hiking. Read more.

Public Meeting Set on Proposed Bridge Across the Little Cahaba River; Environmentalists Worry It Will Threaten Water Quality.

The Alabama Department of Transportation will discuss its proposed route for a bridge across the Little Cahaba River during a public meeting Tuesday, Oct. 17.

Environmentalists have opposed the proposed extension of Cahaba Beach Road across the river, saying the construction and potential development of the pristine area could threaten the health of a major source of drinking water. Read more.

Northeast Birmingham Zoning Delayed After Discussion of Conservation Easements

Protracted discussion over proposed zoning changes to northeast Birmingham led to a two-week delay in the Birmingham City Council considering them during its meeting Tuesday. These proposed changes would affect the East Pinson Valley, Huffman, Cahaba and Roebuck/South East Lake communities as part of the Northeast Framework Plan. Many of the proposed changes were “name-only,”

Court Rules Sabal Trail Gas Pipeline Ignored Greenhouse Impact, Orders Environmental Assessment

In a case that touches Alabama, a federal court ruled this week that a government regulatory agency has to estimate the probable effect energy use has on climate change.

Environmentalists in Alabama and elsewhere are applauding this “surprising” victory. The 6th District Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., ruled Monday that, when licensing natural gas pipelines, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission did not fully consider the potential greenhouse gas effects of burning natural gas.

The court ordered a new environmental impact study of the Southeast Market Pipelines Project — a network that includes the new Sabal Trail pipeline. The 515-mile line carries fracked gas from a point near Alexander City through southwestern Georgia to central Florida, where it fuels generators for electricity there. Read more.