Category: Environment

Coosa River Gets Help: Federal Court Overturns Alabama Power’s License to Operate 7 Dams, Orders New Look at Waterway’s Environment

Alabama Power Company is mulling how to proceed after a federal appellate court on Monday threw out its license to operate seven dams on the Coosa River.

The ruling called the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s decision to issue the 30-year license “arbitrary and capricious.” The court said the decision was based on reviews and opinion that “were unreasoned and unsupported by substantial evidence.”

The decision by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia requires the case be returned to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to perform a more extensive environmental impact assessment.

The decision was a rare reversal of a FERC dam licensing ruling. In an emailed statement, Alabama Power expressed disappointment, arguing that FERC’s findings “fully support the licensing decision.” Read more.

Loopholes Remain as State’s Environmental Oversight Board OK’s Coal Ash Rules

Last month, the Alabama Department of Environmental Management levied fines of $250,000 on each of six power-generating facilities in the state for excessive groundwater contamination from their coal ash ponds.

On Friday, ADEM’s oversight board unanimously approved new rules that environmental advocacy groups say open “significant loopholes” in the regulations for disposal of coal ash.

The Southern Environmental Law Center contended in a statement that, under the new rules, ADEM could allow utilities to halt groundwater monitoring around coal ash disposal sites, although coal ash contains arsenic, lead, radium and many other toxic substances. ADEM also could decide that a utility doesn’t have to clean up the coal ash ponds in certain circumstances. And ADEM could shorten the length of time a utility must care for the ash after it is covered and closed, which now is 30 years. Read more.

Environmentalists See Loopholes in State’s Coal Ash Plan. Alabama Power Supports Federal Rules

Too many loopholes disguised as “flexibilities.”

That’s what conservation groups and private citizens told the Alabama Department of Environmental Management about its proposed plan to develop a state permitting program to regulate toxic coal ash waste from power plants. The agency held its sole public hearing on the issue Wednesday in Montgomery.

Alabama’s major utility and source of coal ash, Alabama Power Co., said through a spokesman that it supports the current federal rule on coal ash. Environmentalists say the federal rule is more restrictive than the state’s proposed plan. Read more.

Birmingham Council Rejects License for Scrap Metal Processor, Cites Pollution of Black Neighborhoods

March 20, 2018 — Citing a need to change historical disenfranchisement and pollution of Birmingham’s black neighborhoods, the Birmingham City Council voted Tuesday to deny a scrap metal processors license to a company attempting to establish a scrap-processing yard in the Acipco-Finley neighborhood.

A group of citizens from that neighborhood appeared at the meeting’s public hearing to speak against the proposal from Jordan Industrial Services.

Jordan’s attorney, Mike Brown, argued that Jordan had worked to clean up the property, alleging that its previous tenant, Kimmerling Truck Parts and Equipment, had left “a pretty bad eyesore for the community.”
But residents argued that a new coat of paint and some cleaning wouldn’t address the larger issues of air pollution generated by the yard.

A 2012 report by the Houston Chronicle, found “dangerous levels” of hexavalent chromium — a highly carcinogenic pollutant also known as Chrome VI — in the areas surrounding five metal recycling operations in that city. Read more.

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 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 editor@birminghamwatch.org, 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.