Category: Environment

Trump’s EPA seeks to remove much of nation’s headwaters and wetlands from protection

President Trump moved today to weaken the federal Clean Water Act by redefining the Obama administration’s Waters of the US rule, known as WOTUS, to eliminate protections for much of the nation’s waterways – a majority, in some estimates.

The action principally would remove oversight for small tributary headwaters that do not flow year-round and for wetlands not clearly connected to flowing streams.

The proposed new EPA rule is expected to be challenged and eventually work its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where a conservative majority now sits.

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Utility Filings Show Coal Ash Ponds Are Too Close to Groundwater Reservoirs. Enviro Groups Again Call for Moving Toxic Material.

All of Alabama Power Company’s open coal ash ponds sit within five feet of an aquifer, or groundwater reservoir, in violation of federal standards, recent company filings confirm.

In the wake of the reports, environmental groups are keeping the pressure on the state’s public utilities to move toxin-laden coal ash away from waters next to power plants.

Under the 2015 Coal Combustion Residuals Rule, the locations of all coal ash basins in the nation must meet federal standards for distance from aquifers and wetlands. The basins also must conform to stability, seismic and fault restrictions.
Alabama Power Company has posted results from what is called “location restriction demonstrations” on its website for most of its facilities.

Alabama Power spokesman Michael Sznajderman Tuesday confirmed tests showed there is not a minimum five feet of separation from the company’s ash ponds to groundwater aquifers.

He added, “Alabama Power has evaluated conditions at and around our facilities and we have no indication of any effect on any source of drinking water.” Read more.

Glenn, Phillips Face State Felony Charges Related to Federal Corruption Trial

The former head of the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s southeastern operations faces six state felony charges, and the former chairman of the Alabama Environmental Management Commission faces three felony charges related to a federal investigation into efforts to stop a cleanup of toxic industrial waste in North Birmingham.

Trey Glenn, who resigned from his EPA post earlier this week, was indicted by a Birmingham grand jury on six felony counts of using his position for personal gain and 14 misdemeanor ethics charges.

Scott Phillips, the former AMEC chair who also was a partner with Glenn in a consulting firm during his tenure with the commission was indicted on three felony counts of using his position for personal gain and 13 misdemeanors.

The indictments were handed down Nov. 9, but the number of charges and their nature was not confirmed until the documents were made available Wednesday in the Alacourt online reporting system.

All the charges relate to soliciting money from Drummond Company, which operates the ABC Coke facility in Tarrant, and contracting with the Balch and Bingham law firm in Birmingham as part of the scheme. Read more.

Birmingham Council Formally Opposes Cahaba Beach Road Project

The Birmingham City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved a resolution opposing construction of a road and bridge project across the Little Cahaba River on Cahaba Beach Road.

The resolution was approved without discussion as part of the council’s consent agenda. It was discussed and approved by the council during a committee meeting earlier this month.

The road would connect Cahaba Beach Road off U.S. 280 to Sicard Hollow Road in Shelby County and to the Liberty Park development in Vestavia Hills. It would cross the Little Cahaba River, which flows from Lake Purdy, the area’s primary source of drinking water, to the Cahaba River near where water is withdrawn for treatment.

Councilors have expressed concerns about risks to water quality, including the potential for accidents, hazardous spills into the drinking water source and pollution from the road, along with degradation of the natural forest. The Birmingham Water Works Board is expected to consider a similar resolution.

Read the BirminghamWatch story on the earlier council meeting:
Birmingham Council Members Push Back Against Road in Watershed That Protects Drinking Water

Trey Glenn Resigns as EPA Regional Administrator After Indictment

Trey Glenn resigned Sunday as EPA Region 4 administrator for Alabama and seven other southeastern states following his indictment on multiple felony ethics charges last week in Jefferson County.

EPA Acting Administrator Wheeler accepted Glenn’s resignation, according to Region 4 chief of staff Ryan Jackson.

Glenn and former business partner Scott Phillips were arrested and posted bond following their indictments. They denied guilt in the charges. Glenn in his resignation letter called the charges unfounded.

Glenn and Phillips were caught up in the recent bribery scandal over pollution in north Birmingham that brought down former state Rep. Oliver Robinson and officials of Drummond Co. and law firm Balch and Bingham. Robinson pleaded guilty to charges and testified against Drummond executive David Robertson and Balch attorney Joel Gilbert. Read more.

Residents and Activists Oppose ABC Coke Air Permit

Jimmy Smith, an 86-year-old Collegeville retiree, held an 8×10 framed photograph of his four daughters in his hand when he stood Thursday to ask the Jefferson County Department of Health not to renew an air emissions permit for ABC Coke.

He says his oldest daughter died of cancer and another daughter gets cancer treatments twice a month. He’s also a cancer survivor and a survivor of a community he says has been plagued with pollution for years.

“Y’all can deny this permit, and I promise you they will get the message. They will clean up their act,” he says. Read more.

Environmental Groups, Others Oppose Renewal of ABC Coke Air Emissions Permit

The Jefferson County Department of Health has received 10 public comments about the proposed renewal of the air emissions permit for ABC Coke, an industrial plant in Tarrant. Most of the comments since August opposed renewing the company’s air emissions permit, according to the health department.

The Title V operating permit regulates air emissions coming from the facility.

This Thursday, the agency will have two public hearings to receive more feedback. Those will be at 10 a.m. and at 7 p.m at the Jefferson County Department of Health on 6th Avenue South. Read more.

Birmingham Council Members Push Back Against Road in Watershed That Protects Drinking Water

The Birmingham City Council appears set to oppose construction of the controversial Cahaba Beach road and bridge project across the Little Cahaba River.

The Little Cahaba flows from the Lake Purdy reservoir a quarter-mile upstream from the project to the larger Cahaba River, where the Birmingham Water Works Board takes water for treatment.

A majority of council members, meeting as a committee-of-the-whole on Monday, voted to recommend against connecting Cahaba Beach Road off U.S. 280 to Sicard Hollow Road in Shelby County and to the Liberty Park development in Vestavia. The vote included a total of seven council members, President Valerie Abbott among them. A full council vote is set for Nov. 20.

Representatives of environmental groups at the meeting said the road is an “unnecessary convenience road for a few” that “should not outweigh the risks to the quality and cost of a main drinking water source for 600,000 people.”

The Alabama Department of Transportation and Shelby County engineers are pushing to extend Cahaba Beach Road across a new bridge to Sicard Hollow Road in Shelby County. Representatives of those entities did not attend Monday’s meeting.
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UPDATED: Advisory Panel, JeffCo Air Pollution Expert Take on Controversial Role at EPA

The federal Environmental Protection Agency has appointed a Jefferson County air pollution expert to the seven-member panel charged with giving the agency administrator independent technical advice for setting federal standards under the National Ambient Air Quality Standards.

EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler named Corey M. Masuca, principal air pollution control engineer for the Jefferson County Department of Health, to the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee on Oct. 10. The CASAC will lead a review of recent science to advise whether any changes are necessary to the standards for ground-level ozone or particulate matter to provide public health with an adequate margin of safety.

That panel may take on added importance with the EPA’s move last week to dismiss two larger outside advisory panels of scientists who were to evaluate emissions for harmful public health effects. Read more.

Hurricane Michael Not on Route to Threaten Mobile Bay, Coal Ash Basin

Hurricane Michael is not expected to score a direct hit on Mobile Bay, relieving concern that the coal ash basin at Alabama Power Company’s Plant Barry could be threatened, according to Cade Kistler, program director for Mobile Baykeeper, an environmental organization.

Kistler and Casi Callaway, Mobile Baykeeper’s executive director, citing a report issued by Baykeeper, earlier raised questions about a hurricane’s effect on safety of the coal ash storage basin.

Alabama Power spokesman Michael Sznajderman said in an email that the company is prepared for the storm. The coal ash stored next to Plant Barry is virtually surrounded by the Mobile River 25 miles upstream from where it enters the bay. Baykeeper officials say they worry that the earthen dams holding back the river could be breached.
Read more.

For more on coal ash concerns:

An Alabama Scenario: Hurricane Florence Raises Questions About Coal Ash and Mobile Bay.