Category: Environment

Woodfin Touts Neighborhood Revitalization Work, Cuts in Crime Rates in Update on his Administration’s Progress

Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin marked the halfway point of his first term in office Tuesday evening with a presentation highlighting his administration’s accomplishments and broadly gesturing toward his plans for the next two years.

Tuesday’s event, which took place at the downtown Birmingham venue Haven, followed a similar presentation that took place in March, also titled “The Big Picture.” Both events were intended to provide an update on the Woodfin administration’s strategic initiatives. But while March’s event featured presentations from a slew of city officials, Tuesday night’s presentation centered on a half-hour speech from Woodfin. Read more.

As More-Powerful Hurricanes Batter the Country, Scientists Ask, ‘How Much Worse Did Climate Change Make It?’

Mexico Beach, Florida — When Hurricane Michael exploded in strength over the Gulf of Mexico in October 2018 and hit Florida with a devastating storm surge and 157 mile-per-hour winds, it marked the first Category 5 storm to reach the Panhandle and only the fifth to make landfall in the United States.

Michael reduced much of the Panhandle town of Mexico Beach to splinters and destroyed parts of other nearby communities. We saw the destruction firsthand while reporting here for The American Climate Project. It killed 16 people across the Southeast and is considered responsible for 43 other deaths in Florida, including from storm clean-up accidents and health issues worsened by the hurricane, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

It inflicted about $25 billion of damage to the region, including about $5 billion alone at Tyndall Air Force Base near Panama City. The storm caused catastrophic damage in southeastern Alabama and southwestern Georgia, as well.

More than other weather disasters, hurricanes seem to prompt people to ask: Was climate change to blame?

That, climate scientists say, is the wrong question. People should, instead, be asking, “How much worse did climate change make it?” said Texas Tech climate scientist Katherine Hayhoe. Read more.

Also from InsideClimate News’ American Climate Project:
The Sound of Rain, the Crackle of Fire Take Victims Back to the Moment of Their Nightmares

The Sound of Rain, the Crackle of Fire Take Victims Back to the Moment of Their Nightmares

Daniel Hill remembers the indelible sounds: how the wind gusted like a dry hurricane, and the trees crackled before bursting into flame, and his neighbors’ propane and well-pressure tanks exploded as the Camp Fire swept through each block of his hometown of Concow.

In the early morning of Nov. 8, 2018, Daniel, with his family and friends, fought the blaze as its flames towered and swirled across their northern California farm. By midday, the fire would kill 85 people in Butte County and incinerate nearly the entire town of
Paradise, population 26,000, becoming the deadliest, most destructive fire in California history.

Disasters split people’s lives apart into a before and an after. Even as they move on, for victims of these disasters, the sounds from those disasters take them right back to the dark moments.

The tanks exploding during the Camp Fire told people their communities would soon become unrecognizable. The disembodied beeping of smoke detectors in piles of rubble after Hurricane Michael marked the destruction. In the aftermath, the familiar morning bustle of a small town disappeared, becoming a troubling silence instead. New sounds like the whine of chainsaws arrived during the rebuilding, which often added to the confusion of a newly unstable world. After the trauma, everyday sounds that once brought comfort — rainfall, the crackle of fire — now brought anguish and pain. Read more.

Also from InsideClimate News’ American Climate Project:
As More-Powerful Hurricanes Batter the Country, Scientists Ask, ‘How Much Worse Did Climate Change Make It?’

PSC Hears Arguments for Raising or Abolishing Alabama Power’s Fees for Solar Users

Spectators – many wearing ‘Let It Shine’ stickers – packed a Public Service Commission hearing room this morning to hear testimony about the fees Alabama Power Company charges residents to use solar panels or other alternative means of power generation.

As the 2½-hour hearing concluded, Administrative Law Judge John A. Garner instructed both sides to prepare briefs to be delivered on or before Dec. 20. The matter will be taken under advisement, and the ruling will be made during an open meeting of the commission.

Two persons were escorted from today’s proceedings for failing to adhere to Garner’s order of no recordings. One woman was shooting video of the hearing while another was livestreaming the event. Read more.

Advisory Panel Majority, Including JeffCo’s Masuca, Recommend That Air Pollution Standards Not Be Strengthened

A federal advisory group recently voted in a split decision against strengthening the current standard for fine particulate matter, known as PM 2.5. Corey Masuca, an environmental health scientist with the Jefferson County Department of Health and one of the six members of the panel, sided with the majority.

The 4-2 decision during a contentious meeting of the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee last month pitted Masuca and three other members against Environmental Protection Agency scientific staff and an independent panel of scientists. Read more.

Most Superfund Sites in Alabama Are at Greater Threat Due to Climate Change

Eleven federal Superfund sites in Alabama — including two near Birmingham — are at greater risk from disasters such as flooding, hurricanes and wildfires due to the possible consequences of climate change, according to a report released Monday by the U.S. Government Accounting Office.

Nationwide, at least 60 percent — 945 of 1,571 — of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Superfund locations nationwide are threatened by warmer temperatures, rising seas and more intense storms expected from the changing climate, according to the “EPA Should Take Additional Actions to Manage Risks from Climate Change” report. Read more.

Public Hearing on Thursday to Consider Future of Alabama Power’s ‘Solar Tax’

The Public Service Committee is conducting a public hearing Thursday to hear testimony from those who support and oppose Alabama Power’s solar backup fee.

Customers complain that the fee is unreasonable and stymies solar power use in the state. Alabama Power officials counter that the fee isn’t high enough and are requesting an increase. They say the fee is necessary so solar users also have additional power when they need it. Read more.

Changing Climate: Many in Coastal Alabama Act Now to Rebuild Shorelines, Prepare for Storms

Some Alabamians and the politicians they elect traditionally have denied global warming. But many people in coastal Alabama are preparing now for what they fear will be inevitable consequences of increased warming of the air and oceans. They see Mobile Bay and the Alabama coast as uniquely susceptible in the state to harm from forces of nature.

Money for their programs comes from a variety of public, private and institutional sources. Some dollars are being generated from a man-made disaster in the past – the BP Horizon oil spill. It’s being spent to help prepare the shoreline and bay for man-made disasters ahead as scientists say temperatures and sea level will rise, storms intensify, and the state will be slammed with more torrential rain alternating with periods of severe drought.

Here are two examples of those efforts.

Bayou la Batre’s Lightning Point

Judy Haner heads the Alabama chapter of nonprofit The Nature Conservancy, part of a collaboration of entities using oil spill money from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to restore 40 acres of marsh, tidal creeks and other habitat for fish, shellfish and birds in Bayou la Batre. That small fishing and seafood processing town has not fully recovered from the twin hits of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the BP Horizon oil spill five years later. Read more.

Over the next year, BirminghamWatch will visit places in Alabama where ways of life have been affected as climate changes and look at what’s being done to mitigate or avoid the effects. This is the fourth in a series of four stories from Alabama’s Gulf Coast. Read the earlier stories: Alabama Sees Heat, Storms, Drought and Turtles, Cloudy Future for Dauphin Island, a Canary in the Coal Mine of Climate Change , In Pursuit of the Disappearing Alabama Oyster. Will They Ever Return?

Easier Rules Proposed for Power Companies’ Coal Ash Storage

The Trump Administration is seeking changes in federal coal ash rules that could allow power producers to store toxic coal ash in unlined basins for up to eight more years and ease rules on temporary storage of ash for use in construction projects as filler material.

Electric utilities in Alabama are using a decreasing supply of coal. Alabama Power uses coal to produce power at locations in Jefferson, Shelby and Mobile counties, but it has inactive plants where coal ash is still stored. PowerSouth Electric Cooperative announced it would close its coal burning facility in Washington County within a year and cap-in-place its coal ash waste, and the Tennessee Valley Authority stores coal ash at its inactive coal plant in Colbert County.

The Southern Environment Law Center, with offices in Birmingham, along with EarthJustice and several other “green” organizations, is opposing the proposed rules that govern one of the nation’s largest industrial waste products. Read more.

Changing Climate: In Pursuit of the Disappearing Alabama Oyster. Will They Ever Return?

Oysters, one of the vital signs of the health of Alabama’s coastal waters, were once a jewel of the state’s economy and a local delicacy. Now, wild oysters from the Mobile Bay area have almost entirely disappeared. With few exceptions, the oysters most of us now enjoy originate elsewhere.

Numbers tell the sad story: Wild oyster harvests from local reefs amounted to more than a million pounds annually in the early 1950s. In the one-week 2017 season, only a negligible amount was taken. And the 2018 season was cancelled due to the lack of young oysters found when the Marine Resources Division surveyed public reefs.

The Alabama Marine Resources Division announced Nov. 1 that limited areas of public oyster bottoms will be opened for harvest beginning Nov.11. “Our surveys of the public oyster bottoms show that there are enough legal-size oysters in some areas to allow for a limited harvest,” said Scott Bannon, director of the division.

The cause of the collapse of the industry has many influences, not least of which is the destruction of oyster reefs by human hands. But other factors are attributed to climate change’s rising temperatures, more powerful storms, more torrential rains and increased acid in ocean waters. The secondary effects include poor water quality, changing salinity and low oxygen concentration. Read more.