State officials are looking into a fish kill that happened near Alabama Power’s Plant Gorgas in Walker County. The coal-fired plant sits along a tributary of the Black Warrior River. Riverkeeper Nelson Brooke says he first heard about the incident Friday morning from a local fisherman. Brooke says he was not allowed to access the fenced area of the creek near the power plant, but counted at least 100 dead fish downstream. Read more.
EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler was asked Thursday by a key advisory committee to give it more expert help to review the hundreds of recent scientific studies on the effects of microscopic particles of soot on human mortality.
The action came as a surprise as the deeply divided Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee met Thursday to try to agree on language of a draft report. A majority of the seven-member panel, including Corey Masuco of the Jefferson County Department of Health, agreed it was not large enough and its members did not have enough expertise in epidemiology and some other fields to plow through and adequately assess the large body of research developed since its most recent report. Plus, the committee has a fast-tracked December 2020 deadline. Read more.
After a protracted and often confused discussion, the Birmingham City Council passed a “post-construction stormwater ordinance” Tuesday, codifying a series of design specifications for new construction projects in the city and bringing Birmingham into compliance with Alabama Department of Environmental Management rules.
The ordinance largely centered on changes to construction practices that would bring new development projects — and the way those developments manage stormwater runoff after construction is completed — into compliance with regulations. Read more.
Alabama has a voice on the recently appointed House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, but whether “climate crisis” is in Rep. Gary Palmer’s vocabulary is in question.
Palmer, elected from Alabama’s Sixth District, is one of six Republicans appointed to the panel by Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-California. Democrats have a majority eight members appointed by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-California, who said the panel would help Congress respond to “the existential threat of the climate crisis.”
Palmer, in a statement announcing his appointment, said he wants the committee to “focus on sensible solutions” but did not acknowledge a crisis and placed “climate change” in quotation marks.
That’s not a surprise to some local environmental activists. Palmer was described as a “known climate denier” by the Sierra Club’s Stephen Stetson, who called his appointment “further dismaying proof that congressional Republicans have no real plan to take action on what’s confronting us.” Read more.
Environmental groups are alarmed that the gas tax bill filed in the Legislature today would make owners of electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles pay more to the state than owners of gas-fueled vehicles.
A summary version of the special session bill makes it less onerous than an earlier version but still is causing concern that the EV and plug-in hybrid owners would be penalized for using technology that pollutes less or not at all, conservation advocates say. After the concessions, Alabama’s fee would be tied with Georgia for the highest in the nation.
The gas tax would fund the Gov. Kay Ivey-backed infrastructure bill, called the Rebuild Alabama Act, and is estimated to cost the average driver an additional $55 a year in gasoline tax, according to authors of the legislation. But EV owners would pay a $200 annual license and registration fee; plug-in hybrid vehicle owners would pay $100. There would be no fee for conventional hybrid vehicles.
That’s down from the original bill’s $250 for EVs and $150 for hybrids. Read more.
ABC Coke’s hopes for renewal of its operating permit for another five years are now in the hands of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The Jefferson County Department of Health submitted a proposed draft to the EPA for the permit renewal March 1, it announced today. Read more.
Alabama’s not the only state with highly polluted groundwater from coal ash basins.
In December, electric utilities in Alabama confirmed that 100 percent of regulated coal ash storage pits were within five feet of groundwater, failing the Environmental Protection Agency’s standard for protecting the water supply from a myriad of cancer-causing and otherwise toxic chemicals.
Since then, one state after another has found similar results from tests mandated by the EPA. Records released of 265 power plants around the United States show arsenic, lithium and other pollutants are in the groundwater at 91 percent of the sites where combusted coal residue is stored.
The national data was to be revealed today at a noon press conference by the nonprofit watchdog group Environmental Integrity Project with assistance from Earthjustice, a nonprofit environmental law organization.
Four years ago the Black Warrior Riverkeeper roused public opinion to keep the Shepherd Bend coal mine from opening. Now the river protection advocacy organization is warning of another proposed mining operation – this one three miles upstream on the Mulberry Fork from Shepherd Bend.
What’s called the No.5 Mine is in the Walker County community of Dovertown, near the city of Cordova. Mays Mining Inc. would operate the mine at a former industrial site that was left with contaminated groundwater, according to Riverkeeper Nelson Brooke. Read more.
In the past four years, Alabama Power has reduced its coal-fired units from 23 to 10. After Plant Gorgas closes, only three coal-burning plants will remain in the company’s energy portfolio.
The Plant Gorgas news came hard on the heels of PowerSouth Electrical Cooperative’s recent decision to shutter Plant Lowman on the Tombigbee River next year. Last week, the Tennessee Valley Authority board of directors voted to close two of the eight coal plants in its inventory. And just two weeks ago, Georgia Power Co. proposed to retire five such units at two power plants.
These are just the latest in a trend across the country to reduce reliance on coal and diversify utility portfolios with other sources of energy, principally wind, solar and other renewables. Read more.
One of Alabama’s oldest coal-fired power plants will close next year. PowerSouth Energy Cooperative’s chief executive blamed the closure on “extremist environmental ideologies” and “environmental activists” in announcing that the Charles R. Lowman electrical generation plant on the Tombigbee River would be shuttered.
In an emailed newsletter on New Year’s Eve, Smith told Plant Lowman’s 150 employees that coal ash regulations, among others, are forcing the plant to end the use of coal to generate power at the Washington County facility.
“Good people will soon be looking for new jobs because of extremist environmental ideologies,” he said.
Environmentalists disagree, saying PowerSouth created its own problems by continuing to use outdated technologies and dumping coal ash near the water. Read more.