Category: Environment

Public Hearing Called on Water Pollution Permit for Tyson Plant in Blountsville

A public hearing will be held Nov. 19 concerning a proposed new permit that would set limits on how much pollution and storm water Tyson Foods could discharge into waterways from its Blountville chicken processing plant.

The plant is upstream of two public recreation areas, Mardis Mill Falls and King’s Bend. It is not the Tyson facility that caused a recent massive fish kill in the Mulberry Fork of the Black Warrior River.

The draft permit would allow the Blountsville plant to release about 1.3 million gallons of wastewater daily to Graves Creek, a tributary of the Locust Fork, as well as to the Locust Fork itself. The wastewater would include bacteria and nutrient pollution. Tyson Foods could also discharge polluted stormwater under the permit if approved. Read more.

Cloudy Future for Dauphin Island, a Canary in the Coal Mine of Climate Change

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 second in a series of four stories from Alabama’s Gulf Coast. Read the first story, Changing Climate: Alabama Sees Heat, Storms, Drought and Turtles

Along coastal Alabama lies Dauphin Island, a narrow, shifting strip of sand inhabited by a laid-back vacation town that is becoming more endangered with every passing storm and every incremental rise in the warming waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

Dauphin is one of perhaps 2,200 barrier islands that make up 10% to 12% of the globe’s coastline. They help absorb the blows of nature and suffer greatly for it, either eroding dramatically from catastrophic hurricane forces or gradually, almost imperceptibly, from constant wave action.

These sandy, offshore bodies are potent poster children for our planet’s warming, part of a natural, 100,000-year cycle that, according to most scientists, has greatly accelerated since the birth of the Industrial Age.

That transformative age was and largely continues to be powered by the burning of carbon-based fuels, principally coal. Almost 60 percent of emissions from such fossil fuels remain in the atmosphere and is largely responsible for global warming. That coal is to blame lends irony to the view that fragile Dauphin Island is a canary in the coal mine of climate change.

No doubt there remains a veneer of resistance to this scientific consensus – few political leaders of red-state Alabama voice agreement with the voice of science on this matter. Yet, on Dauphin Island, realpolitik is at work as the town begins to consider how to respond to the question of its own survival. Read more.

Changing Climate: Alabama Sees Heat, Storms, Drought and Turtles

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 first in a series of four stories from Alabama’s Gulf Coast. Next week, read about the impact climate change is having on Dauphin Island.

Alabama’s a long way from the South Pole, but Jim McClintock knows the places are connected. For decades, the UAB researcher has been witnessing effects of climate change on the polar region. He sees that his state is starting to feel the impacts, as well, and predicts greater changes ahead.

From his vantage point as a UAB polar biology researcher, McClintock has seen the future in vast chunks of ice breaking off from the southern continent and he’s seeing how it affects sea levels on the Alabama coast.

He sees how some small and large flora and fauna that used to thrive in the polar cold are suffering as temperatures rise. They either adapt to the warming waters and atmosphere or give way to others that expand their habitat southward.

Scientist Ken Heck not only sees the sea rise onto beaches near the Dauphin Island Sea Lab he directs, but also watches the movement of subtropical species such as mangrove trees into the northern Gulf of Mexico.

Parrot fish, black snapper and green sea turtles also are extending their range northward, and with the intrusion comes change. Read more.

Do Current Pollution Standards Protect Human Health? Clean Air Panel Will Hear Comments, Review Draft Proposal

A government panel of air pollution experts, including one from the Jefferson County Department of Health, will gather for public meetings in North Carolina later this month to hear comments and review a draft report on whether the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for carbon particles in the air are stringent enough to protect human health.

Politico Pro recently reported that the draft document, the Policy Assessment for Particulate Matter, questions whether the current standard for particulate matter in the air is adequate to protect public health. Read more.

Birding in Alabama: A View of What Losing 3 Billion Birds in North America Looks Like Here

On a recent sunny Saturday, Dwight Cooley and some friends spent four hours at north Alabama’s Swan Creek Wildlife Management Area looking for different kinds of what an online dictionary defines as “a warm-blooded egg-laying vertebrate distinguished by the possession of feathers, wings, and a beak and (typically) by being able to fly.”

In other words, they were birding.

Cooley, the former manager of the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge near Decatur, has been bird-watching and doing bird counts since the 1970s, and what he and the others saw on that recent Saturday was not encouraging. In their four hours in the field, they saw dozens of birds, including 16 representing five species of warblers. Four decades ago, under similar conditions, Cooley said, the group not only would have seen more warblers, but also more species of them.

“You just don’t see the number of birds that we used to see, and you don’t see the diversity of birds out there,” Cooley said. Read more.

The Heat Goes On, and So Do the Ozone Alert Days

It’s Alabama’s uncharacteristic September heat, not lack of rain, that’s caused recent air quality ozone alerts in numbers unheard of this late in the summer. That’s the word from the Jefferson County Department of Health expert Corey Masuca.

Masuca, who is the county’s air quality control engineer, is one of six experts who the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is required to depend on for recommendations on air quality standards for ozone and particulate matter, among other air pollutants, to protect public health and safety.

Ozone alerts have occurred nine days since May, according to the health department. Six of those have occurred in September. Check here for daily information on air quality in Jefferson County.

Ninety-degree Fahrenheit temperatures are expected to persist for the next several days in a “heat dome” effect that occurs only once every 10 to 30 years, according to an analysis by the joint national weather services of the U.S., Canada and Mexico. Read more.

Trump Administration Scales Back on Water Protection Rules

The EPA and Department of the Army announced Thursday that the EPA’s proposal to roll back protections under the Waters of the U.S. rule had been finalized.
The change eliminates federal jurisdiction over headwaters, ephemeral and some intermittently flowing streams, and wetlands that do not abut surface water, among other waters.

Environmentalists have warned that more than 80 percent of Alabamians receive their drinking water from such sources. Business owners, farmers and developers have said the change would save them money and allow them to complete projects more quickly.

The rule change has been discussed for months. Read Birmingham Watch’s earlier coverage of the proposal and its potential effects in Alabama:

Local and State Springs, Tributaries, Wetlands May Suffer From Pollution if Proposed Rule Is Finalized

Trump’s EPA Seeks to Remove Much of Nation’s Headwaters and Wetlands From Protection

Return to Muddy Waters? Uncertainty Reigns as EPA Tries to Roll Back Obama Administration Waters of the US Rule

With Low-Impact Development, Cities Hope to Better Control Runoff

WBHM
Stormwater runoff is what washes off of parking lots, roadways and rooftops when it rains. Eve Brantley, associate professor of crop, soil and environmental sciences at Auburn University, said it may sound harmless, but it has a big impact.

“I just feel like it’s the forgotten pollution,” Brantley said.

She said part of the problem is that stormwater picks up other pollutants like trash and fertilizer. The other issue is the sheer volume of runoff that is discharged into area waterways.

Cahaba Riverkeeper David Butler sees the impact on a daily basis.

“So we’re pushing so much water into the river so fast now that, you know when it rains, instead of soaking into the ground, it’s all channeled to the river,” Butler said. “So it rises really quick, falls really quick, and you get a lot more erosion like this.”

He said all along the river, large sections of the bank have collapsed, often during rainstorms. This strips away vegetation that normally acts as a buffer, leaving dirt to erode into the river and fill it with sediment. Read more.

Development Fills the Cahaba River With Sediment

WBHM
Cahaba Riverkeeper David Butler often has to convince people that sediment can be a problem.

“You know rivers are remarkably resilient,” Butler says. “They can handle a normal amount of mud.”

But he said the amount of mud in the Cahaba is not normal. Walking along a section of the river in Hoover, Butler leans over and scoops up a handful of rocks.

“So if you see how much dirt there is in it,” he says, “there’s not a lot of space in between the rocks for bugs and mussels and snails to live.”

Butler said it is now more common to see large mounds of dirt and gravel that pile up in the middle of the river, the result of sediment pushed downstream. Over the years, he said, parts of the river and its tributaries have accumulated as much as 20 feet of extra sediment.

Ethics Charges in North Birmingham Case Survive Challenge

The Alabama Ethics Commission did not overstep its authority in bringing state ethics charges against Onis “Trey” Glenn and Willie S. Phillips, a Jefferson County Circuit Court judge has found.

The cases are related to work by Glenn and Phillips in opposition to the addition of a proposed Superfund site in North Birmingham to the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Priorities List.

Judge Stephen C. Wallace ruled this week that the state acted properly and in compliance with the Ethics Act, and that the cases should not be summarily dismissed.

Read more.