Category: Environment

Frustration With Health Department Intensifies as Environmental Groups Seek to Overturn ABC Coke’s Air Permit Renewal

Environmental groups say ABC Coke’s air permit renewal issued in April is flawed and are appealing to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to agree that it does not comply with requirements of the federal Clean Air Act.

The groups are asking the EPA to object to the five-year renewal of the permit issued to the coke plant by the Jefferson County Health Department under Title V of the act.

The EPA has until Aug. 13 to respond to the request by the Southern Environmental Law Center and Gasp, a Birmingham-based clear-air advocacy group.

The permit renewal was hotly contested by area residents and organizations at a health department public hearing last year, largely over health concerns in the neighborhoods near the Tarrant facility. Read more.

The Story Behind Parcak’s “Archaeology From Space”

In a coworking space just off of Lakeshore Parkway sits a potential game changer for the future of archaeology – the headquarters of the non-profit GlobalXplorer. The web-based platform invites just about anyone to become a space archaeologist by scanning satellite images in search of undiscovered archaeological sites and signs of looting. It is the brainchild of Sarah Parcak, who is well known for her work using infra-red technology to locate lost tombs, pyramids and settlements in ancient Egypt. Read more.

Neighborhoods Want Trust Fund Set Up From Proposed ABC Coke’s Benzene Pollution Case

The North Birmingham community made clear this week that it wants money from an ABC Coke pollution penalty to be used to create a trust fund to benefit residents in the surrounding area.  

The Jefferson County Department of Health and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency would each get half of the proposed $775,000 fine, or $387,500 each, for the agreement that the Drummond Company facility mismanaged the carcinogenic chemical benzene in its byproduct recovery facilities.

State Rep. Mary Moore, other community members and the clean-air nonprofit group Gasp said during a news conference Monday that the health board should set up a trust fund for its share of the settlement, with community membership included on an oversight board.
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ADEM Director Up for Review of His Job Performance Amid Renewed Complaints

Alabama Department of Environmental Management Director Lance LeFleur, who survived scathing attacks from environmental groups on his job performance last year, faces renewed efforts to remove him from office this year.

The department’s overseeing body, the Alabama Environmental Management Commission, announced this week that it is seeking public comment on LeFleur’s record as head of the state’s environmental regulatory department for his annual job review.

Negative comments about LeFleur’s job record last year centered on his handling of industrial pollution in north Birmingham and whether the Environmental Protection Agency’s 35th Avenue Superfund site should be expanded. Criticism of LeFleur’s department this year has included its handling of industrial pollution discharges that have resulted in large fish kills on the Mulberry Fork as well as water quality issues on the Tennessee River near Decatur. Read more.

New Map Provides Comprehensive Graphic of Coal Ash’s Groundwater Pollution at State Power Plants

While some electric utilities in some other southeastern U.S. states are moving millions of tons of toxic coal ash away from waterways and into lined landfills, those in Alabama are holding fast to plans to corral their toxic material in unlined pits at their present locations, an option labeled cap-in-place.

Four nonprofit environmental groups this week released a new ineractive map they say shows the potential danger of the cap-in-place strategy chosen in the state by Alabama Power Company, PowerSouth Energy Cooperative, and the Tennessee Valley Authority. The maps, based on results of the utilities’ federally required tests of groundwater pollution near the facilities, show where arsenic, molybdenum, and other chemicals persist at levels that exceed government-set standards.

While the information has been available on the utilities’ websites, it previously has not been aggregated graphically in map form.
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Controversial Coal Mine at Dovertown Wins 5-Year Permit Renewal, Can’t Use Brownfield Portion Without Pollution Plan

The Alabama Surface Mining Commission issued a permit renewal last week for Mays Mining Company’s Mine No. 5 on the Mulberry Fork. But the company has to meet multiple court-ordered and other conditions before beginning to operate at the site near the Dovertown community.

Gary Hosmer, a Dovertown resident who has led the 14 year-long local opposition to mining in the 200-resident Walker County community, said, “We’re going to fight it as far as we can, and then some.”

The mine site is about five miles upstream of a major intake pipe that supplies the Birmingham Water Works Board and serves 200,000 customers. The water works has said the mining is a threat to the area’s drinking water quality. The utility went to Jefferson County Circuit Court to stop the mine from operating on the Black Warrior tributary, and officials said in a statement, “We are reviewing the (commission’s) decision and evaluating the BWWB’s options.” Read more.

Judge in Historic Ruling Says Drummond Violating Clean Water Act Because of Ongoing Discharge From Closed Mine

The acid coal mine drainage at Maxine Mine on the Locust Fork is ugly, with discordant orange, yellow, red and purple hues that contrast with verdant spring growth on adjacent riverbanks and bluffs.

Nearby residents of this Black Warrior River tributary in north Jefferson County, close to the community of Praco on Flat Top Road, call the abandoned mine “a mess,” a place devoid of fish and most other aquatic life and given a wide berth by boaters and swimmers. It’s where algae blooms proliferate in a slough rife with sediment washing from the mountain of mine waste that has accumulated since the early 1950s.

And it’s a site that made Alabama history May 7 when a federal judge ruled that its owner, Drummond Company, was in violation of the U.S. Clean Water Act for continuously polluting the Locust Fork with acid drainage. In a suit brought by nonprofit Black Warrior Riverkeeper, U.S. District Judge Abdul Kallon issued a summary judgment against Drummond, dismissing the coal company’s assertion that the law does not apply to pollution from waste after mine operations ended.

It was the first time the federal act was used to successfully sue the owner of an abandoned mine for polluting an Alabama waterway. Read more.

The River ‘Flows Through My Veins:’ Voices From the Locust Fork Tributary of the Black Warrior River

Funding to Make Abandoned Coal Mines Safer Could Disappear Soon

Funding to Make Abandoned Coal Mines Safer Could Disappear Soon

U.S. District Judge Abdul Kallon eventually will determine how Drummond Co. must keep its Maxine Mine from polluting the Locust Fork with acid mine drainage. Regardless of the method used, the cost almost certainly will run into the millions of dollars.

The size and complexity of the more than six-decade-old site would make stopping or treating pollution “very, very challenging” regardless of the method used, according to Dustin Morin, the inspector for the Alabama Department of Labor’s Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation Program.

The program administers the federal AML program and addresses the most dangerous problems resulting from coal mining that occurred before passage of the U.S. Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977. Read more.

Judge in Historic Ruling Says Drummond Violating Clean Water Act Because of Ongoing Discharge From Closed Mine

The River ‘Flows Through My Veins:’ Voices From the Locust Fork Tributary of the Black Warrior River

The River ‘Flows Through My Veins:’ Voices From the Locust Fork Tributary of the Black Warrior River

People who live on the Locust Fork near the Maxine mine say runoff from that long-closed site has ruined their boating and fishing, endangered their livelihoods and damaged their enjoyment of their homes.

Its for those people and many others who visit the river that the mine site needs to be cleaned up, said Black Warrior Riverkeeper staff attorney Eva Dillard.

“People live along the Locust Fork, they know about this site and worry about it every time they boat or fish on the river. They have to think about what that site generates and puts into the river, how it might affect their lives and their property values.”

In court documents, several people living along or near the Locust Fork registered objections to the pollution of the river from Maxine Mine. Here are some of their comments. Read more.

Judge in Historic Ruling Says Drummond Violating Clean Water Act Because of Ongoing Discharge From Closed Mine

Funding to Make Abandoned Coal Mines Safer Could Disappear Soon

Water Water Everywhere … Unless It Hasn’t Rained Lately: Legislators Debate Bill to Govern Water Use During Droughts

River advocacy groups are promoting passage of a bill that would provide clear standards in times of drought for the state to step in to allocate use of water for agriculture, recreation, drinking and other uses.

The bill, HB 476, also would set up a system of “conservation credits” for agricultural and other large water users who institute water-saving measures before periods of drought.

Under the bill, when water flow in a river or stream falls below predetermined, science-based levels, state agencies could more quickly impose limits on usage to protect the health of the waterway. That would impact the quality of water for drinking, recreation and aquatic life, advocates say.

Meanwhile, farmers are concerned that the bill could let the state cut back on their water use just when they need it most.
The bill is awaiting action in a committee. Read more.