Tag: Environment

Environmental Groups Protest New Waters of the US Rule

Environmental groups in Alabama and elsewhere say they will fight to delay or stop a new federal rule that would remove the 1972 Clean Water Act’s oversight of half the nation’s wetlands and many small streams. The new rule greatly narrows the Obama-era definition of what constitutes waters of the U.S., commonly called WOTUS.

The rule — called the Navigable Waters Protection Rule — was announced today by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler at a homebuilders meeting in Las Vegas. Real estate and farm interests have been major proponents of replacing WOTUS, which the Trump Administration repealed last fall. The new rule is scheduled to be implemented in 60 days, following publication in the Federal Register. Read more.

Cattle, Catfish and Cover Crops: Alabama Farms Play Role in Slowing Climate Change

This is the last in a series of four stories about how changing weather patterns are and will affect the Black Belt.

Once a swath of tall-grass prairie of unparalleled fertility and diversity, the Alabama Black Belt’s rich land was depleted by the practice of farming one or two crops, initially cotton and later corn and soybeans, on a large scale.

But more beneficial farming and ranching practices are taking hold in Alabama, and some in the state’s western Black Belt region are taking leadership roles.

A family in Pickens County uses no-till row farming, combined with regular rotation of crops and use of cover crops, to help rebuild once-rich prairie soil. A farm in Perry County enhances those practices by using primarily compost and organic fertilizers and by rotating different animal species through its pastures.

Progressive agricultural practices already are helping feed the planet’s increasing population. Now new ways of treating the land are seen as an important piece of a complex effort to slow the impact of accelerating climate change, as described in the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s special report on Climate Change and the Land.

Most climate change emphasis has been on displacing fossil fuels with clean, renewable energy. But emissions of carbon and other greenhouse gases continue to rise in the face of pledges from the Paris and Spain climate summits, according to other United Nations reports. It’s become increasingly evident that strategy will take too long to avoid major consequences of higher temperatures responsible for more severe storms, intense rainfall and flooding, as well as longer periods of drought.

2019 was the second-warmest year since the temperatures began to be recorded, in 1850, according to the research group Berkeley Earth.

Technologies to remove carbon from the atmosphere have not fully emerged, and it’s not clear they can be scaled up enough to make a difference, either. Read more.

More stories in the series:
Sunday: In West Alabama, Life Is Hard. Warmer Weather Forecasts Worse Problems
Monday:Audubon Study Finds Warming Climate May Be Inhospitable to Alabama State Bird
Tuesday:Wood Pellet Plants in Job-Hungry Southern Towns Prompt Environmentalists’ Warnings

Wood Pellet Plants in Job-Hungry Southern Towns Prompt Environmentalists’ Warnings

The tiny West Alabama town of Epes, population 172, is set to play a role in the international climate-change battle. The initiative that has reached Epes is spreading across the state and much of the South and is prompting debate about whether it is progress or problem.

Maryland-based Enviva is building a $175 million facility at Epes to produce wood pellets from forests, sawmills and other sources and to load them on barges at the nearby port on the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway bound for the United Kingdom, Europe and potentially Asia.

The pellets will be burned for electric power in plants formerly fueled by coal.

In 2009, the European Commission directed its member countries to use renewable sources of power for at least 20% of its electricity production in order to reduce carbon emissions and meet climate change goals. The commission categorized wood as a carbon-neutral alternative to coal on the belief trees would be replaced one-to-one with seedlings that eventually would grow and absorb the carbon dioxide released in creating power.

Wood instead of coal – a good thing for the world, right?

Not so fast. Most environmental and clean-energy advocates, including the Southern Environmental Law Center, say the carbon-neutral assessments are based on faulty initial assumptions, are not the clean power source as touted by industry, and shouldn’t be grouped with solar, wind and nuclear power as ways to replace fossil fuels and drastically reduce the world’s carbon emissions.

It’s much better, they say, to keep carbon sequestered in trees than to burn them for fuel. Read more.

More stories in the series:
Sunday: In West Alabama, Life Is Hard. Warmer Weather Forecasts Worse Problems
Monday:Audubon Study Finds Warming Climate May Be Inhospitable to Alabama State Bird
Thursday: Cattle, Catfish, and Cover Crops. Alabama Farms Play Role in Slowing Climate Change

Audubon Study Finds Warming Climate May Be Inhospitable to Alabama State Bird

This is the first in a series of four stories about how changing weather patterns are and will affect the Black Belt.

Let us travel to the West Alabama Black Belt and consider our state bird.

We like to call it the yellowhammer. It is part of the “Rammer Jammer” song that University of Alabama fans sing after a Tide victory.

This bird’s more formal name is the Northern Flicker, and like all woodpeckers we see here, it is a striking combination of colors. The male is brown, with a bunch of dots on its underbelly, a black “whisker” extending from the base of its bill, a black bib just below its neck, a white rump, yellow shafts on its tail and flight feathers, and a red streak looping around the back of its neck.

These days, you can spot the yellowhammer year ‘round in The Heart of Dixie. But not long from now, it could be too hot for the official state bird to live here in the summertime, especially in areas such as the Black Belt, known for the intensity of the heat in July, August and September.

That’s one of the findings reported in Survival By Degrees, a recently released Aububon Society study on the impact of warming global temperatures on various species of birds.

“It’s hard to imagine our state bird being just a winter bird,” said Alabama Audubon Executive Director Ansel Payne. Read more.

More stories in the series:
Sunday: In West Alabama, Life Is Hard. Warmer Weather Forecasts Worse Problems
Tuesday: Wood Pellet Plants in Job-Hungry Southern Towns Prompt Environmentalists’ Warnings
Wednesday: Cattle, Catfish, and Cover Crops. Alabama Farms Play Role in Slowing Climate Change

In West Alabama, Life Is Hard. Warmer Weather Forecasts Worse Problems

This is the first in a series of four stories about how changing weather patterns are and will affect the Black Belt.

Much of West Alabama’s rural Black Belt is beset with long-standing poverty, poor health, deteriorating infrastructure, suspect water quality and the mental and physical stresses that accompany those conditions.

Climate change is making those problems worse – or at least harder to overcome – and that effect is projected to increase in the coming decades. Increasingly higher temperatures year-round are bringing more extreme and violent storms, heavier rainfall and extended periods of drought.

The threats are clear, scientists almost universally agree. Disease-causing organisms thrive in warmer weather. Increased flooding causes already inadequate sewage treatment systems to fail as well as damaging streams and rivers with greater sediment and fertilizer run-off. Stronger tornadoes tear up the landscape and homes and terrorize the population.

What made the Black Belt different?

Almost two centuries ago, plows overturned the rich earth of the diverse, tall-grass prairies in the Alabama Black Belt to create the plantation culture based on a single crop, cotton. The act, together with the import of slaves from Africa and the Caribbean, transformed the region into an economic powerhouse for the next 150 years – until the soil was depleted and eroded. Since then the land in many cases has been given over to pine trees, cattle ranches, catfish ponds and a patchwork quilt of soy and corn fields. Read more.

‘Bird Nerd’ Wraps up Study of Bird Deaths From Flying Into Windows

As the sun rises on a workday in downtown Birmingham, the human population in the city’s center typically includes a small group: first responders, cooks, cleaners, security guards, the homeless and those seeking to get some quiet time in the office before their colleagues arrive.

During the past two years, that early morning population also frequently has included a woman walking slowly and looking closely at the sidewalks, plazas and lawns outside glass-fronted buildings. Sometimes — as much as 20 times on the morning of Oct. 13 — she would pause, kneel, remove a small brown paper sack from her shoulder bag and carefully place inside it the carcass of a dead bird, usually one that had been migrating through town.

Her name is Jessie Griswold. She is the lead animal care professional at the Birmingham Zoo’s Animal Health Center. She also is an unabashed “bird nerd.” She recently concluded work on a research grant — the only type of its kind recently done in the state — to bring to local light a problem that has afflicted Birmingham and other metropolitan areas around the country.

The problem? Bird deaths from window collisions. Read more.

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.

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.

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.

BirminghamWatch’s Best of 2019

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

As 2020 rolls in, BirminghamWatch looks back at its biggest stories of 2019, highlighting a different one each day. This story is part of a yearlong project in which 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.

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.

Read the rest of BirminghamWatch’s special report on climate change effects on the coast:

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

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

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

More of BirminghamWatch’s Best in 2019

Making the Grade? How Birmingham City Schools Are Doing Depends on Which Measure You Choose. A Special Report

Birmingham‘s Technology, Start-up Scene Thrives, ‘Innovation District’ in Development Spotlight

Alabama Site for Detained Immigrants Has History of Abuse Charges, Efforts to Close It

First Class in More Than Name Only: Why Alabama’s Preschool Program Is Best in the Country on National Standards