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