Urgent: Act TODAY to protect the public’s right to speak!

Action Alert

Dear Katie,

The Alabama Environmental Management Commission (EMC) is undergoing a review of their rule that allows for public comment period at the end of their regular meetings. The link to the public notice is at this link. It is critical that we let the EMC know how important it is to allow public to come before them and express valid issues and concerns about environmental regulation in their communities.Please take time to do this before 5 pm today.  Your right to speak to the EMC may depend on it.

They are accepting comments on this rule until today, Sept 15th at 5 pm.You can send comments to:

Alabama Environmental Management Commission

ATTN: AEMC Rulemaking Committee
BACKGROUND:
As part of the ADEM Reform Coalition, citizen groups successfully advocated the amendment to ADEM Administrative Rule 335-2-3-.05, Agenda, Sections (1) through (3) that allow the public time to present to the Alabama Environmental Management Commission (EMC) at the end of their regular meetings.  This was a huge step forward in our ability as citizens to ensure that the full picture of environmental impacts were being presented to the EMC. The EMC is reviewing this rule.
It is essential that they receive comments from the public about how important it is to keep this rule in place.  Below are some talking points that you can use to send your own comments to the Commission at the above email address.
TALKING POINTS:
  • The ability for the public to have a voice on matters of environmental regulation that impact their communities and their quality of life is of the utmost importance.
  • As a body that is charged with making environmental policy and overseeing the enforcement of environmental rules and regulations, it is important that the EMC receive all stakeholder perspectives, including business, regulated industry, environmental experts and organizations, and individual citizens, to enable the EMC to make the most sound and balanced decisions.
  • We respect the challenges that public presentations present due to the fact that the EMC serves a three part role as executive, legislative, and judicial decision makers for the agency.  While we believe it is worth considerable review to discern the best way to deal with this dilemma, we do not believe that sacrificing public participation at meetings is a solution.
  • We strongly recommend that you do not make the process any more cumbersome than it already is for citizens to request to present and be heard by the EMC.
  • The Alabama Environmental Management Commission has been a leader among state agencies and commissions since 2003 in allowing the public to come before the EMC and express valid issues and concerns about environmental regulation in their communities. It would be a shame to move backwards toward a more closed system or a more difficult system for citizen participation.
  • In reviewing this rule, we ask that you keep this valuable rule in place and work with citizens and organizations to improve their ability to present the most appropriate and useful information to the EMC.  We would also like to see an effort to allow citizen presentations to be a part of the official agenda and minutes of the EMC meetings.

Again, please take time to do this before 5 pm today.  Your right to speak to the EMC may depend on it.

Sincerely,

Cindy Lowry

Executive Director
Alabama Rivers Alliance
2014 6th Ave North, Suite 200
Birmingham, AL 35203
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Defend Rivers Campaign will launch with River Celebration Flotilla, Barbecue Luncheon on the Alabama River

Contact: Cindy Lowry

Executive Director

(205) 322-6395 ext 106

clowry@alabamarivers.org

Katie Shaddix

Development and Communications Coordinator

kshaddix@alabamarivers.org

(205) 322-6395 ext 104

Who: The Alabama Rivers Alliance

What: Over 100 people will celebrate the launch of Defend Rivers Campaign with a flotilla on the Alabama River and barbecue luncheon. Space will be provided for media on a pontoon boat that will accompany the flotilla and representatives from Alabama environmental organizations will take questions about the Defend Rivers Campaign and statewide water issues from media during the luncheon at Riverfront Park.

Where: Put-in at Montgomery Marina, 617 Shady Street, Montgomery, AL. Lunch, speakers, and a drinking water toast will be at Riverfront Park, 355 Commerce Street, Montgomery, AL. Participants will take out at Powder Magazine Park, 228 Eugene Street, Montgomery, AL and shuttles will be provided back to the Montgomery Marina.

When: Friday, July 18, 2014. Participants will meet from 9-9:30 am at Montgomery Marina. They will then travel to Riverfront Park where they will pause for photos and a barbecue lunch catered by Dreamland. A detailed agenda is available here.

About the Launch of Defend Rivers Campaign:

MONTGOMERY, Ala. On Friday, July 18, 2014, the Alabama Rivers Alliance will launch the Defend Rivers Campaign as more than 100 people from over two dozen organizations travel down the Alabama River in a bright flotilla of boats, including patrol boats from Black Warrior Riverkeeper and Coosa Riverkeeper and kayaks and canoes compliments of Coosa Outdoor Center and The Nature Conservancy.

The flotilla will stop at the Riverfront Park for a barbecue luncheon, a drinking water toast to Alabama’s waterways, a group photo, and a press conference to discuss the campaign with media.

“Most concerned citizens and river advocacy groups lack big money to hire professional lobbyists or buy expensive advertisements to influence policy, but we do have a voice. We expect our elected officials to represent us as constituents,” stated Cindy Lowry, executive director of the Alabama Rivers Alliance. “The Defend Rivers Campaign is about helping people be involved in government and let their elected officials know that they care about our rivers and that they want legislators to vote to protect rivers.”

The Defend Rivers Campaign will engage citizens across Alabama in raising awareness of water issues and communicating their significance to state elected officials and those seeking to become elected officials. Citizens can participate by signing the Defend Rivers Pledge at http://www.DefendRivers.org. Over a hundred Alabama citizens have already taken the pledge and thousands more signatures are needed to ensure that Alabama’s rivers have a voice in government.

# # #

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Join us for the #DefendRivers Paddle July 18 on the Alabama River!

This free event will give Alabamians a chance to get out on the water in our state’s capitol and showcase Alabamian’s love of our rivers!
 

When: July 18, 2014

Where: The Alabama River, putting in at Montgomery Marina and taking out at Powder Magazine Park (shuttle provided)

What: The launch of the Defend Rivers campaign at a fun paddle for all ages and skill levels with a free lunch provided by Dreamland Barbecue and a drinking water toast to Alabama Rivers

Bring your own boat or borrow one of ours!
 
This free event will give Alabamians a chance to get out on the water in our state’s capitol and showcase Alabamian’s love of our rivers!
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AGAINST THE WIND: Senator Williams’ proposed government regulations will keep pressure on Alabama’s water resources

 ImageIn Alabama, we use more of our water to keep the lights on than we use for anything else.  That is because our current sources of energy require large amounts of water to generate power.  Recently, developers have been looking to Alabama as a place to produce wind energy, a source that uses no water to create energy.  The Alabama Senate is currently considering a bill by Senator Williams of Gadsden (SB12) that  enacts unfair, burdensome regulations that will, in effect, prevent the development of wind energy anywhere in the state.

Alabama Power's Miller Steam Plant on the Locust Fork of the Black Warrior River. (Jefferson Co.)

Alabama Power’s Miller Steam Plant on the Locust Fork of the Black Warrior River. (Jefferson Co.)
Photo by Nelson Brooke. Flight provided by SouthWings.

 
The Alabama Rivers Alliance works to protect our state’s water resources, so we are urging the legislature to oppose Senator Williams’ bill in its current form. By intentionally implementing heavy handed government regulations for wind energy generators that don’t apply to any other energy producers, this proposed legislation would effectively foreclose the use of wind energy in Alabama and thereby “lock in” the threats to Alabama’s water resources from current methods of power production. Because of the ongoing issues facing the water resources of this state and the considerable impact that power production has on these resources, this is an issue that deserves the attention of our elected representatives.
 
While there are many debatable issues associated with energy production in Alabama, water use within the sector is too often overlooked. According to the latest United States Geological Survey report on water use in Alabama, about 83% of the water withdrawals in the state are for thermoelectric power generation. Almost all of the thermoelectric-power water use (about 8,274 Million Gallons per Day (Mgal/d)) was from Alabama’s rivers. [1]
 
By contrast, public water supply, the next highest sector with 802 Mgal/d, accounts for only 8% of our states water withdrawals. This overburden of our water resources from one sector presents three obvious challenges: it places our state’s energy security at risk by over relying on a naturally variable resource; it limits growth in other water dependent sectors, such as industry and agriculture, by tying up the water resources for power generation; and it threatens the state’s environment and water dependent industries, including those in the Mobile Bay region, by unnecessarily altering the natural flow of our state’s rivers.
 
Additionally, a significant portion of the water used for electric generation comes from the Coosa, Tallapoosa, Chattahoochee, and Tennessee Rivers which are entangled in water disputes with our neighboring states. According to a 2013 report by the Energy and Water in a Warming World Initiative entitled “Water-Smart Power: Strengthening the U.S. Electricity System in a Warming World,” continued reliance on water-using power plants could result in a 24% reduction in stream flows in the Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa (ACT) Basin by 2050 and a 17% reduction in flows in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) Basin.[2] This report highlights Alabama’s vulnerability to placing too much reliance on our current water-intensive power systems.
 
In contrast to coal, gas, nuclear, and hydropower generation, wind power will not impact our water resources. Wind energy offers an opportunity to diversify our energy production portfolio and free up or reduce the burden on our state’s water resources. According to the US Department of Energy, achieving a 20% share of energy production by 2030 would reduce cumulative water use in the electric sector by 8%.[3] In Alabama that could be a savings of over 600 million gallons of water per day.
 
Likewise, the Energy and Water in a Warming World Initiative found that a significant transition to renewable energy along with improvements in efficiency could result in at least a 50% reduction in water withdrawals for energy production by 2030 with a potential 90% reduction by 2050.
 
The Alabama Rivers Alliance does not oppose the idea of fair regulation of energy production. However, as Alabama develops a comprehensive plan for our state’s water resources, our focus should be on managing the burden on our water resources. With this in mind, the state should evaluate all energy sources to determine the best way to keep the lights onand keep our rivers flowing. Due to the overwhelming potential positive impacts from wind energy to preserving our water resources, we encourage the Legislature to oppose Senator Williams’ regulation in its current form.
 
About the Alabama Rivers Alliance
The Alabama Rivers Alliance is Alabama’s statewide, nonprofit, water protection organization. Networking over fifty grassroots water protection organizations across Alabama at the local level and advocating smart planning and reasonable laws at the state level, we work to ensure healthy waters for future generations by empowering the citizens of Alabama to protect our waterways.
 
About Mitch Reid
Mitch Reid is the program director for the Alabama Rivers Alliance. Mitch is from Bellwood, Alabama, a small town in Southeast Alabama right on the Choctawhatchee River in Geneva, county.  A graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point and the University of Alabama School of Law, he works with both the state and federal governments towards real and lasting protection of Alabama’s rivers.
 

 

[1] USGS, Water Use in Alabama, 2005, available at http://al.water.usgs.gov/infodata/wateruse.html. This figure does not account for the significant volume of water that must be held back for hydroelectric generation. RE: SB12 February 4, 2014
Alabama Rivers Alliance
 
[2] “Energy and Water in a Warming World Initiative,” Water-Smart Power; Strengthening the U.S Electricity System in a Warming World, p.23, July 2013
[3] US Department of Energy, Wind and Water Program, Wind Energy Benefits, April 2011. Available at
www.eere.energy.gov/informationcenter

 

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An accident away: Recent chemical spills raise safety questions for Alabama drinking water

Duke Energy Coal Ash Spill in North Carolina

If the recent chemical spill in West Virginia made you wonder about the safety of your drinking water supply, I don’t blame you.  Over half of Alabamians get their drinking water from rivers, streams, and reservoirs.  Alabama has not historically placed a priority on protecting drinking water, meaning contamination is just an accident away.

For example, there are nine coal-fired power plants located on seven of Alabama’s rivers: the Tennessee, Black Warrior, Locust Fork, Mulberry Fork, Coosa, Tombigbee, and Mobile Rivers.  Adjacent to each of these plants are massive coal ash storage ponds containing a total of 24.1 billion gallons of coal ash, the waste left behind when coal is burned. Coal ash contains many toxic metals like mercury, lead, and selenium. According to a recent report by the Environmental Integrity Project, Alabama’s coal ash ponds receive more toxic metals than any other coal ash dumps in the nation. The majority of coal ash dump sites in the state are old, unlined, and only separated from our drinking water sources by earthen dams.
Just this Monday, a storm water pipe broke in Eden, North Carolina, spilling a reported 50,000 to 82,000 tons of coal ash along with 27 million gallons of water into the Dan River.  The ash was stored at one of Duke Energy’s retired coal plants in an unlined ash pond, similar to many of the coal ash ponds we have in Alabama.[i]

Coal ash is not regulated as hazardous waste, so utilities can dump it in wet, unlined ponds right next to our rivers.  After the 2008 Kingston coal ash disaster, the EPA ranked coal ash impoundments across the nation based on the amount of damage that could happen if they collapsed. In Alabama, they rated two dams as likely to cause loss of human life and five dams as likely to cause damage to the economy, the environment, and local infrastructure. Despite this threat, Alabama lacks laws to prevent a spill here, or to stop coal ash from polluting our waters.
Chances are you live downstream from one of these coal ash dumps. Birmingham, Huntsville, Guntersville, Florence, Mobile and many cities are downstream, as well as the drinking water intakes for several cities, like Huntsville and Gadsden, plus many of our most popular lakes like Lake Guntersville, Lake Neely Henry, and Lay Lake.  The Mobile-Tensaw Delta, recently featured in the documentary “America’s Amazon” for its globally significant ecological importance and biodiversity, is also downstream from a coal ash site. (Visit www.southeastcoalash.org to learn more about coal ash in your area.)

Meanwhile, state agencies have issued pollution permits for coal mining as close as 800 feet from one of Birmingham’s largest drinking water intakes.[ii]  Contamination from this site would impact 200,000 people in the Birmingham area.  There is an oil pipeline proposed to be built directly across the drinking water supply for the city of Mobile.  Citizens recently filed a lawsuit over this pipeline as their last resort for protecting their drinking water.[iii]

Local water utilities work hard every day to provide clean, safe drinking water,  but as West Virginia’s disaster made us keenly aware, we need to do a better job of keeping our water sources safe from hazardous threats.

Alabama is currently one of the worst states in the nation for funding environmental protection.  That includes the protection of our drinking water sources. Source after source reported the lack of oversight as the primary reason for the West Virginia disaster. Yet our state and federal governments are continually trying to cut funding for agencies charged with that oversight and short cut important processes that ensure oversight is thorough and accurate.

There’s a lot that needs to change in Alabama to protect our drinking water.  These changes might not be easy but they are vital if we want to ensure our water is clean and safe.  It may mean not allowing pollution permits in certain areas upstream from or adjacent to drinking water sources.  It may mean working together to move our state away from outdated facilities and outdated energy sources that we now know pose threats to drinking water quality and quantity.  It may mean conserving energy and water in our homes and making sure that we improve energy and water efficiency at all levels of our society.  These changes won’t happen overnight and they may require some growing pains, but if we work together and envision a better, cleaner future for our state, we can get there.  Other states are way ahead of us on this road, so we know the path.  We just have to have the courage, patience, and political will to go down it.

About Cindy Lowry
Cindy Lowry is the executive director of the Alabama Rivers Alliance, Alabama’s statewide, nonprofit river protection organization. She received her BS degree in Wildlife Science from Auburn University in and her Masters of Public Administration from UAB. She has over a decade of experience in the environmental sector and countless volunteer hours.  She currently serves on the boards of directors for Friends of the Locust Fork River locally and Clean Water Network nationally.

For more information, visit www.alabamarivers.org.


[i] Henderson, Bruce. (2014, February 3). “Duke Energy plant reports coal ash spill.” Charlotte Observer.  Retrieved February 4, 2014 from http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2014/02/03/4661193/duke-energy-plant-reports-coal.html#.UvFP9tJdWbM
[ii] Evans, Sherrie. (2014, January 20). “Black Warrior Riverkeeper concerns over proposed strip mine.” ABC 33/40. Retrieved February 4, 2014 from http://www.abc3340.com/story/24499847/black-warrior-riverkeeper-concerns-over-proposed-strip-mine
[iii] Tynes, Gabriel. (2014, January 24). “Environmental groups sue Corps of Engineers over pipeline permit.” Lagniappe.  Retrieved February 4, 2014 from  http://lagniappemobile.com/selc-mobile-baykeeper-file-lawsuit-against-corps-of-engineers/
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Save the date: Alabama Water Rally is March 7-9, 2014 in Montgomery, AL

About Alabama Water Rally

Alabama Water Rally is a conference produced annually by the Alabama Rivers Alliance as a premier education event for those interested in water protection. It is the largest gathering of environmental advocates in Alabama. Participants include community leaders, elected officials, students, and concerned citizens from across the state. These individuals take their experience from the conference back to their communities.

Each year the conference brings together more than a hundred of Alabama’s most committed environmental and grassroots leaders, government representatives, college students and interested stakeholders for an event designed to inspire, train, and educate Alabama citizens about our most precious resource—water.

As always, the Alabama Rivers Alliance seeks to keep costs down to enable ALL Alabama citizens to participate, regardless of age, geographic location, or level of income.

Quick Links:

This year’s conference will feature:

  • Over a dozen educational workshops and training sessions by local and regional experts
  • Unsurpassed networking opportunities with conservation professionals
  • Annual River Celebration Awards Banquet and entertainment featuring local musicians

Want to learn more? Read our Frequently Asked Questions about Alabama Water Rally!

More information about this event…

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Alabama Rivers Alliance 2013 Annual Report

Happy New Year! Check out our annual report to read about 2013 accomplishments and important upcoming dates in 2014!

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