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Opinion | Corruption, pollution and no pollution

Guy V. Martin Jr.

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Senator Doug Jones and Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin have called on the EPA to reconsider placing the 35th Avenue Superfund Site on the National Priorities List (NPL) for a faster and more expensive cleanup. And we heard of a Democratic opponent attacking Congressman Mo Brooks for signing a letter to the EPA supporting an extension of time for Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) to comment on the proposed NPL listing of the site.

All of this comes after pundits told us that a law firm, Balch & Bingham, and a coal company, Drummond Coal, bribed a politician, Oliver Robinson, to sabotage the EPA’s quest to protect children dying from Drummond pollution.

According to some, the law firm, the coal company and all they touched should burn in Dante’s Hell for poisoning the poor children.

What drew me into this mess was the more I dug for facts, the more I saw opinion. My history with the EPA made me wary, and it took little effort to determine that lost in the tempest are crucial facts that appear to contradict the thesis on which two years of press are based.

For background, think of this as a Tale of Two Sites. The EPA was cleaning up a Superfund site (35th Avenue); environmentalists pressured to expand the site to the edge of Drummond’s ABC Coke plant in Tarrant. The lawyer got a politician involved to convince Tarrant citizens to oppose the expansion; from that involvement sprang the indictments. Activists whipped it into a frenzy of public corruption and death from pollution by Drummond.

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Against this explosive rhetoric, I was surprised to learn that Drummond had nothing to do with the Superfund site; the site was polluted by Walter Coke, a bankrupt company with no connection to Drummond (source: 1989 EPA Walter Coke order, EPA website).

Even more surprising, the EPA wrote the City of Tarrant before the trial of the lawyer and a Drummond executive ever started, saying that the EPA had decided not to add the Tarrant site to the Superfund project. The EPA’s letter, which was an exhibit in the trial, said EPA based the decision on tests showing no pollution on the Tarrant site (Caveat: a boiled egg contains around two parts benzene to a billion parts boiled egg, so “no pollution” means not enough to warrant a Superfund site).

Third, EPA over-reach ignited the initial flame by trying to saddle Drummond with cleanup costs for the Superfund site based on the “Air Deposit Theory,” claiming smoke from Drummond’s ABC plant showered down pollutants onto the Superfund site. Even the Ninth Circuit, our nation’s most liberal, had rejected that theory. The EPA tried it anyway; Drummond called the EPA’s hand; tests showed no actionable pollutants on that ground; thus, the EPA letter to Tarrant. So all of the politicians who wrote letters opposing the Air Deposit Theory were correct — the theory failed in law and fact.

Fourth, a scientific study by NewFields (commissioned by Walter Coke, an admitted polluter, and two other companies in the area, not Drummond) showed the EPA was using bogus testing methods to hype up toxin levels at the Superfund site, trying to show property there was severely polluted when it was not: “flawed and biased approaches,” violating the EPA’s own testing protocols like testing under downspouts and next to roads, knowing asphalt shingle and road residue would skew the results.

Though the EPA admitted no wrong-doing, it knew that it was being watched when it tested the Tarrant site. The EPA’s testing in Tarrant resulted in its letter to the mayor of Tarrant stating there was no pollution there.

So, drilling down through the rhetoric: Drummond had nothing to do with the Superfund site and was cleared of wrongdoing regarding the Tarrant site. Given the EPA’s bogus testing procedures, folks in Tarrant should never want the EPA to test their lots, because home values plummet when saddled with a hazardous waste stigma.

Moving to corruption, what the defendants did here is not a blatant, Chicago-styled money grab like in the Jefferson County sewer debacle, made clear by both the motion to dismiss the indictment and the government’s reply brief-both excellent briefs discussing cases such as the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning an indictment of the Governor of Virginia who used his office to arrange meetings for major donors-showing the fluid state of anti-corruption laws. Oliver Robinson pleaded guilty. The conviction of former Balch & Bingham attorney Joel Gilbert and Drummond Co. executive David Roberson will be appealed, and who knows what the Eleventh Circuit will do.

Clearly, there are two stories here, a corruption charge and pollution. Yet, neither reason nor equity supports a leap from a corruption charge to condemning a company and its law firm for killing children. Such a leap would require one to sail over too many precepts we hold dear in this society: the facts, the truth and the law.

Drummond and Balch don’t need a minnow like me to carry their water. It bothers me, however, that millions of minnows like me are reading how corrupt this state is–when the currents of the real story run deeper-and how a law firm belongs in Hell. Balch & Bingham was never charged with anything — the government used Balch witnesses to prove its case against Gilbert, who retained former state Rep. Oliver Robinson.

The government’s lawyer told the jury Gilbert had not told Balch’s ethics lawyers what he was doing. I’ve dealt with Balch as an attorney since 1974. They’re a yeoman group seeking yeoman solutions to problems; they darken churches and PTA meetings across our state; they’ve set a high bar for ethical standards others envy. I’d hire them in a flash if I were pounded by the EPA, because they know how to pound back — like they checkmated the EPA with respect to the Tarrant site.

Who does have the moral high ground here? Not Robinson, who failed to tell folks in Tarrant he was being paid by Drummond.

Not those who told you Drummond was killing children — they failed to tell you about the EPA letter and that Drummond had not polluted either site. Not those who campaigned for the EPA to test your property — they failed to tell you about the EPA bogus testing practices and the hit to home values in a Superfund site. The EPA? If bogus testing is anything, it’s corrupt. Pushing a theory discredited by science and the courts is hardly high ground.

The one lawyer and the one executive who committed crimes were wrong. If their convictions hold up on appeal, they should be punished. If the 35th Avenue Superfund Site turns out to be one of the worst Superfund sites in America based on real science, the EPA should put the site on the NPL for a faster cleanup. But saying that everyone who wrote a letter or in any way touched the pushback against the EPA’s effort to expand the Superfund site is the moral equivalent of Nazis for poisoning the poor children of Tarrant is wrong, according to the Obama administration’s EPA’s testing. That line might sell newspaper stories and garner self-righteous glory for the finger pointers, but it’s a lie, so don’t believe it.

Guy V. Martin, Jr. has served as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Alabama School of Law and teacher at the Birmingham School of Law. He is a member of the Board of Directors at The Foundry Ministries.

 

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Opinion | Brewbaker: Advice for new legislators

Dick L. Brewbaker

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Congratulations on your election. Public service is a high calling but as recent history has shown, it can get you in trouble in a heartbeat. So as an ex-legislator who has survived his career and is now safe in “Bucks Pocket,” here is a little advice.

1. Watch out for all the “new friends” you suddenly have acquired. They are friends who want something from you. You don’t work for them, even if they gave money for your campaign. Don’t forget you are there for your neighbors who actually voted for you.

Read Proverbs 27:5-6 once a day. It was written for politicians.

2. If you are a family man and are invited to an event where your spouse is not welcome — don’t go.

3. Judge not. Do not get in the business of assigning bad motives to people that disagree with you. It makes listening impossible.

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4. Make it a point to buck your own leadership at least once a session. If you are voting with them 100 percent of the time, you’ve stopped thinking.

5. Beware of becoming a consultant. You aren’t any smarter now than you were before you got elected. If someone offers you money to “consult,” turn it down. It’s a bribe, and it could land you in jail. The Ethics Law can be summed up simply: “Thou shalt not use your position as a legislator to enrich yourself.” Don’t.

6. Pay your own way. Always.

7. Be nice to your legislative assistant. Your career is in their hands.

8. Listen to the other side, sometimes they are right.

9. Take time to get to know the pages, and always, always make time for school groups even if they aren’t from your district. It will make your day a lot more fun.

10. Keep your sense of humor. Remember that the state Legislature is just the AA baseball of politics. The really important stuff is back home, so don’t let politics ruin your good name. Keep it in good condition.

Brewbaker is the president and CEO of Brewbaker Motors in Montgomery. He served two terms in both the Alabama House of Representatives (2003-07) and the Alabama Senate (2010-18). He would have easily won re-election but chose not to run.

 

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Opinion | It’s time to get back to work in Montgomery

Randall Shedd

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Winning football coaches tell their teams to celebrate victory for 24 hours then get back to work.

We’re ready to get back to work in Montgomery!

As the chair of the House Committee on Urban and Rural Development, I have three number one legislative goals in no particular order; they are all number one:

  • Urban and rural development with a focus on strategies to bring rural and small-town Alabama up while not bringing urban Alabama down.
  • Address poverty in Alabama not with government handouts but attack the causes of poverty.
  • Protect Retirement System of Alabama.

As committee chair, I understand that our urban areas are the main economic engines in our state and I fully support economic development in our urban areas.

I also understand that we can’t continue to let rural Alabama and our small towns decline. We have to develop strategies and public policies that encourage development in rural and small-town Alabama, too.

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I was proud to be an early supporter of Governor Kay Ivey, Lt. Governor-elect Will Ainsworth, and Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon. I want to work with them on a serious, well-planned and dedicated focus on rural Alabama.

All three of our new top leaders have roots in and understand rural Alabama and small-town Alabama.

It’s time for us all too seriously address rural and small-town Alabama issues.

My committee will be working closely with the House Rural Caucus chaired by Rep. David Standridge, R-Hayden plans to be active in addressing issues this term.

I want to make it perfectly clear; we don’t want to bring urban Alabama down, we want to bring rural Alabama and small-town Alabama up!

We will support urban areas and their economic engines, and we want their support to improve rural and small-town Alabama.

We will be asking all our state resources, organizations and advocates in Montgomery to be part of the solution. The state Department of Commerce, BCA, Manufacture Alabama, AEA, RSA, Republicans, Democrats, Independents, and many others all have crucial roles to play in addressing these issues. Let’s work together on the things we agree on and make our state the best it can be.

Poverty exists in both urban and rural areas and every legislative district. Let’s find a solution this term in office.

The time for celebration is over now we must get to work for Alabama.

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Opinion | Trump DNA resonates

John W. Giles

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Trump’s ability to draw overflowing crowds in every stadium in the country has become the new coveted mesmerization of every public office holder. Inside the Potomac River, you can hear the sound of political algorism calculators humming and churning like a fleet of old Boroughs adding machines trying to figure out the Trump magical DNA recipe. The mercury tube in the jealousy barometer has burst attempting to measure the lust of Democrats and Republicans over one simple question: how does this guy do it? Former President Obama, Hillary Clinton and Oprah event organizers offered to pay up to $15.00 each for people to attend their 2018 Mid-Term snooze fest rallies. The recipe and secret patented Trump formulation is actually quite elementary. In this article we boil all of this down into two key principles explaining the Trump connection with the economic, social, moral and constitutional conservative base in America.

June 15, 2015, billionaire candidate Trump came down the escalator announcing his 2016 bid for President; he was a renowned successful entrepreneur, real estate magnate, business genius, gained notoriety as a reality show host and a seasoned negotiator. He had no real platform structure at that time. I can recall some of his claims if elected; it would be beautiful, something special will happen and he would “Make America Great Again.” For months, Trump was an abstract candidate with no definition, structure on issues or how he was going to MAGA. Later on down the campaign trail, I give full credit to Steve Bannon, Kellyanne Conway and Reince Priebus for helping Trump put meat on the bones shaping his campaign platform and charting a well-defined path to deliver on these promises. His billionaire balance sheet, funding his own campaign early on, the unique charismatic caricature, patent pending hairstyle, his gorgeous super model wife and having a well-appointed Boeing 757 bearing the Trump name gave him his star power to effectively launch. When you merge the Trump Brand with the Bannon, Conway and Priebus platform structure, he was poised to become a lethal force in the primary and general election. Actually, the Trump campaign platform is mirrored by the longstanding Republican Nation Party Platform. I have always maintained, if Republicans from the courthouse to the white house, woke up every morning and saluted the GOP Platform, governed accordingly and remained honest, ethical and humble we could keep all three branches of government for decades to come. This is a critical, but commonly overlooked component among my GOP elected friends.

Key Principle: Recipe One – Promises Made Promises Kept. Economic, social, moral and constitutional conservatives have grown accustomed to great campaign promises, but no real comprehensive delivery. The GOP Platform is not only a winning common sense platform to get elected; it is a winning platform from which to responsibly govern. Trump put a face on the GOP Platform and is delivering the remarkable results embedded in that platform. When I internally reflect on all of the issues that are important to me and my family, Trump in 21 months has a remarkable and measurable progress report of advancing these ideas into reality. For me, protecting the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death, preserving traditional marriage between one man and one woman, appointing Strict Construction Constitutional Originalist to the Federal Judiciary, economic development and job creation, protecting our borders from illegal immigration, reducing personal and corporate taxes, reducing burdensome regulatory controls, maintaining world peace through military readiness and strength, positions based on facts versus emotions, entitlement reform, renegotiating all of these weak global deals and finally putting the well-being and interest of our country first; and at the same time being a responsible global partner. Simply put; Trump is delivering; this is real leadership. People like me are echoing from hamlets of every village across this great land of being ecstatic about Promises Made Promises Kept. It is very simple.

Key Principle: Recipe Two – Trump Does Not Care About Fallout. My former boss Governor Fob James was speaking at Alabama State Treasurer – Elect, John McMillan’s retirement dinner years ago from the Alabama Forestry Association. In his deliver, he mentioned he had known McMillan for decades and the one thing he appreciated was; “John McMillan will always do what is right and the hell with the consequences.” Trump does not care about the consequences when all of the facts are on deck and the decision is clear. Trump can return tomorrow to a great life in Manhattan, so losing his job over the right decision never enters his mind. This subtle, yet glaring principle is clear; do the right thing no matter what the cost.

K-Street money, powerful lobbyist and fear of the next election have been the order of the day for far too long. The Republicans lost the U.S. House of Representatives because of violating one or in some cases both of these principles. The GOP U.S. Senate had some exposure as well in this 2018 election cycle, but they did prevail. With these two principles in place, under the leadership of our fearless Commander and Chief, President Donald J. Trump, America has only just begun to reach it maximum potential on every performance indicator. I do not think we can even imagine what the portrait looks like of “Making American Great Again.” We have no limits.

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The message here to every Republican officer holder is simple; live out the platform every day and don’t fear the next election. The facts are on our side in every debate. Make a note, his message is clear, positive and very specific, he is patriotic; the crowds will swell, the momentum will be unstoppable, NBC – ABC – MSNBC and CNN will crumble, the #WalkAway and Blexit will grow exponentially and we can and will restore the Greatness of America once again.

Thank you Mr. President for saving this nation; to my GOP elected friends, get rooted and grounded in economic, social, moral and constitutional conservatism, strap it on, tighten your chin strap and fearlessly run like hell to the goal post.

 

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Opinion | Officials claiming voter suppression in Alabama are crying wolf

J. Pepper Bryars

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A 17th century illustration of the fable “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” (Francis Barlow/Wikimedia Commons)

We need words to mean things.

The phrase “fake news” has been so widely applied that it’s now essentially meaningless, other than identifying those who would rather dismiss than deal with an argument or evidence challenging their conclusions.

The extremely important phrase “voter suppression” is now also tittering on the edge of meaninglessness, thanks in part to the ill-considered efforts of some in the Huntsville area.

They’re exaggerating the impact of the routine process that Alabama uses to mail voter I.D. cards and manage its voter lists.

Here’s the process.

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Step one: Register to vote.

Step two: Election officials mail you a voter I.D. card, and ask you to verify the information.

Step three: Follow the instructions on the card if anything needs to be changed.

Easy-peasy.

Or not, according to a group that includes Madison County Probate Judge Tommy Ragland, the county’s top voting official.

“It’s voter suppression, and it gives our county a black eye,” he told AL.com last week.

Suppression?

To quote Inigo Montoya, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Here’s what’s being alleged: A number of students at Alabama A&M and Oakwood University, both in Madison County, used their campus addresses when registering to vote recently. But when the cards were mailed to those addresses, some of the students reportedly didn’t receive them.

The post office sent the undeliverable cards back to county election officials, who, quite reasonably, assumed the lack of acceptance meant an individual had moved. When this happens, people are placed on the “inactive” voter list which means they can still vote but must first update their information.

Why do this? If the state doesn’t periodically verify its rolls and move unresponsive voters to an inactive list, then the main list would eventually include any registered voter who ever lived in Alabama – alive, dead, or those who moved away.

The rolls would become utterly unmanageable.

Why didn’t some students receive the card? Maybe because Alabama A&M doesn’t have individual mailboxes for students, just one big general delivery pile. University staff said they emailed students asking them to pick up their cards, but hundreds still haven’t.

Not to worry, though. When they show up to vote and learn that they’re on the inactive list, all they have to do is complete a simple form and are then immediately given a ballot, according to Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill.

“It’s a simple one-page voter update form,” Merrill said. “It takes less than three-minutes to complete.”

Still, Madison County Commissioner Roger Jones thinks that’s “suppressing their right to vote.”

“They have just registered to vote and this is the first time they will be able to vote and then have to go through an ordeal when they go vote Tuesday,” Jones told AL.com.

Ordeal?

Seriously?

It’s a one-page form, commissioner, and while waiting in a line is inconvenient, it’s hardly voter suppression.

This is hyperbole and nasty politics at their worst because we’re supposed to assume that this is racist since Alabama A&M and Oakwood have predominantly African-American student bodies.

Folks, this hurts us all.

We need voter suppression to describe exactly what a reasonable person would assume it means: people being denied their right to vote. Voter suppression is a gravely serious charge that should warrant investigation when alleged, and if proven, it must carry swift and stern punishment.

But the way the phrase is being thrown around is remarkably reckless, weakens the strength of the allegation, and reduces the credibility of those making the charge.

Those crying voter suppression right now should remember why we teach our children Aesop’s fable of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.”

Because when the wolf really does come around, will any of us heed their cries?

J. Pepper Bryars, author of American Warfighter, is a senior fellow at the Alabama Policy Institute. Follow him on Twitter at @jpepperbryars.

 

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Opinion | Corruption, pollution and no pollution

by Guy V. Martin Jr. Read Time: 6 min
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