By Alabama Governor Robert Bentley
Lt. Governor Ivey, Speaker Hubbard, President Marsh, distinguished guests, members of the Alabama Legislature, Chief Justice Moore, justices of the Alabama Supreme Court – and my fellow Alabamians:
The poorest county in the United States of America is located just 73 miles from where we sit tonight. If we were to drive a little over an hour from this historic hall we would find ourselves in Wilcox County where the median household income is below that of any other county in this nation. 11-thousand of our fellow Alabamians live in Wilcox County where the unemployment rate is chronically in double digits and consistently ranks above the national average.
Everyone in this room knows Alabama is one of the poorest states in America, where one in four children live in poverty. Nearly 1-million of our fellow Alabamians are dependent on food stamps.
The statistics are sobering. The facts are indisputable. Never ending cycles of a need for jobs, better job skills and better education, plague our communities, counties and state as they have for years.
We recognize the challenges that we face and we resolve to reverse the trends that have troubled our state for decades.
Alabama is truly a great state. It’s a state filled with hard working people, people who want to provide well for their families, seek to live freely and are driven to care for their neighbors, friends and communities.
Good people live here.
And we must all serve them and offer them a greater opportunity to prosper if we are to ever see our state rise from the depths of deficiency.
We will never see an end to the plague of poverty by offering a deeper dependence on a flawed government system. We will never help our poorest citizens, or our future generations by casting over them the net of federal government giveaway programs.
We can break the cycle of poverty, but not with programs that drag our communities and our people into the downward spiral of dependence.
That is why we will not expand on a flawed and broken system that encourages greater reliance, not on self, but on government, pulling even more of our vulnerable citizens into what President Ronald Reagan called the “spider’s web of dependency.”
We will help no one if we continually make decisions that ultimately offer little hope for our citizens while driving this great nation deeper into debt.
There is never freedom for the breadwinner who is dependent on the government.
Freedom is only found in the land that offers opportunity. That comes from hard work and sacrifice.
The people of Alabama deserve the opportunity to find a job that pays well – more than enough than to just make ends meet.
Our hard-working neighbors deserve an opportunity to acquire the skills needed to get a great job that pays well.
An opportunity for their children to receive a quality education even at an early age so they have a fighting chance to compete in school.
An opportunity for a lifeline out of the cycle of poverty and dependence by a government that doesn’t solve problems with more spending, but with saving the taxpayer’s money. That opportunity is here.
It continues to grow and is available to anyone who seeks to find it.
Opportunity is being found in over 40-thousand new, future Alabama jobs that have been created since I became your Governor. These are the higher-paying, higher-skilled jobs that offer families a steady income, not just a wage. These are jobs that are waiting to be filled in brand new manufacturing plants being built as we speak.
One-thousand Alabamians are finding that opportunity in Mobile where Airbus has invested $600-million dollars to produce the first A320 family aircraft at its ultramodern facility once it is completed in 2015.
Boeing is building one of its five research facilities in Huntsville where the aerospace giant will bring up to 400 more high paying jobs.
900 more people are working this year assembling Montgomery-made Hyundai vehicles, which account for more than half of the company’s record breaking sales.
1400 new jobs are coming to Tuscaloosa’s Mercedes plant to produce two new models. 600 more jobs have been added at their new logistics hub.
Toyota is expanding its Huntsville engine plant, the only location in the world where the automaker produces four-cylinder, V6 and V8 engines.
In Lincoln last spring, Honda launched mass production of its 2014 Acura MDX sport utility vehicle, the first time the automaker has assembled a vehicle from its luxury line in the state.
Word is spreading far and wide that Alabama is a great place for companies to do business.
There are over 60 Japanese companies in Alabama. Two months ago I had the opportunity to travel there to recruit more jobs and strengthen relationships with Japan’s biotech industry.
During the trip, I sat on the bus next to the CEO of Otsuka, the parent company of Pharmavite in Lee County. I told him about UAB and Southern Research Institute, and the work they do in the fields of bio-tech research. As a result next week, Otsuka will be meeting with those institutions to explore ways they can work together in the research and development of new products.
Companies, like Otsuka, have quickly recognized, as others have, that we have a positive business climate and that our job training program is second to none.
But without doubt our greatest asset for any industry is our workforce, the men and women of this state who get up every day and go to work to produce, build and develop a product, a good or a service that is Made in Alabama.
I have seen for myself the pride, skill and dedication of the men and women who work in Alabama’s industries as I’ve traveled across this state on our Road to Economic Recovery Tours.
In Fayette, I saw workers weld together dump truck beds.
In Clarke County I watched as skilled craftsmen carved out church pews, and I saw workers in Franklin County assemble motor homes known the world over.
And at Hyundai, they now work around the clock to meet the world’s growing appetite for Alabama-made cars. Montgomery workers broke the facility’s monthly production record three times last year.
Watching these men and women work on the assembly line, I have never been more convinced the best workforce in the country is right here in Alabama.
And nothing is more important to me than making sure there are well-paying jobs for our people.
Alabama has seen remarkable job growth since I took office in 2011. Between January 2011 and last November, Alabama saw an increase of 59,400 jobs. That is in addition to those 40-thousand new future jobs we’ve created.
Companies have invested over $5-billion dollars in our state.
And unemployment in Alabama has dropped to a five year low, and now stands at 6.2 percent, the lowest rate in the deep south*
Alabama once again ranks among the top five states for doing business – for the fourth year in a row.
But we must not stop here. We have to keep working to make sure we are doing all we can to not only help people find jobs, but also help businesses continue to create those jobs, especially the nearly 400-thousand small businesses in the state.
That is why I am creating the Small Business Advisory Council to address specific needs of Alabama’s small businesses. Nearly half of Alabama’s private sector workforce is found in small businesses.
The Small Business Advisory Council will focus on making sure they have the resources and support needed to not only grow their business, but to create well-paying jobs for the people of this state.
We must create greater opportunity for Alabamians to acquire the skills needed for higher-paying jobs. Companies are looking for and jobs are waiting for skilled workers.
In Athens, TR Electrical is a small family-owned company I visited last year. Business is good, but to keep up with demand, they need more skilled electricians.
That’s why we created the Governor’s College and Career Ready Task Force. We brought together leaders in the fields of business, industry and education to develop ideas to help prepare students for a career.
The Task Force recently presented a number of recommendations that will result in a constant supply of high school and college graduates who have the skills industries and businesses such as TR Electrical want.
We will present legislation creating a Statewide Workforce Council of business and industry leaders who will advise educators and colleges on the workforce needs on the types of jobs needed in each region.
We will expand the number of Career Coaches. We will expand Dual Enrollment Programs, so that students may attend high school and a 2-year college at the same time. We will also develop a marketing campaign and put a greater emphasis on teaching essential skills.
Once implemented this program will improve high school graduation rates and increase the number of higher-skilled workers.
From North Alabama to South Alabama, we have positioned ourselves for what I believe will be tremendous growth for generations to come.
At the Gulf Coast we will build a lodge and meeting facility and improve the Gulf State Park for all the people of Alabama to enjoy, with funds we secured from a portion of the BP Oil Settlement.
In North-Central Alabama we will soon begin the study and research of one of this state’s greatest energy resources. 7-point-5 billion barrels of oil are located on the surface and sub-surface in North-Central Alabama, in the form of oil sands. This year we will create the Alabama Oil Sands Program at the Geological Survey and Oil and Gas Board to further study this potentially rich resource.
Each of Alabama’s 67 counties has been given the opportunity to recruit more jobs, thanks to the largest road and bridge improvement program ever conducted in the state. When companies look for places to build, expand and hire more people, they look for places that have good infrastructure.
The Alabama Transportation Rehabilitation and Improvement Program, ATRIP – along with its companion program, the Rural Assistance Match Program, known as RAMP are making over one-billion dollars available to counties and cities, and allowing much-needed road and bridge projects to move forward.
Today more than one thousand road and bridge improvement projects are underway or soon will be because of ATRIP and RAMP.
Alabamians elected us, and have expected us to operate their state government more efficiently, and to live within our means. When we entered office in 2011, our state was broke. We took a serious look at all areas of state government to identify savings.
Thanks to the hard work of Lieutenant Governor Ivey, Speaker Hubbard, President Marsh and the Legislature, we made history in the state of Alabama.
Tonight I’m proud to tell the hard working people of this state that we did what we set out to do. In just three years’ time, we have reduced this state’s bureaucracy at the third fastest pace of any other state in this nation – and saved our taxpayers over one billion dollars.
We also remain steadfastly committed to paying off our debts.
One year ago, I stood here and promised I would sign legislation to pay back millions of dollars the people allowed us to borrow from the Alabama Trust Fund. That transfer allowed us to prop up lack of funding in the state’s General Fund, kept Alabamians working, and enabled us to continue to provide essential government services.
That was the first bill passed by this Legislature, and I signed it.
And in October, because of conservative budgeting and an improving economy, we made substantial progress in our commitment to paying off millions of dollars still owed to the Education Trust Fund’s Rainy Day Account.
We must keep our word to the people of this state, and we must pay our debts.
And that’s exactly what we are going to do.
Debt is one of the greatest threats to our country today.
Our nation is now buckling under the weight of a federal government that has continued to take on debilitating debt. We’ve opened the doors of dependency programs to millions.
Our nation is an overloaded ship, slowly sinking as even more passengers come on board.
Exactly fifty years ago, this nation’s President declared a war on poverty, with sweeping new legislation aimed at lowering the poverty rate in this country.
But this war did little to liberate its people. The national poverty rate now stands at 15-percent*, and has changed very little over the last 50 years. In Alabama, the poverty rate is even higher, with some counties as high as 36-percent.
This war gave our country a new set of federal government-run programs, intended to offer assistance, or a safety net for Americans who are struggling. Those programs today have grown, expanded and have become a lumbering giant threatening our nation’s economic stability, national security and the very freedom of our people.
The Affordable Care Act – or Obamacare and Medicaid expansion is taking our nation deeper into the abyss of debt, and threatens to dismantle what I believe is one of the most trusted relationships, that of doctors and their patient.
Essential to Obamacare is Medicaid expansion – a federal government dependency program for the uninsured, which is administered by states. Since 1980, Medicaid spending has increased nationally by over 1500-percent.
Here in Alabama, Medicaid takes up 35% of our General Fund.
Under Obamacare, Medicaid would grow even larger – bringing millions more people to a state of dependency on government, and saddling our state and our nation – the taxpayers – with the enormous expense.
Here in Alabama alone, an estimated 300-thousand more people would be added to the Medicaid role, to a system that by our own admission is absolutely broken and flawed.
The federal government has said they will give us money to expand.
But how can we believe the federal government will keep its word?
The anything but Affordable Care Act has done nothing to gain our trust.
First, they told us we could keep our doctor – that turned out not to be true.
Next, they told us we could keep our policy – that’s not true.
Then they told us our premiums would not go up – nothing could be further from the truth.
Now they are telling us we’ll get free money to expand Medicaid.
Ladies and Gentlemen, nothing is free. The money the federal government is spending with wild abandon is not federal dollars – those are your dollars, your hard-earned tax dollars.
There is no difference between federal money and your money.
Our great nation is 17-point-2 trillion dollars in debt and it increases by 2-billion dollars every single day.
That is why I cannot expand Medicaid in Alabama. We will not bring hundreds of thousands into a system that is broken and buckling.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is everything but Affordable.
There are 18 new taxes embedded in Obamacare and Medicaid expansion, which will cost you an estimated 800-billion dollars in the next 8 years.
It is draining our state budgets, and will siphon millions of dollars from our education budget by 2016 – that’s money that could have been spent on teachers, students and support personnel.
It does not protect patients. 22-percent of primary care doctors account for 90-percent of primary care billing. If we were to add 300-thousand to Medicaid – where would they receive care?
Already in Alabama, because of Obamacare, over 87-thousand people have seen a change in their coverage, and you or someone you know has likely seen your premiums double.
Business and job growth is being stifled. Employers are leaving positions unfilled, or laying off workers so they can fall under the employee threshold that would require them to participate in Obamacare and Medicaid expansion, or face penalties.
Do we have a problem with accessible health care in this country? Yes, we do. But putting 300-thousand more people into a broken system that will cost taxpayers billions and drive up this nation’s debt is not the answer.
That is why we are reforming Medicaid in Alabama today to make it more efficient, and more effective to produce better outcomes.
We are giving it back to the people, developing it from the ground up to serve the people of this state to care for the most vulnerable, the poor and the disabled.
With Legislation passed last year we are establishing regional care organizations, which will use community-based, managed care to improve the health of those on Medicaid, and lowering the cost to taxpayers.
These reforms will serve three groups: patients who are receiving care, providers who are working to manage patient care and the taxpayers of the State of Alabama who are paying the bill. Patients will receive higher-quality care, providers will offer the best management of that care, and the taxpayers will have a better product at a lower cost.
When I was still practicing medicine, I saw anyone who needed care. I would travel to some of the most impoverished counties in West Alabama and spend a day seeing and caring for patients. If they did not have the money to pay, I would not charge them. Many times, I would buy medications for those who could not afford to buy their prescriptions. As a practicing physician, I would never want anything to come between me and my patient – especially the federal government. I am licensed by the state of Alabama, not the federal government, and we will always keep it that way.
I am a physician who cared for all my patients regardless of their ability to pay, but I have another role to play now. I am also your Governor, and I have to be concerned for our state. Our country is made up of fifty sovereign states, and as one of its Governors I cannot sit by and watch our country continue down the path it is on, while our nation is drowning in 17-point-2 trillion dollars in debt.
The administration in Washington and the debt it continues to build will sink this country.
It is ok to question the federal government. As a matter of fact, it is our duty. It is my duty and that’s exactly what I am doing.
The tenth amendment to our great Constitution gives us that authority.
Government cannot grow unless we give it permission to grow.
If states do not stand firm and say “no more,” there will be no one left to stop the out of control spending in Washington.
I love Alabama. And I love America. If we continue down this path, the America our founding fathers envisioned will no longer exist. Gone will be the promise that was once based on opportunity, independence and individual liberties.
Nearly 1 million people in Alabama are on Medicaid. It is not my goal to put more people on Medicaid but to have less. It is not my intent to put able-bodied individuals on a government dependency program.
We will encourage our people with the opportunity for education and employment. It will not happen overnight, but I truly believe where there is opportunity and training for higher paying, higher skilled jobs, there is greater capacity for independence and less people will be dependent on government.
There is no greater opportunity we can give an Alabama child in poverty than a chance to excel in school. So many of our children need this opportunity – but too few have access to it.
The earlier they begin receiving a quality education, the better chance they have at success.
Alabama is home to one of the nation’s top Pre-k programs. Last year, we opened 100 new pre-k sites, and I can tell you, Pre-k is making a real difference in the lives of Alabama’s children.
First Class Pre-K children consistently miss fewer days of school, they are less likely to need special education services and are less often retained than those children who are not in Pre-k.
Third-graders who were in pre-k scored at 100% reading proficiency. But the most significant result of children in pre-k is the impact on those who live in poverty from low-income families. Pre-k closed the achievement gap for lower income students by as much as 29%.
Because of these proven results, I am including more funding for voluntary pre-k in my budget, so that we can once again expand.
Nothing is more important to a child’s education than his or her teacher.
I truly appreciate the sacrifices our teachers have made.
Last year, Alabama teachers received a 2 percent increase in pay.
This year, I am proposing another 2 percent increase for teachers and support personnel.
State employees have also made sacrifices that have enabled us to balance our budgets.
That is why I lifted the merit pay freeze on state employees two weeks ago. We are still optimistic and if the money is available, we will propose a conditional pay raise up to 4% for state employees.
We have assembled in this chamber tonight, marking the beginning of another session of the Alabama Legislature. And most of us in this room have one thing in common: We have been chosen by the men and women of this state to serve our fellow citizens.
We have been elected, chosen and charged with the task of making our state better than it was when we first came into office. We have been placed here to create an opportunity, not just for the men and women of one county or one district, but for the over 4-million Alabamians who make our state so great.
Wilcox County, Alabama – the poorest county in the United States hasn’t seen a new major industry since man set foot on the moon.
When I became your Governor, I had one goal in my mind. I truly wanted to help all the people of this state – especially in disadvantaged areas, such Wilcox County.
My first week in office, I met with Golden Dragon Copper Tubing, and recruited that company not just to our state – but the area that included Pine Hill in Wilcox County.
In a few weeks Golden Dragon will begin production in its brand new 100-million dollar plant.
Working there will be a man named William Ausbon. William lives 10 minutes from the plant, in Pine Hill. He lost his job in October 2012. For one year he was another statistic, another percentage point in Wilcox County’s high unemployment rate.
Then Golden Dragon started hiring, and a year later William got a job, a really good job. I am honored that William and his wife Toshika are here tonight as my and Dianne’s special guest. I would like for you to meet him.
Up to 500 people will soon get a job at GD Copper, like William. 500 families in the nation’s poorest area now have a new opportunity at a much better way of life.
This is our role, to create an environment where there is an opportunity for people to get a good job, to train and get the skills they need, to get a good education at an early age and to continually encourage people to break free of the bondage of dependency, to stand on their own two feet, and we do this by giving them an opportunity for and the satisfaction of having a job.
William is why I am here. He is who I work for. Alabamians just like him are why we are all here. We should never forget that.
God Bless you. And God Bless The Great State of Alabama.
Opinion | Former Sen. Brewbaker supports Montgomery tax referendum
If we want Montgomery to change for the better, we are all going to have to start living in our community rather than off of it.
I am in full support of the property tax referendum on the ballot this November. That may surprise some people because I have been critical of the performance of the Montgomery County Public School System in the past.
Until recently, student performance has generally been poor, financial management has been historically problematic, and there have been real and persistent problems with transparency. New Board leadership has worked hard to address these issues in a real way, but there is still work to be done.
However, whether we are talking about cars or public education, there is such a thing as trying to buy too cheap. Montgomery has been paying the legal minimum in property tax support for decades. It shouldn’t come as a huge surprise to anyone that our schools’ quality reflects our financial commitment to them.
Yes, it’s true that more money isn’t always the answer, but it’s also true that money is part of the answer. Sometimes the bare minimum isn’t enough, and this is one of those times.
Most people who vote on this referendum will not have children currently attending MPS. If you are one of those people, vote yes anyway.
Our public school population is declining because many young couples with children are leaving our city because they know their children can get a better education elsewhere.
This loss of young parents will eventually kill this city. We have got to turn the schools around before Montgomery’s tax base is eroded beyond repair. Whether you have kids in the system or not, if you care about your local tax burden or the value of your property, it’s time to vote ‘yes.’
Need another reason to vote yes? Ok, here’s one: Montgomery will eventually lose both our USAF bases if we don’t show the Air Force we are serious about improving our failing schools. Already less than half of the airmen stationed in Montgomery bring their families with them.
Many military families view MPS as so low quality that they won’t subject their children to them. If we don’t fix our schools, sooner or later we will lose Maxwell and Gunter. If you don’t believe that would be an economic nightmare for our city, ask around.
At the end of the day, passing this referendum is not only a vote to help children succeed, but also a vote to save the city in which we all live. It’s ok to be hopeful, it’s ok to be optimistic even about the future of Montgomery and its schools.
If we want Montgomery to change for the better, we are all going to have to start living in our community rather than off of it.
Opinion | FEMA’s Hurricane Sally response
So, how has FEMA performed in responding to Hurricane Sally? So far, pretty darn well.
Most people in Alabama have heard of FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Administration. Its name is a little misleading because emergencies by their nature aren’t so much managed as responded to, often after the fact. You can’t manage a tornado or an earthquake, for example, but you can and should respond to it.
Hurricanes are facts of life down here and nearly every part of our state, not just the coast, have been affected in some way by at least one. We can prepare for hurricanes and guard against the worst consequences and that starts with each of us as individuals, family members and citizens doing our part to be prepared to protect and take care of ourselves, family members and neighbors. Alabamians are actually pretty good at doing that.
But, there is also a role for governments at all levels. Local governments actually play the most important public role because they are closest to the people of their areas and have the first responders already employed and trained to take care of the needs of local residents during the period running up to, during, and in the immediate aftermath of the storm. State governments manage the preparations before the storm and provide the support local governments need afterward to do their jobs. The federal government supports the state and local efforts, which typically means providing the lion’s share of the money needed, anywhere from 75 percent to 90 percent of the costs. So there’s not one emergency management agency involved in responding to hurricanes but three, corresponding to each level of government.
The day before Hurricane Sally hit, I was individually briefed by the Director of the National Hurricane Center Ken Graham, FEMA Administrator Pete Gaynor and Coast Guard officials. That same day I went to the White House and made sure we had a good line of communication in case we needed help, which looked likely at the time. I have to say, the White House was immediately responsive and has continued to be so.
How has FEMA handled the federal response to Hurricane Sally? When the state of Alabama requested a pre-storm disaster declaration, which triggers federal financial support for preparations and response during the storm, FEMA and the White House gave the okay in just a few hours. On that day before when I spoke with the White House, I asked them to send FEMA Administrator Gaynor to my district as soon as possible once the storm cleared to see the damage and meet with local officials. He came three days after the storm and spent several hours touring the damage with me and meeting with local leaders. When the state of Alabama requested a post-storm declaration, triggering federal financial support for public and individual assistance, FEMA and the White House responded affirmatively in less than 48 hours – record time.
Public assistance is federal financial support for the costs to state and local governments as a result of a storm. This includes water bottles and meals ready to eat for locally requested points of distribution, debris removal and cleanup costs (think of the large tandem trucks picking up debris piled up on the right of way), as well as the costs to repair damage to public buildings and infrastructure like roads and bridges, and in the case of Sally damage to the Port of Mobile.
Individual assistance, as the label states, goes to individuals affected by the storm. Private assistance won’t pay something you have insurance for, but it does pay for a variety of losses, particularly having to do with an individual’s home. So far 60,000 Alabamans have applied for individual assistance and already FEMA has approved $42 million. If you haven’t applied for individual assistance there’s still time for you to do so online at DisasterAssistance.gov, or if you need help in applying call FEMA’s Helpline at 1-800-621-3362. If you have applied for individual assistance and have been denied, appeal the decision because frequently the denial is simply because the applicant didn’t include all the needed information.
Many people were flooded by Sally and over 3,000 of them have made claims to the National Flood Insurance Program. Over $16 million has already been paid out on those claims. The Small Business Administration has approved over a thousand home loans to people with storm losses, totaling over $40 million, and many more loan applications are still pending.
So, how has FEMA performed in responding to Hurricane Sally? So far, pretty darn well. I want to thank FEMA Administrator Gaynor for coming down here so quickly after the storm and for FEMA’s quick and positive responses to all our requests. And I want to thank President Trump for his concern and quick response to Alabama’s requests for disaster declarations. Hurricane Sally was a brutal experience for us in Alabama, but FEMA’s response shows that government can do good things, helping people and communities when they really need it.
Opinion | An inspirational pick
Many progressives, it seems, claim to believe in the power of women, but only for women who think and talk like they do.
A century ago, the Suffragettes finally succeeded in winning the right to vote for women. They would be thrilled to see the nomination of a woman so uniquely qualified to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court as Judge Amy Coney Barrett, were they alive today. It’s easy to imagine them storming the streets of America and urging that Judge Barrett be confirmed, and by a wide margin.
After all, the four female justices nominated before her were confirmed with lopsided votes by the U.S. Senate: 99-0 for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, 68-31 for Justice Sonia Sotomayor, 63-37 for Justice Elena Kagan and 96-3 for the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Sadly, it speaks to the times in which we are living that Judge Barrett’s vote by the Senate will most likely come down to a tight vote, with nearly every Democrat opposing her nomination.
As governors who are either the first or second females to be elected in our respective states, we are rightfully proud to see diversity expand among the highest levels of government. Notably, however, our support for Judge Barrett hinges not on her being a female, but rather her superior intellect, unflappable composure and impeccable integrity, all which combine to make her eminently qualified in every way.
Regretfully, we know – as do many others – that the climb for women into the upper echelon of American leadership has always been a bit steeper. After all, when was the last time a man’s haircut, the color of his tie or suit or the number of children in his family were scrutinized as part of the public discourse?
It is bittersweet that Judge Barrett followed her father’s advice that she could do anything her male counterparts could do, only better, and yet, sadly, millions of women appear to oppose her nomination simply because she interprets the law as-written, rather than siding with them on every issue. Is this the new standard for qualification?
Many progressives, it seems, claim to believe in the power of women, but only for women who think and talk like they do.
We applaud President Trump for choosing Judge Amy Coney Barrett for service on our nation’s highest court; she may well be one of the most qualified, extraordinary picks during the past century, and we urge the United States Senate to confirm her nomination in short order.
We especially like the direct answers Judge Barrett provided to two of the Senate Judiciary Committee members who questioned her last week.
When Sen. Chris Coons, D-Delaware, suggested that Judge Barrett would vote in the same manner as the late Justice Antonin Scalia, a conservative for whom she had clerked earlier in her career, she calmly responded, “I assure you I have my own mind.”
And when the Committee’s ranking Democrat, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, asked her whether she believed that Medicare was unconstitutional, she cited the “Ginsburg Rule,” so named for the late justice she will be following, of providing “no hints, no previews, no forecasts.”
Perhaps one of the most powerful witnesses to speak in support of Judge Barrett was her former law student at Notre Dame, Laura Wolk.
Ms. Wolk is totally blind, but before pursuing the “impossible dream” of becoming the first blind law clerk at the Supreme Court last year, she was struggling with her classwork as a first-year law student, fearful of failing.
Laura recalled, “Judge Barrett leaned forward and looked at me intently. ‘Laura,’ she said, with the same measured conviction that we have seen displayed throughout her entire nomination process, ‘this is no longer your problem. It’s my problem.’”
Ms. Wolk went on to say that Judge Barrett helped her see a pathway to success. She said the Judge will “serve this country with distinction not only because of her intellectual prowess, but also because of her compassionate heart and her years of treating others as equals deserving of complete respect.”
When Judge Barrett raises her right hand to take the oath to “administer justice without respect to persons” and to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States,” it will be a win-win for every female – young and old alike during the past 100 years – who has dreamed of seeing women advance to the top positions of our government.
Moreover, it will be a signal to every little girl – and boy – that the most qualified individual will get the job.
Governors Kay Ivey of Alabama, Kristi Noem of South Dakota and Kim Reynolds of Iowa authored this column.
Opinion | Hearings give public opportunity to weigh in on coal ash plans
ADEM will make sure the closure and cleanup of the coal ash sites will be done in a way that will protect the state’s land and water resources now and in the future.
The mission of the Alabama Department of Environmental Management is to ensure for all Alabamians “a safe, healthful and productive environment.” It’s a mission that ADEM and its nearly 600 employees take very seriously.
Ensuring a safe, healthful and productive environment means more than simply being the environmental cop, though that certainly is part of ADEM’s job. When the Alabama Legislature passed legislation in 1982 that led to the creation of ADEM, lawmakers’ intent was for the agency to promote public health and well-being.
The term “healthful” in ADEM’s mission statement speaks directly to that. ADEM’s work is to contribute to the health of Alabama’s environment and the health of all Alabamians.
An example of that work is managing the process that will determine how coal combustion residuals (CCR) – or coal ash – are dealt with in a safe and effective manner. Managing CCR promotes a healthful environment by protecting our land and water.
On Oct. 20, ADEM will hold the first of a series of public hearings on permits drafted by ADEM to require electric utilities to safely close unlined coal ash ponds at their power plants and remediate any contaminated groundwater. The hearings, and the comment periods leading up to them, give the public the chance to provide ADEM input on the requirements in the draft permits.
To understand how we got to this point today, let’s go back to Dec. 22, 2008, in Kingston, Tenn. On that frigid night, the containment dike surrounding massive ponds holding decades worth of CCR produced by the coal-burning TVA power plant collapsed, spilling more than a billion gallons of coal ash sludge into the Emory River and onto 300 acres of land.
That spill drew the attention of regulators and the nation to the issue of coal ash storage, for which there was little regulation at the time. It also started the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on the road to adopting a federal CCR rule, which took effect in 2015. The Alabama Environmental Management Commission approved a state CCR rule in 2018, patterned after the EPA rule.
The rules address two primary issues: closing coal ash ponds to avoid threats of spills into waterways or onto land, and preventing and cleaning up groundwater contamination from arsenic, mercury, lead and other hazardous elements that may leach from the coal ash.
Both the EPA and state rules give the electric utility operators two options in closing the ash ponds. One allowable method is to excavate the millions of tons of coal ash and either move the coal ash to a lined landfill or find an approved beneficial use for the ash. The other is to cap in place, where an impervious cover, or cap, is placed over the ash impoundment. Both methods have been used successfully for decades to close some of the most contaminated sites in the nation.
It must be emphasized that the closure method selection is made by the utilities, as allowed by both federal and state rules. Alabama Power, TVA and PowerSouth all elected to utilize the cap-in-place option.
The permits will also set out the steps to be taken to clean up contaminated groundwater caused by the coal ash ponds. ADEM’s job, in its environmental oversight role, is to ensure the closure and groundwater remediation plans proposed by the utilities and included in the permits meet federal and state standards and protect both waterways and groundwater. The permits provide for regular monitoring to confirm the closure and cleanup plans are being implemented as required. If necessary, the plans will be adjusted to ensure the intended results are being achieved.
Currently, ADEM has scheduled public hearings on the permits for three Alabama Power plants. The first is Oct. 20 for Plant Miller in Jefferson County, followed by Oct. 22 for Plant Greene County and Oct. 29 for Plant Gadsden in Etowah County. Permits for the other five sites in Alabama are in development, and hearings will be scheduled when they are complete.
The purpose of these hearings is to allow the public, including nearby residents, environmental groups and others, opportunities to weigh in on the proposed permits. This past summer, Alabama Power, TVA and PowerSouth held informational meetings in the communities where their affected plants are located to explain their proposed groundwater cleanup plans(including the CCR unit closure component) and answer residents’ questions.
The draft permits, the hearings’ dates, locations and times and other information are available on ADEM’s website, www.adem.alabama.gov. The public can also mail or email comments related to the permits, including the closure plans and groundwater remediation plans, directly to ADEM during the proposed permits’ 35-day minimum comment periods, which will run one week past the date of the public hearings. Those comments will be considered in the decisions to issue the permits, and ADEM will provide a response to each issue raised.
For maximum protection of the environment, ADEM encouraged the power companies to go beyond the minimum requirements of the state and federal CCR rules. ADEM’s scientists and engineers who analyzed the plans through an exhaustive review and revision process determined the final plans provide the environmental protections Alabamians expect and deserve. But we want to hear from the public.
Certainly, there are pros and cons of each option in closing the coal ash ponds. The daunting task of cleaning up contaminated groundwater will be undertaken regardless of which closure method is utilized. As one opinion writer recently said, there is no easy answer to the coal ash problem. But this is a matter we cannot duck. We must deal with our coal combustion residuals – by EPA requirement and for the sake of our environment.
Here’s what you can count on from your state agency charged with protecting your environment. ADEM will make sure the closure and cleanup of the coal ash sites will be done in a way that will protect the state’s land and water resources now and in the future.
Ensuring that is our mission.