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2014 State of the State Address

Governor Robert Bentley

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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.

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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.

In Alabama.

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.

 

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Guest Columnists

Opinion | Tough times show what makes our country great

Bradley Byrne

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This year, during the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, Memorial Day provided an even more unique opportunity to reflect upon what makes our nation great and the shared values we hold as a people.  Though our celebrations may have been scaled down, the greatness of our country is, in many ways, more apparent in challenging times like these.

The struggles we are going through together as a nation are real and impactful.  The coronavirus overwhelmingly targets seniors and those with preexisting conditions.  As a result, nursing homes and long-term care facilities have been hit hard.  More than 36,000 residents and staff have died after coming down with Covid-19, more than a third of all deaths in our country that have been attributed to the virus.  Sadly, many of our cherished veterans have been among those lost to the virus.  Of all the tributes to those we have lost, the stories of our veterans are especially moving.

But there are bright spots in coronavirus medical research.  Testing quality and access has improved significantly.  And as we learn more about the virus, we are better able to prevent and treat Covid-19.  The hospitalization rate for those diagnosed with the virus is 3.4 percent, and the CDC estimates that 35 percent of all infected people are asymptomatic.  Taking this into account, the infection fatality rate is likely around 0.2 percent or 0.3 percent.  While that is still 2 to 3 times higher than the flu, the coronavirus is nothing like the killer some predicted early on.

Without question, the economy has taken a hit.  Unemployment levels are higher than any time since the Great Depression.  Our small businesses shed more than 11 million jobs in April.  That’s more than half of the 20 million private sector jobs lost last month.  

However, Congressional action to cushion the blow has helped.  More than 4.4 million small businesses have been approved for a loan through the Paycheck Protection Program, and over $511 billion has been processed in aid.  In Alabama, at least 60,457 loans have been made for a whopping $6,136,772,466.  The bulk of this aid to small businesses must go towards employee paychecks, ensuring that more Americans are able to keep their jobs.  In addition to the Paycheck Protection Program, nearly 431,000 Economic Injury Disaster Loans have been processed to assist small businesses during this crisis.  Alabama businesses have received 4,728 EIDL loans for $376,897,450.

There is no question that small businesses will face new challenges going forward.  Evolving ways we interact with one another and patronize businesses, including new occupancy limitations, will make staying in business more difficult.  That’s why it is so important for our economy to continue opening sooner rather than later.  You and I can do our part by visiting businesses and restaurants in our community.  Importantly, the foundation of our economy was strong before coronavirus spread prevention measures were enacted nationwide.  So, the country can and will rebound from this.  Prosperity will return.

One only needs to look at what is happening on the other side of the globe to be thankful for our nation.  The brutal Chinese Communist Party, whose mismanagement and dishonesty during the initial outbreak of the virus cost countless lives across the globe, is using the pandemic as an excuse to ramp up authoritarian measures.  The people of Hong Kong are suffering a loss of freedom that dwarfs the sacrifices we have made to stop the spread.

The American people have responded to crisis after crisis with resilience and togetherness, and we will do so again.  We may not have participated in all of our Memorial Day traditions, but we can still honor the fallen by treasuring the country and values they sacrificed to preserve.  That’s what makes our country great.

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Opinion | With COVID-19 policy, don’t blame your umbrella. The rain got you wet

Monica S. Aswani, DrPH, and Ellen Eaton, M.D.

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Monica S. Aswani, DrPH, is an assistant professor of health services administration and Ellen Eaton, M.D., is an assistant professor of infectious diseases.

Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in this perspective are those of the authors.


As states re-open for business, many governors cite the devastating impact of physical distancing policies on local and state economies. Concerns have reached a fever pitch. Many Americans believe the risk of restrictive policies limiting business and social events outweighs the benefit of containing the spread of COVID-19.

But the proposed solution to bolster the economy — re-opening businesses, restaurants and even athletic events — does not address the source of the problem.

A closer look at the origins of our economic distress reminds us that it is COVID-19, not shelter-in-place policy, that is the real culprit. And until we have real solutions to this devastating illness, the threat of economic fallout persists.

Hastily transitioning from stay-at-home to safer-at-home policy is akin to throwing away your umbrella because you are not getting wet.

The novelty of this virus means there are limited strategies to prevent or treat it. Since humans have no immunity to it, and to date, there are no approved vaccines and only limited treatments, we need to leverage the one major tool at our disposal currently: public health practices including physical distancing, hand-washing and masks.

As early hot spots like New York experienced alarming death tolls, states in the Midwest and South benefited from their lessons learned.

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Indeed, following aggressive mandates around physical distancing, the number of cases and hospitalizations observed across the U.S. were initially lower than projected. Similarly, the use of masks has been associated with a reduction in cases globally.

As the death toll surpasses 100,000, the U.S. is reeling from COVID-19 morbidity and mortality. In addition, the U.S. has turned its attention to “hot spots” in Southern states that have an older, sicker and poorer population. And to date, minority and impoverished patients bear the brunt of COVID-19 in the South.

Following the first COVID-19 case in Alabama on March 13, the state has experienced 14,730 confirmed cases, 1,629 hospitalizations and 562 deaths, according to health department data as of Monday afternoon.

Rural areas face an impossible task as many lack a robust health care infrastructure to contend with outbreaks, especially in the wake of recent hospital closures. And severe weather events like tornadoes threaten to divert scarce resources to competing emergencies.

Because public health interventions are the only effective way to limit the spread of COVID-19, all but essential businesses were shuttered in many states. State governments are struggling to process the revenue shortfalls and record surge in unemployment claims that have resulted.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, allocated $150 billion to state governments, with a minimum of $1.25 billion per state. Because the funds were distributed according to population size, 21 states with smaller populations received the minimum of $1.25 billion.

Although states with larger populations, such as Alabama and Louisiana, received higher appropriations in absolute terms, they received less in relative terms given their COVID-19 related medical and financial strain: the CARES Act appropriations do not align resources with state need.

As unemployment trust funds rapidly deplete, these states have a perverse incentive to reopen the economy.

Unemployment claimants who do not return to work due to COVID-19 fears, per the Alabama Department of Labor, can be disqualified from benefits, perpetuating the myth of welfare fraud to vilify those in need.

The United States Department of Labor also emphasized that unemployment fraud is a “top priority” in guidance to states recently.

Prematurely opening the economy before a sustained decline in transmission is likely to refuel the pandemic and, therefore, prolong the recession. Moreover, it compromises the health of those who rely most heavily on public benefits to safely stay home and flatten the curve.

Some would counter this is precisely why we should reopen — for the most vulnerable, who were disproportionately impacted by stay-at-home orders.

The sad reality, however, is that long-standing barriers for vulnerable workers in access to health care, paid sick leave and social mobility pre-date this crisis and persist. And we know that many vulnerable Americans work on the frontlines of foodservice and health care support where the risk from COVID-19 is heightened.

A return to the status quo without addressing this systemic disadvantage will only perpetuate, rather than improve, these unjust social and economic conditions.

COVID-19 has exposed vulnerabilities in our state and nation, and re-opening businesses will not provide a simple solution to our complex economic problems.

No one would toss out their umbrella after several sunny days so why should America abandon public health measures now? After all, rain is unpredictable and inevitable just like the current COVID-19 crisis.

The threat of COVID-19 resurgence will persist until we have effective preventive and treatment options for this novel infectious disease.

So let’s not blame or, worse, discard the umbrella. Instead, peek out cautiously, survey the sky and start planning now to protect the vulnerable, who will be the first to get wet.

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Opinion | Cleaner air during pandemic shows need for alternative fuels, electric vehicles

Mark Bentley and Phillip Wiedmeyer

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Photos of a smogless Los Angeles skyline set against a brilliant blue sky have emerged as an iconic image to showcase the impact of decreased air pollution during America’s COVID-19 quarantine.

Similar photos from around the world, including what are usually smog-filled cities in India, China and Europe, provide a glimpse of a world with improved air quality.

It’s no secret that poor air quality has historically been caused by traffic, but due to tighter regulations by the federal government, industries’ contribution to pollution has decreased significantly. Scientific research is beginning to show how social distancing measures and stay-at-home orders have created an unintended consequence of improving worldwide air quality.

For nearly two decades, the Alabama Clean Fuels Coalition has been advocating to improve Alabama’s air quality by increasing the use of cleaner alternative fuels and expanding the market for advanced technology vehicles. Cleaner burning alternative transportation fuel options like biodiesel, ethanol, propane and natural gas also reduce pollution just like electric vehicles.

Air pollution remains a global public health crisis, as the World Health Organization estimates it kills seven million people worldwide annually.

But is the COVID-19 pandemic showing us the wisdom of transitioning to cleaner vehicles, whether electric vehicles with drastically lower emissions or vehicles using cleaner-burning alternative fuels? The answer is an emphatic yes.

Recent research shows global carbon dioxide emission had fallen by 17 percent by early April when compared to mean 2019 levels. In some areas, including the United States and the United Kingdom, emissions have fallen by a third, thanks largely to people driving less, according to research published in Nature Climate Change.

Numerous organizations, including NASA, continue to study the environmental, societal and economic impacts of the pandemic, and researchers view recent air quality gains as promising evidence that the use of alternative vehicles could have long-term positive impacts.

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“If I could wave my magic wand and we all had electric cars tomorrow, I think this is what the air would look like,” Ronald Cohen, a professor of atmospheric chemistry at UC Berkeley who studies the effects of the stay-at-home orders on air quality, told the Los Angeles Times.

Wider use of electric vehicles and the other domestically produced alternative fuels would lessen America’s dependence on foreign oil while also helping our environment. Poor air quality already causes negative consequences for millions of Americans.

Alabama could also see economic benefits from increased production of electric vehicles, with Honda, Hyundai and Mercedes-Benz operating plants in the state and working hard to produce the next wave of electric vehicles. As part of a $1 billion investment in Alabama, Mercedes began construction of a high-voltage battery plant in Bibb County in 2018 for its all-electric EQ brand of vehicles, as well as batteries for its hybrid plug-ins.

“This is a teaching moment,” Viney Aneja, an air quality professor in the Department of Marine, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at North Carolina State University told the Raleigh News and Observer. “We should learn from it. We should promote behavior that will allow air quality to be as good as it is outside right now.”

This is a prime opportunity for America to embrace alternative and cleaner-burning transportation fuels, as well as electric vehicles, while also decreasing reliance on foreign oil and creating jobs here at home.

It could also make those picturesque photos of the big-city skylines become commonplace instead of a rarity.

Mark Bentley has served as the executive director of the Alabama Clean Fuels Coalition since August 2006.

Phillip Wiedmeyer serves as the Alabama Clean Fuels Coalition’s chairman of the board of directors and president and is one of the ACFC’s original founders. He also serves as the executive director of the Applied Research Center of Alabama, a non-profit dedicated to public policy issues impacting Alabama’s growth, economic development and business climate.

About the Alabama Clean Fuels Coalition

Alabama Clean Fuels Coalition serves as the principal coordinating point for clean, alternative fuel and advanced technology vehicle activities in Alabama. ACFC was incorporated in 2002 as an Alabama 501c3 non-profit, received designation U.S. Department of Energy’s Clean Cities program in 2009 and was re-designated in 2014. A national network of nearly 100 Clean Cities coalitions brings together stakeholders in the public and private sectors to deploy alternative and renewable fuels, idle-reduction measures, fuel economy improvements and emerging transportation technologies. To learn more, visit www.alabamacleanfuels.com.

 

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Opinion | Electric vehicles next wave to drive Alabama’s continued auto-manufacturing success

Gerald Allen

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Alabama has long been a leader in the automotive manufacturing sector in the United States and, now, we have the opportunity to sustain that momentum for years to come through significant investments in the electric vehicle (EV) industry.

Dating back to 1993 when Mercedes-Benz announced their opening of their only U.S.-based assembly plant in Tuscaloosa County, our state has continued to provide a favorable business climate that has helped recruit Hyundai, Honda, Toyota and Mazda. The substantial investments of these companies have only furthered economic activity through the numerous tier 1 and tier 2 automotive suppliers that have also located to our state.

Combined, these Alabama-based automakers and suppliers produced nearly 1.6 million engines in 2018 and created over 40,000 automotive manufacturing jobs. Alabama currentlyranks as the number three autoexporting state in the country, andexports of Alabama-made vehicles and parts totaled $7.5 billion in 2018.

Now, as we continue toward a 21stcentury transportation system and economy, we must acknowledge – and prepare for – the electric vehicle wave that is coming.

Significant research shows that consumer interest in electric vehicles is exponentially on the rise and so is theproduction of EVs by manufacturers. Globally, total EV sales surpassed 1 million vehicles in 2017, then quickly doubled to cruise past 2 million in 2018 and that number is expected to double again in 2020 to reach 4 million total sales. According to a Deloitte report, it is expected that global EV sales will top 21 million by 2031.

In recognition of the growth in EV sales, Mercedes-Benz broke ground in the fall of 2018 in Bibb County to build a plant producing high-voltage batteries for the all-electric EQ brand of Mercedes vehicles, as well as batteries for Mercedes hybrid plug-ins. This project alone is well over a billion-dollar investment in Bibb County and, with it, Mercedes has now invested more than $6 billion in its operations here in the state.

We know that expanding EV sales andproduction in Alabama will require anumber of investments from the industry, the legislature and eventually theconsumers of this state. To cement our reputation as a forward-leaning automotive leader, we must prepare for the future of electric vehicles, production of electric vehicles parts and ensure the necessary EV infrastructure is in place to be competitive for generations. Doing so will show that our state supports this burgeoning sector of automotive manufacturing and help recruit even more of these projects that will provide numerous high-paying jobs and produce significant economic benefits.

The Rebuild Alabama Infrastructure Plan, approved legislatively in 2019, provided a foundational first step as it included a provision that helps propel Alabama toward the cutting-edge of EV infrastructure. The landmark legislation established a grant program that proactively facilitates the installation of new EV charging stations across the state. These stations will supplement the Electrify America charging stations currently being installed in the state and add to Alabama’s EV infrastructure.

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Additionally, the full body of the state Senate and our colleagues in the House have shown a commitment to the expansion of EV production in Alabama with a $2 million investment in this year’s budgets to educate and promote the use of electric vehicles to the public. We believe this will further Alabama’s reputation as a premier automotive manufacturing state as these funds will go toward developing an EV industry educational website with mapping of charging stations and other useful resources, as well as funding to further build out  Alabama’s EV charging infrastructure.

Mercedes-Benz has been a game changer for our state. With their initial investment in 1993 to their significant investments in EV batteries, it’s clear the electric vehicle wave is coming and, with it, significant opportunities for automotive manufacturing growth in Alabama. Now is the time for us to show our state’s ongoing ingenuity by supporting this sector’s transformation to electric vehicle production with these significant investments and overall support of the growing EV industry.

Gerald Allen is a member of the Alabama State Senate, R-Tuscaloosa, representing District 21. Senator Allen can be reached at [email protected].

 

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