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Alabama Power to Close Coal Power Plants

Brandon Moseley

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By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

On Friday, August 1, the Alabama Power Company announced that in response to heavy handed regulation by the federal government, they will close two coal generating units in North Alabama and reduce or eliminate coal power units at Barry Steam Plant in Mobile County.  Alabama Power’s announcement comes in response to a new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rule on greenhouse gases at existing power plants that would make the cost of retrofitting the old plants cost prohibitive.

Congressman Bradley Byrne (R) from Mobile issued a written statement following the announcement.  Representative Byrne said, “It is extremely alarming to learn that Alabama Power will be closing coal units in North Alabama and cutting down on operations at Barry Steam Plant in North Mobile County due to an ill-conceived rule from the EPA. Just earlier this week I joined my colleagues from the Congressional Coal Caucus to draw attention to the harmful effects the Obama administration’s new rule on existing power plants will have on coal production in America.”

Congressman Byrne said that he has repeatedly warned about the impact the EPA’s rule would have on Alabama power production.

Public Service Commission (PSC) President Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh (R) said in her own written statement, “It’s a sad day when Barack Obama and the federal government get to tell the people of Alabama how to handle our own energy production. The men and women who work at these facilities have families who depend on these jobs for their livelihood. These plants also help keep our utility bills low when electricity demand is high during very cold and very warm weather. Now, Obama and his liberal EPA are bringing uncertainty to the jobs and utility bills of our citizens.”

Republican U.S. Senators Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions sent a joint letter to President Obama and EPA Director Gina McCarthy.  Sens. Shelby and Sessions wrote,

“Last month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced sweeping new regulations under Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act in a purported effort to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) from existing power plants.  While we appreciate the EPA’s willingness to hold public hearings on this proposal in four locations (Atlanta, Georgia; Denver, Colorado; Washington, DC; and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) from July 29 through August 1, 2014, we are writing to urge the Administration to carefully consider the comments and concerns that were presented at the Atlanta public hearing by Alabamians from all parts of the user spectrum—workers, small business owners, elected officials, civic leaders, farmers, homemakers, and others.  Our constituents presented Administration officials with a wide range of legitimate concerns.  For example, officials heard compelling arguments explaining why the witnesses believe the EPA’s proposal is based on a flawed interpretation of Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act.  As the EPA’s proposal even acknowledges, the EPA has never used this provision of the Act in the manner now proposed—a reality that makes relevant the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent admonishment.  ‘When an agency claims to discover in a long-extant statute an unheralded power to regulate ‘a significant portion of the American economy… we typically greet its announcement with a measure of skepticism.  We expect Congress to speak clearly if it wishes to assign to an agency decisions of vast economic and political significance.’”

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Alabama Minority Leader Representative Craig Ford (D) from Gadsden said, “I want to commend Alabama Power for protecting thousands of jobs and looking out for their employees and their families.”

The Speaker of the Alabama House of Representative Mike Hubbard (R) from Auburn said, “Obama’s EPA is out of control. Newly announced regulations could kill coal jobs in the state and result in higher electricity prices for our citizens. These regulations are nothing but an attempt by the federal government to limit our state’s right to provide energy how we see fit, and the Alabama House is committed to doing everything possible to stop their implementation.”

PSC Commissioner Place One Jeremy H. Oden (R) said, “Following the announcement from Alabama Power regarding the effects of Federal mandates, it is alarming that compliance with these mandates will have such a severe impact on the generation fleet.  As I stated in my testimony earlier this week at the EPA hearing in Atlanta, these environmental mandates have a negative impact on reliability, fuel diversity and cost effective energy production in Alabama. We now see the effects of just one of these countless regulations aimed at the nation’s power production. Compliance with the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) by 2016 and other proposed mandates will have a devastating effect on our energy production, jobs and our economy.”

Senators Shelby and Sessions continued in their letter, “It cannot be seriously argued that the action proposed by the EPA has been expressly authorized by Congress.  Indeed, if brought to Congress for a vote now, the EPA’s proposal would certainly not be approved.  The Administration’s actions have already begun affecting Alabamians.  Just this morning, Alabama Power cited federal regulations as the impetus behind its decision to alter operations at seven operating units located within three power plants across the state.  As part of these transitions, two coal-fired units at the Green County Electric Generating Plant will be converted to gas-powered units, reducing electric generating capacity by a third and eliminating sixty jobs located in the heart of the Black Belt.  These job losses have serious consequences in a region which has faced declining populations, high unemployment rates, as well as a host of infrastructure challenges.”

Senators Shelby and Sessions continued, “The EPA’s proposal, if finalized, would impose enormous costs and burdens on Alabama workers and their families, and would hinder our global economic competitiveness.  The impact will be felt the deepest in states—like ours—where fossil fuels provide a significant share of our electricity generation.  The Administration’s claims that energy costs will not be impacted by this proposal ring hollow.  Simple economics suggest that the EPA’s plan will undoubtedly increase electricity prices, which will hinder—not help—economic growth.  Alabama has historically seen lower than average energy costs, in part because our state has been blessed with an abundance of natural resources that can be harnessed to power our homes and businesses and to make life better for our citizens.”

Rep. Byrne said, “While the long-term impact of Alabama Power’s decision remains to be seen, it is clear that President Obama’s ‘war on coal’ is already starting to impact Alabama families. I fear that this is just the start and that this rule will continue to harm our economy and kill good-paying jobs. I will keep pushing President Obama and his activist EPA to abandon this rule and join House Republicans in supporting an all-of-the-above energy strategy.”

Commissioner Oden said, “With approximately $3 billion invested over the past decade and another $1 billion of scheduled retrofits, the cost of compliance is staggering. With EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan, the future costs and effects on electricity production are unknown. However, based on Alabama Power’s announcement today, compliance cost of further environmental mandates will be substantial and will directly impact Alabama’s energy production.  It is my intention to continue fighting against further damaging environmental mandates and to work alongside our public utility companies to measure the impact these rulings will have on our economy, affected employees, and the production of reliable, cost effective energy for Alabamians.”

Sens. Sessions and Shelby concluded, “Alabamians are also deeply troubled by the prospect that the EPA’s proposal will further erode the primary role of the states in managing electricity generation and determining the mix of energy sources that work best for them in their specific circumstances.  In Alabama, our electricity is generated from a range of sources—nuclear, coal, natural gas, hydropower and renewables.  Those decisions should not be dictated by EPA officials in Washington, D.C.  Perhaps ironically, the EPA’s chosen formula for establishing CO2 emission reduction targets disadvantages states with nuclear power, which is the nation’s most significant source of emission-free electric generation.  Moreover, Alabamians expressed to Agency officials their beliefs that the EPA gave activist environmental groups a special role in crafting this proposal.  In fact, in an article entitled ‘Environmentalists Drew Emissions Blueprint,’ the New York Times recently reported  that the EPA’s Section 111(d) proposal is a ‘remarkable victory for the Natural Resources Defense Council’—an activist environmental organization with known anti-coal and anti-nuclear viewpoints.  The article explains that the EPA ‘used as its blueprint the work of’ this outside group.  Indeed, a review of recent NRDC proposals for regulating CO2 emissions from power plants closely resembles the proposal issued by EPA.  These are just a few examples of the myriad of concerns—legal, technical, environmental, and economic—that have been raised in recent weeks in response to the EPA’s proposal.  In light of the foregoing, we urge the Administration to listen closely to those who came from our great state to discuss the adverse consequences of these recent policies and proposals on their families, their jobs, and their communities.”

Even though the EPA held hearings on the controversial new rules, most observers believe that was only a legal formality for an Obama presidency that, like in the immigration debate, appears blindly determined to bull their extremist agenda into reality, even if they have to do it without cooperation from the Congress or the support of the American people.

Meanwhile Alabamians can expect more job losses and higher electricity bills in the near future.

 

Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with eight and a half years at Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Facebook. Brandon is a native of Moody, Alabama, a graduate of Auburn University, and a seventh generation Alabamian.

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America celebrates Independence Day

The United States celebrates its independence from Great Britain every year on July 4.

Brandon Moseley

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The United States celebrates its independence from Great Britain every year on July 4. On July 4, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was ratified by the Second Continental Congress. This is a national and state holiday that is celebrated with fireworks, family gatherings, concerts of patriotic music and is traditionally the height of the summer holiday season.

The Declaration of Independence defined the rights of man and the relationship between government and the governed. It also stated the colonists grievances with the distant British government and explained why independence was both justified and necessary.

“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation,” the Declaration reads.

The principal writer of the Declaration of Independence was Thomas Jefferson, who would go on to be the wartime governor of Virginia, vice president and the third president of the United States.

As brilliant as the Declaration of Independence is, independence was not won by words alone — but by the sacrifices of the men and women who sacrificed on and off the battlefields of Concord, Lexington, Bunker Hill, Quebec, Charleston, Trenton, Saratoga, Valley Forge, Kings Mountain, Cowpens, Guilford Court House, Yorktown and countless more to win the nation’s independence.

That ragtag, often poorly equipped and underfed army was led by General George Washington. Washington would go on to be the head the Constitutional convention and the first president of the United States, serving two terms.

Both Washington and Jefferson are immortalized on Mount Rushmore as two of the greatest presidents.

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An estimated 25,000 Americans were killed fighting the Revolutionary War. The British forces lost over 10,000 troops including many Americans who opposed independence and fought and died for the British crown. An estimated 58,000 crown Loyalists would leave this country over their loyalty to the British crown. Many of them settled in Canada.

“Today, we celebrate our Nation’s independence and the vision of our Founding Fathers revealed to the world on that fateful day, as well as the countless patriots who continue to ensure that the flames of freedom are never extinguished,” President Donald Trump said in the annual presidential July 4 message.

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ADPH urges Alabamians to have “safer-at-home” July 4th celebrations

This year, amid a global pandemic, the Alabama Department of Public Health is urging Alabamians to celebrate at home to avoid catching or spreading the virus.

Brandon Moseley

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Saturday is the Fourth of July, a day when many families hold elaborate celebrations with their friends. It is a time for friends, family, fireworks, barbecue, celebrating our nation’s independence and enjoying the summer weather.

But this year, amid a global pandemic, the Alabama Department of Public Health is urging Alabamians to celebrate at home to avoid catching or spreading the virus.

“Independence Day is a wonderful celebration for all Americans,” the ADPH said on their website. “As we move toward this major holiday, we want to share some recommendations and reminders for local governmental officials.”

The novel strain of the coronavirus is the largest pandemic to deeply impact this country in a century. At least 57,236 Americans were diagnosed with the virus on Thursday alone and 131,533 Americans have died, including 983 Alabamians.

A few simple steps can greatly reduce your chances of being exposed and exposing others to COVID-19. Everyone should practice good hygiene, cover coughs and sneezes, avoid touching your face and wash hands often. Avoid close contact with people who are sick, even inside your home, and maintain a distance of at least 6 feet from others not in your household.

The use of cloth face coverings or masks when in public can greatly reduce the risk of transmission, particularly if the infected individual wears a mask. Many people are contagious before they begin to show symptoms — or may never develop symptoms but are still able to infect others.

The ADPH emphasized that there is currently no vaccine to prevent COVID-19, so the best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to it.

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also warns that everyone should avoid large gatherings.

This CDC video explains more about how large gatherings can spread the virus.

According to ADPH, there are no specific treatments for illnesses caused by human coronaviruses at this time.

There is ongoing medical research regarding treatment of COVID-19. Although most people will recover on their own, you can do some things to help relieve your symptoms, including taking medications to relieve pain and fever, using a room humidifier or take a hot shower to help ease a sore throat and cough and drinking plenty of fluids if you are mildly sick. Stay home and get plenty of rest.

Alabama is experiencing a surge in coronavirus cases in the month of June and into early July.

The state reported at least 1,758 positive cases on Friday alone, the most since the pandemic began. In the past seven days, 7,645 cases have been reported, the most of any seven-day period since the pandemic began.

The seven-day rolling average of new cases — used to smooth out daily variability and inconsistencies in case reporting — surpassed 1,000 for the first time Friday.

Since the first coronavirus case was identified in Alabama in early March, 41,362 Alabamians have tested positive, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health.

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Alabama reports 1,750 new COVID-19 cases ahead of July 4th

The seven-day average of cases per day surpassed 1,000 for the first time Friday.

Brandon Moseley

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Since the first coronavirus case was identified in Alabama in early March, 41,362 Alabamians have tested positive for COVID-19.

Heading into the Fourth of July holiday weekend, Alabama is reporting more cases of COVID-19 than ever before as hospitalizations continue a worrisome surge and the state’s death toll rises.

Since the first coronavirus case was identified in Alabama on March 30, 41,362 Alabamians have tested positive for COVID-19, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health.

The state reported at least 1,758 positive cases on Friday alone, the most since the pandemic began. In the past seven days, 7,645 cases have been reported, the most of any seven-day period since the pandemic began.

The seven-day rolling average of new cases — used to smooth out daily variability and inconsistencies in case reporting — surpassed 1,000 for the first time Friday.

Ahead of the holiday, the Alabama Department of Public Health is urging Alabamians to celebrate at home due to the coronavirus crisis.

On Friday, the Alabama Department of Public Health announced that another 22 Alabamians have died from COVID-19 just in the last 24 hours. That takes the state’s COVID-19 death toll to 983. Of those, 96 died in the last week alone (June 27-July 3).

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A few simple steps can greatly reduce your chances of being exposed and exposing others to COVID-19. Everyone should practice good hygiene, cover coughs and sneezes, avoid touching your face and wash hands often. Avoid close contact with people who are sick, even inside your home, and maintain a distance of at least 6 feet from others not in your household.

The use of cloth face coverings or masks when in public can greatly reduce the risk of transmission, particularly if the infected individual wears a mask. Many people are contagious before they begin to show symptoms — or may never develop symptoms but are still able to infect others.

Alabama reported an additional 22 deaths Friday, bringing the state’s COVID-19 death toll to 983, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health.

Of those, 96 died in the past seven days alone, or roughly 10 percent of the state’s total death toll. In the past 14 days, 171 people have died, or roughly 17 percent of the state’s death toll.

Even as the number of tests also increases — at least 430,000 have been tested — a larger percentage of tests are coming back positive compared to any other time period, according to the Department of Public Health and APR‘s tracking.

Roughly 15 percent of tests in the past week have been positive.

The large increases come as Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey on Tuesday extended the current “safer-at-home” public health order, which was set to expire Friday, to July 31.

The number of individuals hospitalized with COVID-19 is also at a new high, with at least 843 people hospitalized with the virus on July 2, the most since the pandemic began.

On Monday, in Jefferson County, where cases are increasing rapidly, residents were ordered to wear masks or cloth face coverings in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus. On Tuesday, the city of Mobile also began mandating masks or face coverings. The cities of Tuscaloosa, Montgomery and Selma have also implemented face covering orders.

Of the 7,645 cases confirmed in the last week, 1,321 — or roughly 17 percent — were reported in Jefferson County alone. Nearly 28 percent of Jefferson County’s 4,802 total cases have been reported in the last seven days. Since March, 152 people have died in Jefferson County.

A campaign rally for President Donald Trump that was planned for Mobile on July 11 has been canceled because of the rapidly worsening coronavirus situation there. Mobile County has had 633 newly diagnosed cases in the last week, or roughly 8 percent of the state’s cases this week. Mobile County has had a total of 3,904 cases and 134 deaths over the course of the pandemic.

Montgomery County reported 426 newly diagnosed cases in the last week. Overall Montgomery has had 3,947 total cases and 104 deaths thus far.

Tuscaloosa County has 393 new cases this week. The surging number of cases in Tuscaloosa and Lee Counties — where 276 tested positive this week — could potentially put the 2020 college football season in jeopardy. Tuscaloosa has had a total of 2,188 cases and 42 deaths, while Lee County has a total of 1,302 cases and 37 deaths.

Despite making it through several months with relatively moderate increases, Madison County is also experiencing a surge of new cases in recent weeks — with 407 cases in the last week alone. Madison has had 1,271 cases and seven deaths.

Many people are flocking to the beach for the Fourth of July holiday, where the coronavirus is also surging in Baldwin County with 328 new cases in the last seven days. Baldwin had been largely spared to this point with 828 cases in total and nine deaths. This week’s increase accounts for 40 percent of the county’s total case count.

Alabama is not alone in seeing surging case numbers. Forty of the 50 states reported rising coronavirus cases in the last week. On Thursday, 57,236 new cases were diagnosed and 687 Americans died. The U.S. death toll from the global pandemic has risen to 131,823.

Globally, there have been 11,092,229 cases diagnosed, though the real number is likely much higher. At least 526,450 people have died from COVID-19, and, with 208,860 new cases diagnosed on Thursday alone, there is no sign that this global pandemic will be over any time soon.

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Prison worker says excessive pepper spray may have killed inmate

A prison worker says the amount of pepper spray used was excessive, and that officers knowingly and intentionally put the inmate’s life in jeopardy.

Eddie Burkhalter

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It’s not yet clear what caused the death of 38-year-old Darnell McMillian after he was pepper sprayed inside an Alabama prison last month, but a prison worker says the amount of pepper spray used was excessive, and that officers knowingly and intentionally put his life in jeopardy.

Some time around 6 p.m. on June 22, three correctional officers placed McMillian in suicide cell S-11, with an inmate who was known to be aggressive and who was already on suicide watch, according to a prison worker with knowledge of the incident, who reached out to APR to discuss the death because the person said it troubled them.

The ADOC worker asked not to be identified because the person is still employed with the department.

“He shouldn’t have been doubled up with somebody,” the worker said of the aggressive inmate already in cell S-11. “It was very clear that the person in that cell was threatening.”

The worker said the officers enticed the two men to fight, and once the inmate began threatening McMillian, McMillian took the first swing to hit the man.

The three officers standing outside then deployed a pepper spray called Cell Buster into the cell, the worker said. Cell Buster is a potent spray used by correctional staff and produced by the Chicago-based company Sabre.

“The inmate was yelling that he couldn’t breathe,” the employee said. “One Cell Buster is enough to do a lot of damage. There were three officers present at the time of this, and there were three cans of Cell Busters sprayed.”

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The employee said that once McMillian was pulled from the cell, he was almost unconscious and then “went completely unconscious, because he was coughing and aspirating.”

The cell was then cleaned by inmates, except for some spots of blood, which the worker said might make it appear to have been a homicide by the other inmate, but the worker said several staff members at the prison believe the death may have been caused by excessive use of pepper spray.

“He was on his back when they were getting him to the infirmary, which can also cause asphyxiation, especially if he’s coughing and saying he can’t breathe. That spray can make you vomit,” the worker said.

While there are video cameras that record each suicide cell, the worker said they do not believe there is footage from cell S-11 during the time of McMillian’s death. The employee said they’ve been through many incidents in the prison but that “this one seems pretty bad.”

The worker said it’s not clear why the officers encouraged a fight between the other inmate and McMillian, but from experience, the person said some officers will do so when an inmate angers them.

The employee said when they read APR’s first article on McMillian’s death, and there was little information on what happened, they decided to reach out.

“I’d rather share it and put it out there,” the person said. Some details of what the worker said were corroborated by the Jefferson County Coroner’s office.

Jefferson County Coroner Bill Yates told APR on Thursday that McMillian’s final cause of death awaits results from the autopsy, which can take between four and six weeks, but that there did not appear to be any external injuries that could have caused his death.

McMillian was pronounced dead at Donaldson prison at 7:49 p.m. on June 22, Yates said.

Yates, reading from his notes on the incident, said that in the moments before his death, there appeared to be a physical altercation between McMillian and another inmate, and that correctional officers used pepper spray to stop the fight.

“Obviously, Department of Corrections staff is going to step in to stop that, and it’s my understanding that after that, he was having complaints of not being able to breath,” Yates said. “I think they used — there was some pepper spray that was used to stop that, and he immediately went, from our understanding, to the infirmary.”

“From our autopsy, I don’t believe we found any type of trauma that would explain death,” Yates said.

His office is awaiting lab results, to include toxicology and other lab work to determine if drugs or an unknown medical condition may have been factors in his death, Yates said. McMillian didn’t have a history of any heart conditions, but Yates said lab results could reveal one if in fact he had a condition.

Asked if it’s possible to die from exposure to a large amount of pepper spray, Yates said “I haven’t heard of it, not to say it can’t happen.”

“I think you could pass away from extreme amounts of anything,” Yates said, but he’s never known of a death that resulted from large exposures to pepper spray.

Yates said there have been no reports to his office of any other inmate in that cell, or any ADOC staff, experiencing health problems as a result of the incident.

A 2003 study by the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Institute of Justice on the use of pepper spray by police and corrections staff in North Carolina found that two cases of the 63 studied resulted in death from the use of pepper spray, and that both incarcerated persons who died had asthma. In only one of those cases, however, a large amount of pepper spray was used on the man, and the positioning of the man’s body may have been a factor as well.

“Pepper spray was used more times in this case than in any other, but according to police officers, it was ineffective. The subject, who was obese, was handcuffed behind his back and placed in a facedown position when being transported,” the report states. “The difficulty of breathing in this position may have been compounded by the damage already done to his airways.”

In June, a 35-year-old inmate named Jamel Floyd died after correctional officers at a federal prison in Brooklyn used pepper spray after he had barricaded himself in his cell. He was unresponsive when removed from his cell and prison staff were unable to revive him, according to CNN. The death was under investigation and the U.S. Marshals and the FBI were notified, according to a release by the Metropolitan Detention Center.

According to the Sabre’s own promotional video, Cell Buster is to be used in three-second bursts, with the correctional officer checking after each burst to determine if the “desired effects” have been produced, before using it for another 3-second burst. Cell Buster’s description states that the product “delivers pain, irritation, inflammation, coughing, temporary blindness and redness of skin.”

ADOC spokeswoman Linda Mays in a message to APR on Thursday said that the department’s Law Enforcement Services Division is investigating all aspects of the incident.

“While we would like to address your questions and provide insight that would be helpful to you, at this juncture in the process we simply cannot provide information that would compromise the integrity of our ongoing investigation. More information will be available upon the conclusion of our investigation into Daniel [sic] McMillian’s death,” Mays wrote.

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