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Environment

Interior Dept. provides $291 million to clean up, repurpose coal mines

Mikayla Burns

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U.S. Acting Secretary of the of the Interior David Bernhardt announced on March 19 that this year’s grants from the Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation will award over $291 million for mine reclaiming and repurposing efforts.

The AML grants are funded by a fee based on coal produced in the U.S. and assist in eliminating points of pollution and other dangerous areas due to past coal mining in the areas. Projects funded by the AML grants have closed mine shafts, restored water supplies damaged by mining, cleaned up acid mine damage and much more.

“These grants are a great example of Interior partnering with states, tribes and local governments to provide resources for conservation efforts and infrastructure and public safety improvements, like fixing embankments, stabilizing land above underground mines and restoring streams,” Bernhardt said. “The investment we’re making back into coal country helps protect people, land, water and property and enhances the lives of local citizens.”
The Office of Surface Mining Reclamation Enforcement provides the grants to AML to be given to 25 coal-producing states and three tribes, all have been determined eligible by a formula mandated by Congress on their past and present coal production.
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Environment

Department of Conservation says most state parks will stay open

Brandon Moseley

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The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources said last week that most of their outdoor facilities remain open for recreation.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, ADCNR has made a number of temporary changes to its business operations for the safety of its employees and the general public. The changes will be in effect until at least April 6, 2020.

Alabama State Parks and associated facilities remain open with the exception of cave tours at Rickwood and Cathedral Caverns state parks.

Some dining operations will be modified to limit close contact of guests.

The Alabama Political Reporter was in Eufaula on Thursday and ate breakfast at Lakepoint Lodge’s formal dining room, but by that night the restaurant had become carryout only and the seafood buffet scheduled for Friday night was discontinued.

“Park visitors are encouraged to follow all current hand washing and social distancing guidelines,” ADCNR wrote in a statement. “For updates, please follow Alabama State Parks on social media.”

ADCNR said that all state public fishing lakes remain open as well as all ADCNR shooting and archery ranges.

ADCNR Wildlife Management Areas and Special Opportunity Areas remain open.

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“ADCNR’s state and district offices are closed to the public with the exception of the Marine Resources Division offices in Gulf Shores and Dauphin Island,” ADCNR said. “Those offices will be open for commercial license sales only on Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

ADCNR Law Enforcement Offices are also closed to the public but remain staffed to answer questions by phone. More information is available here.

To report hunting or fishing violations, please call (800) 272-GAME.

Conservation Enforcement Officers will continue to patrol state land and waterways and render aid to the public. Forever Wild tracts remain open for hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking, paddling, and hunting — as permitted.

The 5 Rivers Delta Resources Center facilities are closed, but the grounds remain open to the public during regular business hours for trail use and kayak launching.

Hunting and fishing licenses are still available online, through the Outdoor AL mobile app, or at various license agents located throughout the state.

Due to the evolving nature of the pandemic, ADCNR recommends calling individual state parks and other facilities if you have questions about reservations or operational hours. Contact information can be found here.

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources promotes wise stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources through four divisions: Marine Resources, State Lands, State Parks, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries.

 

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Congress

Democrats reject coronovirus bill, saying more is needed for working people

Eddie Burkhalter

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U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, said he voted Sunday evening against moving forward a $1.6 trillion emergency rescue package during a procedural vote because it doesn’t go far enough to help working people who need relief the most.

“We need a strong, bipartisan package that directly assists our workers, our health care providers, and vulnerable folks who need it most,” Jones said in a statement. “We have no time to waste, so I am hopeful that this failed vote reiterates the message to Leader McConnell that the time for games is over and we need to move tonight to a bill that can receive broad support from the Senate and also pass in the House. We’ve got more work to do on this bill to make sure we’re not leaving working families behind.”

Democrats say the bill too heavily favored corporations and their executives, and does too little to help working people. Democrats also said the package didn’t include money for state and local governments,  and only provided three months of unemployment insurance, according to Politico.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. had postponed the vote earlier on Sunday when it became clear not enough Democrats supported it to move it forward.

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Environment

“It’s their choice. Individual freedom:” Alabama beaches to remain open for now

Eddie Burkhalter

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The Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Tourism president said that the families and college students at Alabama’s beaches this week are there by “individual choice.” 

As beaches in some parts of Florida closed in an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Alabama’s coastline this week remained busy. 

Photos shared widely on social media show a crowded Orange Beach, with college-aged people lying close to one another on beach towels, and splashing in the surf. 

Public health officials caution against standing within 6 feet of others, or risk exposure to the virus that’s infected more than 7,000 in the U.S. and killed more than 100. The Baldwin County Commission on Saturday declared a local state of emergency due to the pandemic. 

Herb Malone, president of  Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Tourism, said during a press conference Wednesday that people visiting the beaches during spring break this week are making an “individual choice” to do so. 

Malone said the area is in the middle of spring break and is running at about “70 percent capacity.” 

“We do have families with children. We do have college kids who are very pleased to be here…so we welcome them this year,” Malone said. 

“Our questions are, why are they still here? Because it’s their choice. Individual freedom,” Malone said. “People have spent money to get here. They’ve made reservations some time ago.”

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The remarks Wednesday came as a leader of President Donald Trump’s coronavirus task force urged young people to take the virus seriously. She urged young people to heed the advice to socially distance and be wary of the coronavirus pandemic even though they do not fall in the highest risk groups, CNN reported.

“There are concerning reports coming out of France and Italy about some young people getting seriously ill and very seriously ill in the ICUs,” Birx said.

“We think part of this may be that people heeded the early data coming out of China and coming out of South Korea of the elderly or those with preexisting medical conditions were a particular risk,” she continued. “It may have been that the millennial generation … there may be disproportional number of infections among that group and so even if it’s a rare occurrence it may be seen more frequently in that group.”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday declined to issue an order to close the state’s beaches, and instead ordered beachgoers refrain from gathering in groups of 10 or more. 

“What we’re going to be doing for the statewide floor for beaches, we’re going to be applying the CDC guidance of no group on a beach more than 10 and you have to have distance apart if you’re going to be out there, so that applies statewide,” DeSantis told reporters. 

Fort Lauderdale and Miami Beach announced they would close their beaches this week, however, and the City of Boca Raton followed and also closed beaches.

Joining Malone at the press conference Wednesday was the Baldwin County Emergency Management Agency Director Zach Hood, and Alabama’s assistant state health officer Dr. Karen Landers, who joined by phone. 

Neither Hood nor Landers spoke about the beachgoers or the threat they faced from contracting COVID-19 by congregating in large numbers. 

Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kennon has asked Gov. Kay Ivey to close the public beaches, Al.com reported Wednesday. 

Asked at an earlier press conference on Wednesday if she was considering closing the beaches, Ivey said, “Certainly that’s under consideration, but we’re exploring efforts to protect the people of Alabama, but, if we decide to make that announcement we’ll do that at a later date.”

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Environment

Alabama Clean Fuels Coalition joins nationwide call for clean fuels, vehicles

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Representatives from the Alabama Clean Fuels Coalition will join clean transportation leaders from across the nation this week in Washington, D.C., to educate federal policy makers about the need to expand America’s use of transportation alternative fuels, including biofuels, electricity, natural gas, and propane autogas. Altec Industries will also participate in Energy Independence Summit 2020, the nation’s premier clean transportation policy event, on February 10-12.

“Despite the recent drop in gasoline prices, gas prices remain extremely volatile and we continue to send more than $200 billion per year to OPEC and other nations for oil,” said Mark Bentley, Alabama Clean Fuels Coalition Executive Director. “We are going to Washington to help our representatives understand that Alabama and the United States must aggressively expand our use of alternatives to petroleum-based fuel if we are to stabilize gas prices, decrease our reliance on foreign oil, and maintain and create domestic jobs in the transportation energy industry.”

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, there are about 1.8 million alternative fuel vehicles on the road in the United States and nearly 70,000 alternative fueling stations.

In Alabama a number of clean transportation projects are underway across the state, including:

Partnering with Clean Cities coalitions in Georgia and South Carolina on a U.S. DOE competitive grant award of $4.6 million! In Alabama, the award will fund the addition of a compressed natural gas (CNG) public fueling station at Clean Energy’s liquid natural gas station in Birmingham, add CNG fueling for Waste Management’s refuse fleet in Tarrant and add UPS electric delivery vans in Montgomery.

The Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport has opened a public access CNG station on Airport Highway.
Alabama Power has partnered with more than 40 companies to add “workplace” electric vehicle charging infrastructure across the state.
The Alabama VW Beneficiary Mitigation Plan has completed the first round of funding, awarding $5.8 million to fund alternative fuel projects, including additional propane school buses in Mobile County, two electric school buses in Fort Payne, an electric waste truck for the City of Mobile and more.
Alabama A&M University is adding two electric buses in the summer to provide student transportation.
Birmingham City schools has joined Mobile County Schools, Tuscaloosa City Schools, and Franklin County Schools in adding propane autogaspowered school buses to their fleets.

Those are just a sampling of the clean transportation projects underway in Alabama.

Transportation Energy Partners (TEP), the Summit organizer, reports that Summit participants will have the opportunity to interact with top Administration officials, including leaders from the Departments of Energy, Transportation, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In addition, Summit participants will take their message about the need for ongoing federal support for alternatives to petroleum-based fuels to more than 200 Congressional offices.

American industry has demonstrated the ability to produce high performing technology to meet the demand for cleaner fuels and vehicles,” said Alleyn Harned, President of Transportation Energy Partners. “However, insufficient and inconsistent government incentives and support hinder companies’ ability to make the long-term investments required to sustain these clean transportation solutions. We need stable and predictable federal investments to enable fleets and technology developers to make sound long-term planning and investment decisions.”

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About the Alabama Clean Fuels Coalition: The Alabama Clean Fuels Coalition (ACFC), is a nonprofit membership-based organization and is the state’s principal coordinating point for alternative fuels and advanced technology vehicles. ACFC is a designated Clean Cities coalition by the U.S. Department of Energy. The promotion of clean, renewable, domestic energy sources helps reduce our dependence on foreign oil, improves local air quality, and increases economic development investments in our local communities. For more information, please visit www.alabamacleanfuels.org or call 205-402-2755.

About Transportation Energy Partners: Transportation Energy Partners (TEP) is national non-profit organization that brings Clean Cities coalition leaders together with the clean transportation industry to advance policies that will reduce American dependence on petroleum-based fuels. TEP works closely with and provides policy support to the nearly 90 Clean Cities coalitions and their 15,000 stakeholders in 45 states andthe District of Columbia. Since 1993, the Clean Cities coalitions have played a leading role in implementing local programs and projects to deploy alternative fuels, vehicles, and infrastructure. The Clean Cities coalitions and their stakeholders have displaced more than 9.5 billion gallons of petroleum through the use of alternative fuels and vehicles, hybrid-electric vehicles, idle reduction technologies, fuel economy, and low-level fuel blends.

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