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Opinion | Alabama lawmakers mostly silent on 3M revelations

Josh Moon

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Sunset on the Tennessee River

If someone was poisoning your neighbors, would you tell them? 

Would you speak up? Would you try to stop them? Would you use whatever authority you had to make them stop? Would you hold them accountable? Would you make them clean up their mess? Would you help the people who had been poisoned? 

If you answered yes to any of those questions, you’re apparently not qualified to be an elected official from north Alabama. 

For the past two weeks, reporters — mostly Chelsea Brentzel from WHNT in Huntsville — have been trying to get lawmakers from north Alabama to say something — ANYTHING! — about recent reports of 3M dumping banned pollutants in the Tennessee River for years. 

The response: crickets. Mostly. 

One person did respond critically. 

Sen. Doug Jones, a Democrat who has taken less than $1,000 from 3M in campaign donations, condemned the release of the chemicals and called for an investigation into what happened and why the public wasn’t better notified. 

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But Rep. Mo Brooks, Rep. Robert Aderholt, state Sen. Arthur Orr, state Rep. Terri Collins and several others all just can’t seem to find their voices. 

That’s not to say that they’re too busy. 

Aderholt had time on Monday to tell people that marijuana as a prescription drug is junk science — for real. In 2019. And then he issued a press release on the 3M situation, which essentially said that there’s a 3M situation with water and stuff and some people are looking into it, probably.

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Brooks was on a Huntsville radio show on Monday saying racist things. Which would be noteworthy if said about someone other than Brooks, who, at any given time, is mostly likely somewhere saying something racist. 

Orr managed some time since the 3M news broke to campaign for a friend. 

But not a peep from any of them about literal poison being pumped into the water their constituents drink, the water their children bathe in, the water in their hometowns. 

And of course they all took 3M money. 

Thousands of dollars. Aderholt took around $5,500 in the last two cycles. Brooks got nearly $6,000. Orr and Collins got $2,000 each last year. More 3M money went into federal and state PACs, which doled cash out to more politicians. 

And most of it came well after the chemical manufacturing giant had been credibly accused of dumping potentially cancer-causing chemicals into the river. 

These people took that 3M money even after the people in Morgan and Lawrence counties had stopped drinking their water because it was too polluted. Even after the first lawsuits had been filed.

And you know, even that would be OK if they were now — after learning that 3M acknowledged dumping the pollutants for years — standing up and speaking out. If they were now pledging federal-level help in making sure this mess gets cleaned up. If they had a plan of action at the state level to ensure that the Alabama Department of Environmental Management did its job. 

But they’re not. And they most likely won’t. 

Because they’re mostly OK with this. It is, after all, the result they expected when they talked about cutting “burdensome regulations” on businesses. 

This is what happens when you create a more business-friendly EPA and ADEM. It’s what happens when you elect politicians who believe a bigger bottom line solves all problems. 

Your rivers catch fire. Your air is unbreathable. Your dirt is toxic. 

And they don’t understand what the big deal is. 

How much don’t they understand? This much: Back during the campaign last year, Aderholt told U.S. News and World Report that his district’s opioid epidemic — which he deemed an “epidemic of depression” — would be solved by President Trump’s economic policies. 

Literally, he believed that people would be so happy to have money that their addiction and depression would go away. 

Because that’s what apparently drives conservative politicians now — an unabashed love of money. A sick belief that almost anything — any egregious act, any destruction — is justified if the bottom line is big enough. Or that the effects of such awful actions can be mitigated or even eliminated by a wad of cash. 

Even watching your neighbors be poisoned.

 

Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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Interior Department designates new national recreational trail in Alabama

The designation is part of a broader national announcement that establishes 30 new national recreation trails in 25 states, adding more than 1,275 miles to the National Trails System.

Brandon Moseley

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Located in Cheaha State Park, the Doug Ghee Accessible Trail (Bald Rock Boardwalk) is a 0.3-mile boardwalk trail.

United States Secretary of the Interior David L. Bernhardt this week designated a new national recreation trail in Alabama.

Located in Cheaha State Park, the Doug Ghee Accessible Trail (Bald Rock Boardwalk) is a 0.3-mile boardwalk trail that allows users of all abilities to journey through the enchanted hardwood forested foothills of the Appalachian Mountains.

The designation is part of a broader national announcement that establishes 30 new national recreation trails in 25 states, adding more than 1,275 miles to the National Trails System.

The announcement is in addition to the 370 miles of national recreation trails that were designated in 2018, bringing the Trump administration’s total to 49 national recreation trails added, spanning 1,645 miles.

“I encourage Americans to get outside, enjoy our incredible public lands and visit a nearby national recreation trail,” Bernhardt said. “Spanning more than 83,000 miles, larger than the interstate highway system, the National Trails System provides easy access to a wide variety of outdoor experiences. The Trump Administration is committed to expanding public access to the outdoors, so more Americans have the opportunity and ability to experience it in all of its splendor.”

Bernhardt said that the new designations advance the Trump administration’s priority to increase public access to outdoor recreational opportunities in alignment with Secretary’s Order 3366.

Interior-managed outdoor recreation activities support more than 452,000 jobs and account for more than $58 billion in economic output across the country.

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“American Trails promotes and maintains the database of our country’s National Recreation Trails (NRT) and applauds this new slate of Secretarial designations from the Department of the Interior,” said NRT executive director Mike Passo. “The NRT program brings vibrancy to the National Trail System by uniquely highlighting trails that are accessible, relatable, and serve a wide diversity of our nation’s public. With these designations, the NRT database at AmericanTrails.org exceeds 1,300 trails.”

“American Hiking Society welcomes the designation of 30 new National Recreation Trails that will create enhanced recreational opportunities for hikers and all types of trail users,” said American Hiking Society executive director Kate Van Waes. “Each trail selected to receive this honor must support a diversity of users, reflect its region, and be among America’s best trails, all qualities that benefit the hiking community.”

“Americans are enjoying close-to-home recreation and thanks to our amazing National Trails System, they have even more places to explore,” said PeopleForBikes President and CEO Jenn Dice. “With a 75 percent increase in bike ridership on trails this year, we commend the Department of the Interior for this expansion and granting our nation more access to the outdoors. Thanks to these initiatives, we’re getting closer to meeting the needs of a fast-growing community of people outdoors and on bikes finding joy, freedom and health on our trails nationwide.”

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The National Trails System, which includes national scenic, national historic, and national recreation trails, offers an abundance of scenic, historic and recreation trails for outdoor enjoyment on America’s public lands.

The system promotes preservation, public access, travel within and enjoyment and appreciation of the open-air, outdoor areas, and historic resources of the United States.

The National Recreation Trails Program is jointly administered by the National Park Service and the U.S. Forest Service, in conjunction with a number of federal and nonprofit partners.

The designation of a national recreation trail can be done by either the secretary of the interior or the secretary of agriculture on an existing local or regional trail with the consent of the federal, state, local, nonprofit or private entity that has jurisdiction over the trail.

Families are looking for more outdoor recreational activities such as hiking, fishing, hunting and camping given the dangers associated with group activities like sports, theaters and other activities during the coronavirus pandemic.

Hiking on the National Recreation Trails is a fun, safe activity that the whole family can enjoy while still maintaining CDC recommended social distancing.

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Environment

State shuts down flounder harvest in November

Fishermen can resume harvesting flounders Dec. 1, 2020, at 12:01 a.m.

Brandon Moseley

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(STOCK PHOTO)

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Marine Resources Division reminded saltwater fishermen that harvesting any flounder (Paralichthys albigutta) during the month of November is prohibited.

“The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ Marine Resources Division would like to remind anglers of the flounder changes that were adopted on August 1, 2019,” the MRD announced. “Flounder will be closed for harvest during the entire month of November for both commercial and recreational fishermen.”

Fishermen can resume harvesting flounders Dec. 1, 2020, at 12:01 a.m.

The MRD reminds saltwater anglers that the recreational size limit for flounder is 14 inches total length, and the daily bag limit is five per person. The commercial size limit is 14 inches total length with a daily limit of 40 per person or 40 per vessel.

Alabama is a sportsman’s paradise with year-round freshwater fishing, saltwater fishing and hunting opportunities. Hunting and fishing are activities that the whole family can enjoy while still social distancing to avoid spreading the coronavirus. Remember that you must have a valid license to hunt or fish. You can get the appropriate licenses online.

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources is tasked with promoting wise stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources through four divisions: Marine Resources, State Lands, State Parks and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. More information is available online.

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ADEM director weighs-in on coal ash pond closures

APR spoke with ADEM Director Lance LeFleur to understand the process and how the public could be assured that steps taken would lead to a safe and effective outcome.

Bill Britt

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ADEM Director Lance LeFleur

Over the next few weeks, the Alabama Department of Environmental Management will hold public hearings on the regulated closures of three coal combustion residuals storage sites, commonly referred to as coal ash ponds.

While ADEM receives high marks from federal regulators and businesses within Alabama, there is always a certain skepticism that surrounds environmental issues both on the left and the right side of the political spectrum.

Recently, APR spoke with ADEM Director Lance LeFleur to understand the process and how the public could be assured that steps taken would lead to a safe and effective outcome.

“I know that there’s skepticism about government,” LeFleur said. “And it’s healthy to have skepticism about government, state governments, local government, federal government. Skepticism is part of how we operate.” But LeFleur wants the public to know that ADEM’s first purpose is Alabamians’ health and safety.

“Our mission is to ensure for all Alabamians a safe, healthful and productive environment,” LeFleur said. “It’s a mission that ADEM and its nearly 600 employees take very seriously.”

LeFleur says while there are many competing sides to the issues that arise from coal ash disposal, ADEM must focus on “science and the laws.”

According to LeFleur, there are two primary issues that must be addressed when closing coal ash ponds: “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.”

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EPA does not classify coal residue as hazardous waste, but LeFleur says that all closures must ensure dangerous elements are not leaching down into the groundwater.

“I think there’s pretty much unanimous opinion that these coal ash ponds need to be closed; they need to be closed properly,” said LeFleur. “And we need to clean up the groundwater that’s in place.”

He says that the entire process will take decades, but the power companies have committed to safely closing the coal ash ponds. “We are dealing with power companies that are going to be around for a long time. And they, they are obligated to get the result right,” said LeFleur.

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Alabama currently has 14 regulated CCR units at eight sites throughout the state. They are comprised of 10 unlined surface impoundments, one lined landfill, one lined surface impoundment all closed, and two lined landfills still in operation.

Public hearings are a significant part of the permit granting process, according to LeFleur, and ADEM’s website allows any individual to review every document and comment about a coal ash pond’s closing.

“You can see all of the comments that we received,” LeFleur said. “Every issue raised during the comment period and written response to comments are available.” ADEM’s website also includes the closure plans as well as all correspondence between agency and utility companies.

According to ADEM, 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 plan —including the CCR unit closure component— and answer residents’ questions,” said LeFleur.

Closing a unit requires months of planning with ADEM engineers to make sure all procedures are followed correctly. Federal rules for closing CCRs have only been around since April 2015, when EPA released final measures for management and disposal of CCRs from electric utilities. In 2018, ADEM issued its state CCR rule, which closely tracks the federal regulations.

Under both Presidents Obama and Trump, the EPA has allowed for coal ash sites to be closed by two methods — closure in place and by removal.

Alabama’s utilities have chosen the cap in place method. Some environmental groups prefer removal. But estimates say that moving CCRs from Alabama Power’s Plant Barry would take around 30 years with trucks leaving the site every six minutes.

“Regardless of which method of closure is used, that process will take a couple of years to accomplish at these sites,” said LeFleur. “If it’s kept in place, the material has been de-watered then pushed together to create a smaller footprint, and then that will be covered with an impervious cover.”

The objective, according to ADEM, is to protect the groundwater and the environment from pollution.

Power providers and environmentalists seem to agree there isn’t a perfect solution. Public hearings are to ensure that community voices and those of environmentalists are heard.

“This entire process is designed to stop contamination to groundwater and future contamination to groundwater; those are the most important facts now,” said LeFleur. “There are always political issues, you know, at least two sides, and sometimes there’s three, four or five sides. We focus on science and the laws. That’s what we do.”

While ADEM has its critics, it receives a high rating from the EPA, and an annual survey by the Alabama Department of Commerce finds that it gets top marks from business and industry in the state.

ADEM’s first public hearing on coal ash permits will be held Tuesday, Oct. 20, for Alabama Power’s Miller Steam Plant in west Jefferson County. The meeting will be at 6 p.m. at the West Jefferson Town Hall. Other upcoming hearings are Thursday, Oct. 22, for Plant Greene County located in Greene County and Oct. 29 for Plant Gadsden in Etowah County.

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Bow season begins today

Archery deer season opens in most of the state — zones A, B and C — on Oct. 15, 2020.

Brandon Moseley

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(STOCK PHOTO)

On Thursday, bow hunting season for deer opens across the state of Alabama, though it has already begun in some areas of the state.

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has divided the state into five separate hunting zones for whitetail deer. Be aware of where in the state you are at all times because different rules can and do apply. Some counties have as many as three of the state’s five hunting zones.

Hunters in the newly created zones D and E began bow hunting back on Oct. 1.

Zone D includes parts of Cullman, Franklin, Lawrence and Winston counties. Zone D allows for bow hunting for either sex from Oct. 1 to Jan. 15. Hunters can take antlered bucks from Oct. 1 to Jan. 27. Gun deer season for antlered bucks will open in zone D on Nov. 7, 2020.

Zone E includes areas in Barbour, Calhoun, Cleburne and Russell counties. Zone D allows for bow hunting for either sex from Oct. 1 to Oct. 15. Hunters can take antlered bucks from Oct. 1 to Jan. 27. Gun deer season for antlered bucks will open in zone E on Nov. 7, 2020.

Archery deer season opens in most of the state — zones A, B and C — on Oct. 15, 2020.

Archery season for both sexes in Zone A, the largest of the hunting zones, lasts from Oct. 15 to Feb. 10, 2021. Gun season in zone A for either sex runs from Nov. 21 to Feb. 10, 2021.

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Archery season in zone B goes from Oct. 15 to Feb. 10 for antlered bucks. For either sex from Oct. 25 to Feb. 10. Gun season in zone B is from Nov. 21 to Feb. 10.

Zone C consists of parts of St. Clair, Jefferson, Blount, Cullman, Etowah, Morgan, Winston, Marshall, Dekalb, Jackson, Lawrence, Franklin and Marion Counties.

Bow season in zone C for either sex runs from Oct. 15 to Feb. 10, 2021. Gun season in zone C for antlered bucks only is from Nov. 21 to Feb. 10, 2021. Hunters may take either sex with a gun in zone C from Nov. 21 to Nov. 29 and Dec. 19 to Jan. 1, 2021.

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You must purchase a license to hunt in the state of Alabama and you must report any and all deer taken to the state. Wildlife biologists use the data to set future hunting zones and harvest limits. For complete deer season dates and zone information, visit the Outdoor Alabama website.

“The creation of these new deer zones highlights the hard work of our wildlife managers and the importance of harvest data provided by Alabama’s hunters,” said Chris Blankenship, commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. “The Department strives to offer the best hunting opportunities available.”

Whitetail deer are the largest game species in the state with a harvestable population. Hunting for whitetail deer is the most popular of the hunting sports in Alabama. Hunting and fishing are a fun activity the whole family can enjoy, while social distancing due to the coronavirus global pandemic.

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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