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Environment

Alabama PSC commissioners signed letter written by coal lobbying group, sent them to federal agency

Eddie Burkhalter

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Alabama Public Service commissioners Chip Beeker and Jeremy Oden both signed their names to letters they did not write and sent them to a federal agency on behalf of a coal lobbying firm. 

The body of Beeker’s Sept. 6 letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) was virtually identical to letters written by utility commissioners in other states, and was penned by American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE), which lobbies for the coal industry and represents coal-burning utilities. 

Emails to several utility regulators, obtained through public records requests by the Energy and Policy Institute, a watchdog group that advocates for clean energy, show that ACCCE consultant Jon McCkinney asked commissioners to send those letters and gave out a sample letter for them to use. 

Oden’s letter was sent to FERC on Sept. 4, and just like Beeker’s letter, Oden did not personalize the “I am/We are” header portion in the body of the sample letter before sending them to the FERC. 

Attempts to reach Beeker and Oden on Tuesday were unsuccessful. 

The letters, sent to FERC by utility commissioners in six states, urges the federal government to act on a pending decision that could impact the coal and nuclear power companies. 

“It’s no secret that coal mining companies want a federal bailout for money-losing coal plants,” said Joe Smyth, research and communications manager at Energy and Policy Institute, in an email to APR on Tuesday. But it’s troubling that public service commissioners would sign their names to the coal industry’s letters. A coal plant bailout is unnecessary and would increase costs for electricity consumers.”

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Daniel Tait, chief operations officer for Energy Alabama, a nonprofit clean energy advocacy group, told APR on Tuesday that he was disappointed to learn that state utility commissioners had sent the letters. 

“It’s extremely disheartening to see our regulators passing along form letters from special interest groups as their own,” Tait wrote to APR. “Energy Alabama is involved in pending cases before the Commission and now more than ever, we need impartial regulators. We hope that can still take place.”

The trend of closing of coal fired plants has continued across the country for a decade. Experts say the plants are too costly to run when compared to natural gas and other renewable forms of energy, according to E&E News

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In 2015, the United States closed 15 gigawatts of coal capacity, according to E&E News, and almost 14 GW of coal was retired in 2018. The U.S. Energy Information Administration predicted that almost 8 GW of coal would retire this year. 

Commissioners who signed and sent the letters, in addition to Beeker and Oden, were Montana Public Service Commission chair Brad Johnson, Wyoming Public Service Commission chair Kara Fornstrom, West Virginia Public Service Commissioner Charlotte Lane, Tennessee Public Utilities Commissioner and vice chair Kenneth Hill and Kentucky Public Service Commission chair Michael Schmitt

 

Eddie Burkhalter is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or reach him via Twitter.

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Entrance fees to visit federal public lands are waived today

Brandon Moseley

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(STOCK PHOTO)

The United States Department of Interior has designated Wednesday as a fee-free day for public lands to commemorate the signing of the Great American Outdoors Act, which is aimed at addressing the historically underfunded, multi-billion-dollar deferred maintenance backlog at national parks and public lands. In celebration of this achievement, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt announced that entrance fees paid by visitors coming to lands managed by the department will be waived on Aug. 5.

Bernhardt also announced that Aug. 4 will be designated “Great American Outdoors Day,” a fee-free day each year moving forward to commemorate the signing of the act.

“President Trump has just enacted the most consequential dedicated funding for national parks, wildlife refuges, public recreation facilities and American Indian school infrastructure in U.S. history,” Bernhardt said. “I’ve designated August 4th as Great American Outdoors Day and waived entrance fees to celebrate the passage of this historic conservation law.”

Entrance fees will be waived at all fee collecting public lands at the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The department holds fee-free days throughout the year to encourage visitation and appreciation for America’s public lands. On fee-free days, site-specific standard amenity and day-use fees at recreation sites and areas will be waived for the specified dates. Other fees, such as overnight camping, cabin rentals, group day use and use of special areas will remain in effect.

There are other remaining fee-free days in 2020.

For the National Park Service, Aug. 5 is Great American Outdoors Act Commemoration, Aug. 25 is National Park Service Birthday, Sept. 26 is National Public Lands Day and Nov. 11 is Veterans Day.

For the Bureau of Land Management, Aug. 5 is Great American Outdoors Act Commemoration, Sept. 26 is National Public Lands Day and Nov. 11 is Veterans Day.

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For U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lands, Aug. 5 is Great American Outdoors Act Commemoration, Sept. 26 is National Public Lands Day, Oct. 11 is First Sunday of National Wildlife Refuge Week and Nov. 11 is Veterans Day.

On March 3, President Trump called on Congress to send him a bill that fully and permanently funded the Land and Water Conservation Fund and restored our National Parks. The president noted that it would be historic for America’s beautiful public lands when he signed such a bill into law. The Trump Administration worked with Congress to secure the passage of this landmark conservation legislation, which will use revenues from energy development to provide up to $1.9 billion a year for five years in the National Parks and Public Land Legacy Restoration Fund to provide needed maintenance for critical facilities and infrastructure in our national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, recreation areas and American Indian schools. It will also use royalties from offshore oil and natural gas to permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund to the tune of $900 million a year to invest in conservation and recreation opportunities across the country.

“We’re here today to celebrate the passage of truly landmark legislation that will preserve America’s majestic natural wonders, priceless historic treasures — and that’s exactly what they are — grand national monuments, and glorious national parks,” Pres. Trump said. “This is a very big deal. And from an environmental standpoint and from just the beauty of our country standpoint, there hasn’t been anything like this since Teddy Roosevelt, I suspect.”

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Last year, the NPS welcomed 327 million visitors who generated an economic impact of more than $41 billion and supported more than 340,000 jobs. The increasing popularity of our public lands has resulted in our national parks needing upgrades and improvements for more than 5,500 miles of paved roads, 17,000 miles of trails and 24,000 buildings. This legislation provides a long-term solution to this significant issue for the benefit of the American people and the betterment of our public lands.

Approximately 67 million visitors annually come to BLM-managed lands, supporting approximately 48,000 jobs nationwide and contributing almost $7 billion to the U.S. economy. BLM-managed public lands offer a wide array of recreational opportunities including hiking, hunting, fishing, camping, mountain biking, horseback riding, boating, rafting, off-highway vehicle driving, rock climbing and more.

FWS welcomes approximately 54 million people to refuges each year. Their spending generates $3.2 billion in sales to local economies, employing more than 41,000 people and providing $1.1 billion in employment income.

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Environment

There is no catch and release of alligators, except in Lake Eufaula

Brandon Moseley

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Alabama is a sportsman’s paradise with freshwater fishing, saltwater fishing and even hunting year-round. Hogs and coyotes can be taken all through the month of August. But for the lucky few who drew an alligator tag, August is alligator hunting season.

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division wants this year’s hunt to be safe for the hunters and fair for the game species. The WFF is reminding Alabama alligator hunters that they may not capture an alligator and release it because they prefer a bigger trophy gator.

Tag holders are not allowed to release an alligator after it has been captured. The only exception is the Lake Eufaula Zone where hunters must release any alligator that is less than 8 feet in total length. In all other alligator hunting zones, culling is prohibited by law.

“Many folks who have been going to classes for years and are now getting the training online understand about culling,” said WFF director Chuck Sykes. “However, I think some hunters have abused our leniency in enforcing the regulation. We just want to make sure that everybody is aware that culling is not a legal practice. This is not a fishing trip where you practice catch-and-release. This is a cold-blooded animal that expends a great deal of energy during the fight and that could end up as an unexpected mortality.”

“When you have 5,000 or so people apply for one of these coveted tags, we don’t want people abusing the process and making it look like a catch-and-release fishing tournament,” Sykes said. “We just wanted to clarify that culling is not allowed.”

This regulation has been in effect since the 2018 Alabama alligator season.

“Just as you don’t capture and release any other game animal, hunters are not allowed to practice releasing alligators unless they are hunting in the Lake Eufaula Zone, where there is a minimum harvest length of 8 feet,” said Wildlife Section Chief Keith Gauldin. “A captured gator is your gator, so be sure to review the training videos on the website. The videos give you helpful tips on how to judge the size of an alligator.”

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Gauldin said there is a direct correlation between the distance from the gator’s nostrils to its eyes and the total length of the animal. If the distance from the nostrils to the eyes is 10 inches, the estimated total length of the alligator would be 10 feet.

To learn more about alligator hunting and the no culling regulation the WFF has six training videos for hunters and the public to view.

Gauldin said that in the past, the WFF has seen social media posts of hunters capturing alligators, having their pictures taken with it, and then releasing the animal to go pursue a bigger gator.

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“We don’t want hunters to cause any undue stress on these animals,” Gauldin said. “By regulation, an alligator is considered captured once it is secured with a snare around a leg or the head and is secured boat-side and in control. It must be immediately dispatched and the temporary tag applied. We want to stress that before hunters pursue an alligator and throw a hook at it or any of the legal means of catching an alligator, they should view that gator and estimate its size closely. They need to make sure that’s the one they want to harvest.”

Gauldin said another rule that will be closely enforced this year involves boats providing assistance during the alligator hunt.

“When hunting parties have multiple vessels involved, only the boat with the tag holder can have the capture equipment in it,” Gauldin said. “The other vessels that are assisting can only have spotlights, but no capture equipment.”

The only approved capture methods are hand-held snares, snatch hooks (hand-held or rod/reel), harpoons (with attached line) and bowfishing equipment (with the line attached from arrow to bow or crossbow).

This not Louisiana, as seen on the TV show “Swamp People” where the hunters tie a chain to a tree and bait it with a pork shoulder. The use of bait is not allowed at all in Alabama.

Gauldin said that WFF’s Enforcement Section will be out in full force during the alligator season to make sure that Alabama’s hunting regulations are followed.

“There is a high likelihood hunters will be checked by a Conservation Enforcement Officer at least on one of the nights of the season,” Gauldin said. “It’s a good idea to put all of your identification, hunting license and alligator tag in a Ziploc bag for easy access instead of having to dig it out of your wallet at one o’clock in the morning. Have that ready for presentation when you get checked. It will make it easier for our officers and make for a more timely check for the hunters.”

Gauldin warned against drinking and gator hunting.

“We want hunters to have a good time but a safe time,” he said. “Combining alcohol and alligator hunting is not a good idea.”

Gauldin also warned that everyone on a gator hunt should have a personal flotation device.

“It’s a good idea to have that PFD on if the boat is under throttle, especially at night,” Gauldin said. “Obstructions are much harder to see at night. We just want them to have a safe hunt.”

Alabama has five alligator hunting zones in South Alabama, the traditional range of alligators in the state.

The Southwest Zone has the most tags at 100. The Southwest Zone includes all of Mobile and Baldwin counties north of I-10 and private and public waters in Washington, Clarke and Monroe counties that lie east of U.S. Highway 43 and south of U.S. Highway 84. The 2020 season dates are sunset on August 13 until sunrise on August 16 and sunset on August 20 to sunrise on August 23.

The Coastal Zone will have 50 tags. It was created just last year to address the rising interaction between alligators and people along the Coast, where the WFF receives most of its nuisance alligator complaints. The Coastal Zone includes the private and public waters in Baldwin and Mobile counties that lie south of I-10. The 2020 season dates are the same as the Southwest Zone.

The Southeast Zone has 40 tags this year. It covers the private and public waters in Barbour, Coffee, Covington, Dale, Geneva, Henry, Houston, and Russell counties, excluding Alabama state public waters in Walter F. George Reservoir (Lake Eufaula) and its navigable tributaries. The 2020 season dates are sunset on August 8 until sunrise on September 7.

The West Central Zone will get 50 tags. It includes private and public waters in Monroe (north of U.S. Highway 84), Wilcox, and Dallas counties. The 2020 season dates are sunset on August 13 to sunrise on August 16 and sunset on August 20 to sunrise on August 23.

The Lake Eufaula Zone has 20 tags this year. It includes Alabama state public waters in Walter F. George Reservoir (Lake Eufaula) and its navigable tributaries, south of Highway 208, Omaha Bridge (excluding Eufaula National Wildlife Refuge). The 2020 season dates are sunset on August 14 until sunrise on October 5. The Lake Eufaula Zone is the only zone that allows daytime hunting.

Alabama’s alligator hunters consistently harvest between 65 and 70 percent of the available tags.

While Louisiana and Florida may have more alligators than Alabama, the world record was taken in 2014 by Mandy Stokes of Camden. That gator was 15 feet, 9 inches long and weighed an incredible 1,011.5 pounds. The Stokes alligator shocked many people who thought that a gator had to be over 60 years old to be that big. Analysis of the leg bone of the alligator showed that it was only 24 to 28 years old.

The oldest known alligator is Muja who was hatched in a zoo in Germany sometime in the 1930s. In 1937, he was transferred as nearly an adult to the Belgrade Zoo where he has lived for the last 83 years.

August is also the month to renew your hunting and fishing licenses.

Alabama is world renown for the plethora of hunting and fishing options for sportsmen. Whether it is fishing for red snapper, cobia, spotted sea trout, flounder, amberjack, yellowfin tuna or croaker off the Alabama Gulf Coast; hunting for whitetail deer, hogs, coyotes, alligators, raccoon or fox in Alabama’s forests; fishing for largemouth bass, crappie, catfish, and bluegill in Alabama’s lakes; or hunting sandhill cranes, turkeys, geese, ducks, doves, quail, crows, and other fowl; or small game hunting for squirrels, rabbits, opossum, beaver and nutria, Alabama has an outdoor sport for you.

The SEC college football season has already been pushed back three weeks and shortened by two games due to the coronavirus crisis. Attendance is likely going to be limited to just 25 percent capacity or less if they can somehow manage to salvage the 2020 season. High school and youth sports have never been more dangerous to play due to the coronavirus global pandemic and it is even now dangerous to be in the stands as a spectator.

Hunting and fishing would provide a safe recreational activity the whole family can enjoy where social distancing is actually normal.

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Environment

New online system available to report unsolicited seed packages from China

Brandon Moseley

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Photos of packaging and unsolicited seeds received by Alabama residents. (ADAI)

The Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries on Tuesday said it is continuing to collect reports from Alabamians who received unsolicited packages from China containing seeds. ADAI has established an online reporting system for residents who received suspicious seeds they did not order.

The department provided the following guidance: Do not plant the mystery seeds. Do not dump them on the ground or release them into the environment. Do not dispose of the seeds and do not open a sealed package. Report any unordered seed packets to ADAI. At the end of the online form, consumers will be given directions on how to store the seeds properly until contacted by ADAI.

Maintain the seeds, mailing labels and packaging until someone from AGAI or USDA contacts you. This may be used for evidence.

The Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries has received multiple reports of “unsolicited” seeds of Chinese origin being delivered to residents across the state through the United States Postal Service. The packing is often mislabeled as “jewelry.”

So far, residents from several other states including Arizona, Delaware, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Ohio, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia and Washington State have all reported receiving suspicious packages of seeds. This practice is known as agricultural smuggling.

“We urge all residents to be on the lookout for similar packages. These seeds could be invasive or be harmful to livestock,” said Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries Rick Pate.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture will be releasing official guidance including additional instructions for reporting unsolicited seeds. These instructions will be shared as soon as possible.

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Currently, there is not any evidence indicating this is something other than a “brushing scam” where people receive unsolicited items from a seller who then posts false customer reviews to boost sales.

ADAI is currently collecting seed packages from recipients and is testing its contents for unknown compounds, noxious weed seed and invasive species. This testing will determine if they contain anything that could negatively impact U.S. agriculture or the environment.

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Environment

Alabama seeks to bring more electric vehicle charging stations to the state

Staff

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Gov. Kay Ivey has announced that the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs has partnered with the Alabama Clean Fuels Coalition to create a statewide plan to provide more electric vehicle charging stations throughout the state.

The plan, presented to Ivey, includes input from a group of experts to develop EV infrastructure around Alabama’s interstates. The primary goal is to make it easier for drivers to charge their personal vehicles while traveling around the state.

“This plan will allow for grant funding opportunities that expand access to EV charging stations along heavily traveled areas of our state and invest in Alabama’s future by supporting consumers’ choice to adopt electric vehicles,” Ivey said. “This is the beginning stage of a great project that will continue moving Alabama forward as more automotive companies, including Mercedes Benz and the numerous other manufacturers here in Alabama, develop EV technology.”

The plan will use funding from the Volkswagen settlement along with funding allocated by the Alabama Legislature to support projects that bring EV charging stations to the state. ADECA manages the VW settlement for Alabama.

In 2015, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued a notice that Volkswagen had violated the federal Clean Air Act by using software to circumvent emissions testing. VW agreed to pay more than $14.7 billion to settle the allegations. The settlement is divided into three programs, one of which requires investments in projects to reduce diesel emissions. Alabama’s direct allocation from the overall settlement is more than $25.4 million. Approximately $3.2 million of these funds will be targeted to support EV infrastructure in the state.

ADECA manages a wide range of programs that support economic development, law enforcement, victim services, energy conservation, water resource management, recreation and more.

The nonprofit Alabama Clean Fuels Coalition is the state’s principal coordinating point for alternative fuels and advanced technology vehicles.

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