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Environment

Alabama taxpayers will pay to defend Trump administration rollback of Endangered Species Act

Eddie Burkhalter

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Alabama taxpayers will pay as much as $30,000 to a Los Angeles law firm to defend President Donald Trump’s substantial weakening of the Endangered Species Act, according to state records. 

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall led a coalition of 13 states in the Dec. 9 filing in a California district court in defense of the Trump Administration’s changes to protections for endangered species. 

California and 16 other states in September filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California against the Trump administration over rollbacks of the provisions in the Endangered Species Act. 

Alabama is to pay attorney Paul Beard II at the Los Angeles firm FisherBroyles, LLP an hourly rate of $195 up to $30,000 to represent the state through Jan. 1, 2022, according to a legal contract that was to be reviewed by the Alabama Legislature’s Contract Review Committee on Wednesday. 

Those changes to the Endangered Species Act, enacted in August 2019, include ending wide protections for species newly deemed threatened and a rule mandating that federal agencies take into consideration the financial cost of protecting certain species before being placed on the list of endangered animals, a factor that has never been part of the government’s equation in protecting vulnerable species. 

The Trump administration’s rollbacks also make it harder for regulators to factor in climate change when determining protections for at-risk wildlife. 

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“California is home to hundreds of endangered and threatened species, and wildlife that owes its continued existence to the Endangered Species Act, including the iconic bald eagle,” said California Attorney General Becerra in a statement on the lawsuit. “As we face the unprecedented threat of a climate emergency, now is the time to strengthen our planet’s biodiversity, not to destroy it. The only thing we want to see extinct are the beastly policies of the Trump Administration putting our ecosystems in critical danger. We’re coming out swinging to defend this consequential law – humankind and the species with whom we share this planet depend on it.”

Of concern to the coalition of states suing the Trump administration are actions of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service to: (List from statement by California Attorney General Becerra) 

  • Inject economic considerations into the Endangered Species Act’s science-driven, species-focused analyses;
  • Restrict the circumstances under which species can be listed as threatened;
  • Expand the Act’s narrow exemptions for designating critical habitats and limit the circumstances under which a habitat would be designated, especially where climate change poses a threat;
  • Reduce consultation and analyses required before federal agency action;
  • Radically depart from the longstanding, conservation-based agency policy and practice of providing the same level of protection to threatened species afforded to endangered species, which is necessary to prevent a species from becoming endangered;
  • Push the responsibility for protecting imperiled species and habitats onto the state, detracting from the states’ efforts to carry out their own programs and imposing significant costs; and
  • Exclude analysis of and public input on the rules’ significant environmental impacts.

David J. Hayes, director of the State Energy and Environmental Impact Center at the New York University School of Law and former deputy interior secretary under President Barack Obama, told The New York Times that the changes would “straitjacket the scientists to take climate change out of consideration” when determining how to best protect wildlife.

Alabama’s latest entry into the fight follows several others since 2016 that challenged aspects of the Endangered Species Act and sought to roll back protections. 

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“While the federal government, states, and landowners all wish to safeguard our environment, over the last decade we have witnessed an expansion of federal regulation that was both unlawful and unnecessary. Agencies claimed powers Congress never gave them and imposed burdens on landowners that did not benefit the environment,” Alabama Attorney General Marshall said in a statement Dec. 9 on his decision to intervene in the California lawsuit on behalf of the Trump administration. 

“This federal overreach triggered a number of successful lawsuits by states and landowners. Alabama has led in several of these legal challenges, and we continue to advocate in court for a transparent and commonsense implementation of the Endangered Species Act through our support of the Trump administration’s reforms,’ Marshall’s statement read. 

Alabama is joined in defense of the changes by Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Kansas, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Utah, West Virginia and Wyoming. 

Alabama in November 2016 led another coalition of 20 states in a lawsuit against the Trump administration challenging previous aspects of the Endangered Species Act. Marshall and the other plaintiff’s dropped that suit in March 2018 after the federal government agreed to rules changes. 

Marshall in August 2017 joined attorneys general in 18 other states in asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a previous ruling by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals which allowed the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to declare as critical habitat portions of Mississippi forest land for the endangered dusky gopher frog. 

The timber company Weyerhaeuser sued, arguing that the frog didn’t live on the land and couldn’t, without changes. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed, ruling that to be considered “critical habitat” for a species that species must live on the land in question at that time.

 

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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Environment

SNAP recipients approved for additional aid in 20 counties hit by Zeta

Those who qualify automatically get an additional 40 percent of their monthly benefits loaded to their EBT cards. 

Eddie Burkhalter

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A satellite image of Hurricane Zeta approaching the Gulf Coast. (VIA NWS/NOAA)

People living in 20 Alabama counties impacted by Hurricane Zeta who receive food assistance through SNAP will automatically get an additional 40 percent of their monthly benefits loaded to their EBT cards. 

Impacted counties are listed by the Alabama Department of Human Resources (DHR) as: Autauga, Bibb, Butler, Calhoun, Chilton, Clarke, Clay, Cleburne, Coosa, Dallas, Elmore, Lowndes, Mobile, Monroe, Perry, Randolph, Shelby, Talladega, Tallapoosa and Wilcox.

“Many of Alabama’s families most in need are facing tremendous challenges putting food on the table in the aftermath of Hurricane Zeta. Offering a helping hand in the form of these replacement benefits will prevent hunger and ease their financial burden at an especially difficult time,” said DHR Commissioner Nancy Buckner in a statement. 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service approved the additional benefits Sunday at the request of DHR, according to a press release from the department. The additional benefits are meant to replace food lost during the widespread power outages when the storm struck in late October.

Those who receive SNAP benefits and who live in counties not listed above, and who were without power for more than four hours following the hurricane, can request replacement benefits by visiting their local DHR office to complete an Affidavit of Loss to determine replacement eligibility.

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Environment

Longtime Alabama State Parks manager Tim Haney honored for lifetime service

Several Alabama State Parks employees were honored at the recent Alabama Restaurant and Hospitality Association’s Stars of the Industry Awards gala.

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From left to right: Cheaha State Park Superintendent was a finalist for the Small Hotelier of the Year Award; Emily Vanderford was a finalist for the Spirit Award; and Tim Haney, Operational Supervisor for the North Region,ß was honored as an Industry Icon Award recipient. (CONTRIBUTED)

The Alabama Restaurant and Hospitality Association honored 43-year State Parks veteran Tim Haney with its Industry Icon Award at the recent 2020 Stars of the Industry Awards gala.

Haney currently serves as Alabama State Parks’ Operational Supervisor for the North Region, his latest post in a career that started with the parks system in 1977.

“Tim Haney’s dedication and commitment to the Alabama State Parks system is unmatched,” said Chris Blankenship, Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. “Everyone in the parks system admires and respects Tim. He’s done it all during his career, from leading individual parks to now overseeing 10 parks and guiding them to financial security while implementing innovative programs.”

“There is no doubt that Tim Haney is one of the most respected and appreciated people within the State Parks system,” Blankenship said, “and it’s wonderful to see ARHA honor him for his many years of dedicated service.”

The Icon Award is largely considered the ARHA’s lifetime achievement award.

Haney joined the Alabama State Parks system as a parks worker at DeSoto State Park in 1977 and became a ranger at Joe Wheeler State Park in 1981. His career has included stints as assistant manager, assistant superintendent or superintendent at DeSoto, Joe Wheeler and Oak Mountain State Parks.

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In 2016, Haney became Operational Supervisor for the North Region of the parks system, giving him responsibility to oversee 10 parks. His list of successes includes achieving financial profitability among all 10 parks, erasing decades of backlogged maintenance to park facilities, creating new and innovative recreational programs, and leading the parks through the recovery from multiple natural disasters.

“Tim Haney has been a mentor to so many state parks employees during his more than four decades serving in our parks,” said Greg Lein, Director of the Alabama State Parks System. “No one loves the parks system more, and I am pleased that he was honored by the ARHA in such a meaningful way.”

Several other State Parks employees or others connected to the parks ranked among the finalists for several other awards at Monday’s 2020 Stars of the Industry Awards gala:

  • Renee Raney, Small Hotelier of the Year Award: A 20-year parks veteran, she serves as superintendent at Cheaha State Park and manages a park with a hotel, restaurant, general store, swimming pool, cabins, chalets, group lodge, campground and historic buildings.
  • Emily Vanderford, Spirit Award: A five-year employee of the parks system, she spearheaded and managed the implementation of a new system-wide online reservation system, which launched in August 2020.
  • Back of the House Restaurant Employee of the Year, Dathan Terry, The Lodge at Gulf State Park | A line cook at The Lodge for two years, he is known as a reliable and hard worker who does whatever is necessary to get the job done.
  • Front of the House Restaurant Employee of the Year: Braquette Blair, The Lodge at Gulf State Park | A server assistant in Foodcraft, Blair has an unstoppable work ethic and has served as a banquet server, in-room dining server and restaurant server.
  • Best New Culinarian of the Year: Jacob Gibson, The Lodge at Gulf State Park | Gibson’s colleagues recognize him as a rising star in the culinary industry who has shown a willingness to share his talent and knowledge with others.
  • Hotelier of the Year: Bill Bennett, The Lodge at Gulf State Park | Since joining Valor Hospitality Partners in June 2013, he has served as Director of Sales, Regional Director of Sales and General Manager. His experience has proven invaluable in the successful opening and operation of The Lodge at Gulf State Park.

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Environment

Gun season begins tomorrow in two new deer zones

Gun season begins on November 21 in the rest of the state with special muzzleloader and air rifle seasons beginning on November 16.

Brandon Moseley

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Deer gun season begins Saturday in parts of the state. In July, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources announced the creation of two new deer hunting zones: zones D and E. Today in Zones D and E it is black powder musket and air rifle season. Deer gun season in those two new zones begins Saturday. In most of the state — zones A, B and C — it is still bow season. Gun season begins Nov. 21 in the rest of the state with special muzzleloader and air rifle seasons beginning on Nov. 16.

Zone D includes parts of Cullman, Franklin, Lawrence and Winston counties in North Central Alabama. Zone E includes areas in Barbour, Calhoun, Cleburne and Russell counties. Archery season for zones D and E opened back on Oct. 1. Gun deer season for antlered bucks will open in both zones on Nov. 7. Antlered bucks can be taken in zones D and E through Jan. 27, 2021. The unantlered deer harvest dates differ between zones D and E, and both zones close to unantlered deer harvest earlier in January.

Be very 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. Hunting deer with guns is legal and allowable in zones D and E but is banned if you hike outside of those two smaller zones.

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.

You must purchase a license to hunt in the state of Alabama, and you must report any and all deer taken to the state. The game check app can be installed on your smartphone. Wildlife biologists use the data to set future hunting zones and harvest limits.

“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.”

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Whitetail deer are the largest game species in the state with a harvestable wild 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.

This will be the second year that Alabama has offered sandhill crane hunting. A select group of four hundred hunters won crane hunting privileges in a drawing in October. The state banned crane hunting a lifetime ago because the popular game species had dwindled so dramatically, Their comeback, like the restoration of deer, American alligators, and bald eagles has been a conservation success story. Eighty years ago all three species were threatened almost to the point of extinction in the state of Alabama.

ADCNR is once again offering hard card licenses for the 2020-2021 season. For an additional $5 fee, purchasers can select from six new designs including white-tailed deer, wild turkey, wood duck, crappie, redfish and a “We the People” design featuring the Second Amendment.

Alabama is rich in natural diversity with more than 1.3 million acres of public hunting land and some of the most liberal seasons and bag limits in the nation. Public land hunting opportunities in the state include Wildlife Management Areas, Special Opportunity Areas, Physically Disabled Hunting Areas, Forever Wild land, U.S. Forest Service land, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers land, Tennessee Valley Authority land and several National Wildlife Refuges.

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While hunting is one of the safest outdoor recreational activities, each year unnecessary and completely avoidable hunting accidents happen and some are fatal. ADCNR reminds hunters to practice hunter safety including routine treestand maintenance and safety checks, always using a full-body safety harness when hunting from a treestand, wearing hunter orange and practicing firearm safety. Guns and alcohol do not mix well.

For additional hunter safety tips, visit the hunter education section of outdooralabama.com.

(original reporting by Outdoor Alabama and WSFA contributed to this report.)

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Corruption

Prosecution accepts misdemeanor plea in high-profile environmental administrator’s case 

The plea deal came shortly before Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Stephen C. Wallace was to hear arguments on selective and vindictive prosecution.

Bill Britt

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Almost two years ago, Trump administration EPA Region 4 Administrator Onis “Trey” Glenn III was charged with more than a dozen state felony ethics violations. On Monday, he pleaded guilty to three misdemeanor charges after reaching a plea agreement with the prosecution.

The plea deal came shortly before Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Stephen C. Wallace was to hear arguments on selective and vindictive prosecution.

According to a statement from the Ethics Commission at the time, Glenn, along with former Alabama Environmental Management Commissioner Scott Phillips, was charged after a Jefferson County grand jury returned indictments against the two on Nov. 9, 2018, according to a statement from the Ethics Commission.

Rather than moving forward with the case, prosecutors dropped the felony charges against Glenn. They opted to reach an agreement to accept a plea on three counts of “unintentional” violations of the ethics code. Glenn received a two-year suspended sentence for his actions.

“In the interest of efficiency, we were pleased to take advantage of the opportunity to resolve this matter,” Glenn’s attorney Matt Hart told APR when reached for comment. “My client pleaded to unintentional, misdemeanor violations of the ethics law, and the matter is concluded.”

Questions surround the prosecution’s decision to settle the case for a confession to minor offensives in such a high profile case. Still, from the beginning, the case was marred by allegations that the Alabama Ethics Commission’s lawyers had mishandled the investigation and indictments.

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Indictments against Glenn and Phillips were reported by AL.com even before the pair was arrested or served with the indictments. In AL.com’s report, Ethics Commission Executive Director Tom Albritton said that then-Jefferson County District Attorney Mike Anderton had requested the Ethics Commission help indict the two men.

As first reported by APR, shortly after Glenn and Phillips’ indictments, Albritton and his team’s actions raised serious questions about the process that led to charges against the two men. APR reported that Albritton and Ethics Commission lawyer Cynthia Propst Raulston approached Anderton, and he did not request help with the case from the commission, as was reported in AL.com.

Later, APR confirmed that the Ethics Commission approached Anderton, contradicting Albritton’s public statement. In a sworn statement given on Feb. 9, 2019, Anderton said it was Ethics Commission lawyers who approached him, as first reported by APR in November of last year.

According to Anderton, in the fall of 2018, Propst Raulston approached him because “she had a case she wanted to present to the Jefferson County Grand Jury.”

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He further states, “I told Ms. Raulston that I would facilitate her appearance before the grand jury but that my office did not have the resources to support her case. I also told her that she would have to prosecute the case herself.”

These and other aberrations came into sharper focus when Hart — the state’s most famous prosecutor of his generation turned defense attorney — began diving into the particulars of the prosecution’s case.

Glenn’s defense argued from the start that procedural process was circumvented when Albritton and Propst Raulston took the complaint directly to a grand jury rather than the Ethics Commission as prescribed by the Legislature.

An ethics commissioner told APR privately that the commission was never informed about a complaint against the two men, nor was the investigation.

According to internal sources, actions taken by Albritton and Propst Raulston created turmoil at the commission and raised a question about who would prosecute the case on the state’s behalf.

During the process, Albritton, Propst Raulston, and other attorneys for the commission asked the attorney general’s office to take over the case; however, according to sources within the office, the AG turned them down after a review found “statutory problems” with how the case against Glenn and Phillips was handled.

In a motion to dismiss, the defense said, “In sum, the Ethics Commission Staff trampled Mr. Glenn’s rights in obtaining the indictment without giving him his required notice and an opportunity to be heard as required by the Alabama Ethics Act, and then after indictment denied him notice as guaranteed by the Grand Jury Secrecy Act and failed to protect his presumption of innocence as required by the Rules of Professional Conduct.”

While not explicitly noted in the motion to dismiss, the relationship between environmental group GASP and the prosecution was a subject that would have been heard in the hearing on selective and vindictive prosecution.

Immediately following Glenn and Phillips’ indictment, GASP posted a celebratory tweet, even taking credit for the indictment.

Former GASP director Stacie Propst is the sister of Ethics Commission lawyer Propst Raulston who presented the case to the Jefferson County grand jury.

While many in the environmental community celebrated Glenn’s indictment, the defense argued the prosecution took an illegal short cut to indict him, which denied Glenn due process and amounted to selective and vindictive prosecution.

Monday’s plea agreement ended the two-year drama without further exposure as to what happened behind the scene. Phillips’s case is still pending.

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