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House considers bill to allow alternative materials as temporary cover at landfills

Brandon Moseley

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Tuesday, the Alabama House of Representatives passed a bill to change the statutory definition so that temporary “cover” in landfills can be a material other than “earth.” Earth is also known as soil or just dirt.

House Bill 140 is sponsored by State Representative Alan Baker (R-Brewton).

Rep. Baker said that all the bill does is allow the use alternative daily cover in solid waste disposal landfills.

“The EPA has allowed this since 1979,” Baker said. It would save landfills the cost of using earth for daily cover.

Rep. Thomas Jackson (D-Thomasville( said, “Everything has been deregulated since 2016. We used to have very good EPA rules.”

“This does not change anything in the operating rules for landfills,” Baker said. Alternative covers could be limbs and debris, demolition waste, incinerator waste, etc.

Alternative daily cover is often described as cover material other than earthen material placed on the surface of the active face of a municipal solid waste landfill at the end of each operating day. It is utilized to control vectors, fires, odors, blowing litter, and scavenging. Federal and various state regulations require landfill operators to use such earthen material unless other materials are allowed as alternatives. (Mitchell Williams writing on Oct 31 in JDSUPRA)

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Soil cover can use valuable air space. Further, it can generate the need to excavate and haul soil to the facility. Alternative daily covers are often advocated to be a more efficient and cost-effective means of cover. (Williams)

Baker said that it would be up to ADEM (the Alabama Department of Environmental Management) in the permit whether to allow a proposed alternative cover or not.

Jackson asked. “There is a lot of old buildings being demolished and a lot of them have asbestos. What is to keep that from leaching into the earth and the groundwater?”

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“This bill does not address any of your concerns,” Baker said. “Cover is there to keep odors down, keep it from blowing and from keeping rats and other pests out.”

Rep. Kyle South (R-Fayette) said, “Thank you for taking the time to share my concerns with you. My concern is the list of materials that could be used as cover. You know that in Jefferson County we have had some major issues with material not being used as cover properly.”

Baker said, “This bill does not change any of the materials used as cover?”

South asked, “How many landfills use biosolids as cover.”

Baker answered, “As far as I know, zero.”

“This would keep us from having to use that good earth in landfills when other materials are available. If it becomes a nuisance ADEM can revoke a cover on the permit. Daily cover has to be approved at the discretion of ADEM.”

Rep. Matt Simpson (R-Daphne) said, “Thank you for bringing the bill and cleaning up some of the language to make it more effective for the people of Alabama.”

Baker said, “Demolition material could be sheetrock could be a demolished lumber, plywood, many number of things.”

Rep. Mary Moore (D-Birmingham) said, “I think in the long run earth would be better. This is not the solution that we need.”

“In Jefferson County we have Human waste coming in in poop trains,” Moore said. “I can’t even foresee how the temporary layering would work.

Baker said, “This has been in place for three decades. This is already in place.”

Moore replied, “Its not working and ADEM knows its not working. I don’t think it needs to be codified. We need to go back and look at alternative. I have several landfills in my district.”

“Regardless of the cost of earth it might be the best solution,” Moore said.

Baker responded, “Earth is an excellent covering, but there are alternatives that can work as well.”

Rep. John Rogers (R-Birmingham) asked, “What about that poop train that is coming in to Jefferson County.”

Baker said, “This is not something that is part of this bill.”

“I don’t trust ADEM anymore considering what happened in North Birmingham,” Rogers said. “They can cover with household waste.”

Baker said that only materials not constituted as a risk to health or are not a hazard can be used.

Rep. Pebblin Warren (D-Tuskegee) said, “It is upsetting to me that so many of these landfills have located in Black communities.”

An amendment by Warren was tabled 55 to36.

This was a topic in an October 11, 2019 case before the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals.

Three individuals (collectively, “Smith”) challenged in Montgomery Circuit Court ADEM’s rules allowing the operators of the Stone’s Throw Landfill in Tallapoosa County to use at least one material other than earth as alternative daily cover.

The Court of Civil Appeals ruled in October that ADEM had exceeded its mandate by allowing the landfill operator to use “alternative covers” when Alabama law expressly says that landfills must cover their waste every day with “earth.”

HB140, if passed, would address this oversight in the Alabama legal code so that ADEM and the landfills can legally continue to operate as they have for decades.

A Senate version of the same bill received a favorable report on Wednesday from the Fiscal Responsibility and Economic Development Committee.

The House is expected to resume debate on HB140 on Thursday.

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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Mark Gidley announces run for Rep. Becky Nordgren’s House seat

Brandon Moseley

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The Alabama State House at 11 South Union Street in Montgomery. (APR)

Republican voters in Etowah County went to the polls and elected State Rep. Becky Nordgren, R-Gadsden, as their nominee for revenue commissioner, defeating Jeff Overstreet in the Republican primary runoff.

No Democrat qualified for the seat, so Nordgren will likely be the commissioner once the current commissioner’s term runs out. At that time, the governor will call a special election to fill Nordgren’s soon-to-be vacant House seat.

Mark Gidley has announced that he will seek the Republican nomination for State House District 29.

“I have a strong desire to continue to promote pro-life, pro-family, and strong conservative values in Montgomery as the Representative for the people of District 29,” Gidley said. “I have been a member of the pro-life community for many years, serving as a board member for the Etowah County Pregnancy Center, and I will fight in Montgomery to continue to make Alabama a Pro-Life State. I believe in family values, and the traditional family created in the image of God. I will fight for these values as a Representative in the Alabama House”.

Mark Gidley is a lifelong resident of Etowah County and is heavily involved in his community. Gidley is the pastor of the Faith Worship Center Church of God in Glencoe.

Gidley says that it is his desire to serve this community and the area of District 29 with bold and conservative leadership.

Mark is married to the former Kathy Chapman of Hokes Bluff. They have two daughters and four grandchildren. Mark is a member of the Executive Committee of the Etowah County Republican Party.

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State Rep. Ron Johnson, longest-serving House member, has died

Brandon Moseley

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State Rep. Ronald “Ron” Johnson, R-Sylacauga, died Tuesday of complications from liver cancer. He was 76.

“I was saddened to learn of the passing of Rep. Johnson this evening, following his recent cancer diagnosis,” said Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey. “Ron and I have served together for many years. He was a real champion for the communities in Talladega, Coosa, and Clay. He was engaged with the needs of his constituents, and never turned them away. He has offered much of his life to serving the people of Alabama, and I know his colleagues in the House, friends in the Senate and I will miss working with him. I pray that his loved ones feel peace knowing he is no longer suffering and is finally at rest.”

Johnson, at the time of his death, was the longest-serving continuous member of the House of Representatives. Johnson’s District 33 seat includes portions of Clay, Coosa and Talladega counties. He was first elected as a Democrat in 1978. He switched to the Republican Party in 1998.

“Ron Johnson was one of the most respected members of the Alabama House, and he served with distinction since 1978,” said Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia. “In my years as a member and speaker, I valued Ron not only for his institutional knowledge that helped guide me but also for his friendship. He made sure the voices of the people of his district were always heard. My wife Debbie and I send our thoughts and prayers to his family.”

“Losing any member of the House is difficult, but losing the body’s longest-serving member magnifies the loss even more,” McCutcheon said. “Rep. Johnson was someone I could always turn to for advice and wise counsel both before and after I become Speaker of the House, and I will miss the support he provided. We will pray for comfort and solace for his family and all who loved him.”

“Because of his 42 years of service, State Rep. Ron Johnson was considered an institution both within the Alabama House of Representatives and the House Republican Caucus, and his loss will be felt,” said House Majority Leader Nathanial Ledbetter, R-Rainsville. “Rep. Johnson’s experience, institutional knowledge, and decades of service made his a voice that commanded the respect and attention of his colleagues. On behalf of the Alabama House Republican Caucus, our prayers of comfort go out to his family, his friends, and the constituents that he served so ably for so long.”

“Cindy and I were deeply saddened to learn of the passing of our dear friend and my former colleague State Representative Ron Johnson,” said Secretary of State John H Merrill. “Representative Johnson has selflessly served our great state for 42 years, and I am incredibly grateful for his friendship, leadership, and guidance during the many years I have been fortunate enough to know him.”

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“He leaves behind a legacy that will set an example for future legislators to follow for decades to come,” Merrill added. “His courageous attitude and eagerness to lend a helping hand to any in need will be deeply missed. His family is in our thoughts and prayers during this difficult time.”

Johnson served on the agenda setting House Rules Committee. He was vice chair of both the House Economic Development and Tourism Committee, and the House Health Committee.

Johnson was a pharmacist. He had bachelor’s degrees in chemistry and biology from Florida State University and a pharmacy degree from Auburn University.

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He is survived by his wife Susan and his daughter Stephanie Lee.

State law requires Gov. Kay Ivey to call a special election to fill the vacancy.

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Legislature told budgets are in good shape despite pandemic and economic downturn

Brandon Moseley

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Members of the Alabama Senate were in Montgomery Thursday for hearings on the budget, where Senators were told that both of the budgets are in good shape looking forward to 2021.

The meeting was chaired by Senate Finance & Taxation Committee Chairman Greg Albritton.

Kirk Fulford is the Deputy Director for the Fiscal Division of the Legislative Services Agency.

“I don’t know a better time to do this than in the middle of the biggest health emergency we have ever see and a recession,” Fulford said of the Senate decision to hold a budget hearing in July while the legislature is not in session. “I hope you hold more of these between now and the start of the next legislative session.”

“Both budgets you passed are in good shape looking forward to 2021,” Fulford said predicting that both the State General Fund (SGF) and education trust fund (ETF) would be able to avoid proration even if the economic downturn is protracted and state revenues experience no growth at all in fiscal year 2021, which starts October 1.

The state of Alabama uses a very arcane budgeting system where over 93 percent of revenues are earmarked and all the money goes into two budgets set by the Legislature (the ETF and SGF). There are also $billion of dollars in revenues to state agencies not included in the budgeting process. The state also collects another roughly $7.5 billion in federal dollars in a typical year, most of it in matching funds.

Despite the economic crash that occurred in March due to the forced economic shutdown and the lingering economic costs to fight the spread of the coronavirus, Fulford said that he expected that both budgets will finish 2020 with growth. Much of that was due to the robust economy the state experienced from Oct. 1 to Feb. 28 before the coronavirus crisis and Fulford broke the state’s fiscal performance down for both budgets into separate income statements for the Oct. 1 to Feb. 29 period and the Mar. 1 to June 30 period.

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The SGF, which funds non-education state agencies, budget was $2,151,954,704.

“Things were growing great through February,” Fulford said.

Since then the state’s lodging tax receipts have experienced a decrease of $7,4 million and oil and gas revenues are down $4.4 million; however the new Simplified Sellers USE Tax grew by $51 million thru June. More people are buying more of their stuff online and SSUT allows the state to collect much more taxes on those online sales.

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“The General Fund’s strength is built on several changes that have been made by the legislature,” Fulford said. “The state has not prorated the general fund budget since 2012.”

Fulford predicted that the state will not need to prorate the general fund, “Even if there is a recurrent COVID situation and even if there is another shutdown.”

Fulford praised the legislators for moving that growth revenue to the general fund. Prior to the redistribution of use taxes from the ETF to the SGF, use taxes brought in less than $one million to the general fund. The Simplified Sellers Use Tax and the Supreme Court ruling in Wayfair vs South Dakota changed all of that. In FY2019 the SSUT brought in $70 million. Fulford anticipates that it will bring in $125 million in FY2020 is complete.

In addition to the SSUT Fulford credited legislators for their conservative budgeting and for in 2012 the legislature changed how the Alabama Trust Fund pays out its oil and gas trust fund moneys from a market fluctuating model to a fixed payment model. The Alabama Trust Fund will pay $104 million for the SGF in the current year and $116 million for the next year.

Fulford predicted that the SGF will have 2021 receipts of $2.406,000 receipts with $46 million in growth in FY2021. Fulford said that the FY2021 SGF budget passed by the legislature is $170 million more than the FY2020, but $170 million less than the Governor had predicted in February. “It is still the highest general fund in state history.”

Fulford next broke down the ETF, the education budget.

“We were anticipating above average growth rate in 2020,” Fulford said.

The 2020 ETF budget estimated receipts of $7,582,260.

Fulford said that thru February the ETF receipts were up 8.04 percent primarily due to increase in income and sales tax revenues. From March 1 to June 30 revenues have declined by 17.83 percent versus the same period in 2019. ETF revenues in that period have declined by $405,862,551.

Fulford said that part of that is due to moving the payment dates back, both the income tax deadline of April 15 to July and the quarterly estimated payments.

“We will know more by the end of the month,” Fulford predicted, “We anticipate that a lot of that money will come in in July. We will know by the end of the month what those numbers look like.”

Despite the economic collapse total ETF growth for 2020 is 1.09 percent. Net receipts are $5,473,075 by the end of June. $58,980,858 in growth due to the large annual growth before the COVID-19 impact of $224.5 million.

Fulford said that a provision in the Rolling Reserve Act allowed the state Finance Director to transfer $301.6 million from the budget Stabilization Fund to alleviate cash flow problems in the ETF. The state may not need that money anymore by the end of July, depending on July receipts.

Citing the Rolling Reserve Act and the conservative budget passed by the legislature, Fulford predicted that the state an cover ETF next year even at zero growth in revenue.

State Finance Director Kelly Butler explained to the Senators how the CARES Act was being appropriated to the state. The estimated total allocation to Alabama was $4.100,738,000 for COVID-19 expenses. $1.9 billion was appropriated to the state to spend. $115 million had to go to Jefferson County leaving state government with $1.789 billion to appropriate. Butler explained that the money is very limited in what it can be spent on and the state has had to have guidance from federal officials on their latest interpretations of the CARES Act rules.

Fulford explained that the Payroll Protection Program has greatly benefitted state finances.

Alabama businesses received 7,878 loans thru the closing of the PPP program deadline on June 30.

“408,803 jobs were retained because of the loan program,” Fulford said. “The situation with our economy would be vastly different if that program had not been established.”

State Senator Jim McClendon (R-Springville) said that a record over 2000 people tested positive for coronavirus just today. If everyone follows the health protocols, that person and everyone in that household have to self quarantine for 14 days if they don’t have it and if they do get COVID-19 or have to care for someone with COVID-19 they could be out from work for over a month.

Fulford acknowledged that there was a “Trickle down effect to everyone in that household,” and that “Has an impact going forward and one that you have to pay attention to.”

“I am concerned about the long lasting effects of this virus,” Butler said. “We are going to have to learn to live with this virus until it is cured, an effective therapy is developed or a vaccine.”

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Alabama lawmaker pre-files legislation to allow removal of Confederate monuments

If passed, the measure would permit counties and cities to relocate historic monuments currently located on public property.

Brandon Moseley

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A Confederate monument in Birmingham's Linn Park was removed. As have monuments and memorials in Mobile and on the campus of the University of Alabama.

Alabama State Rep. Juandalynn Givan, D-Birmingham, introduced legislation this week in advance of the 2021 legislative session that, if passed, would permit counties and cities to relocate historic monuments currently located on public property. Givan’s bill, HB8, would also provide for the relocation of historic memorials to sites appropriate for public display.

“Across the state of Alabama, citizens are calling for the removal of prominently placed statues and monuments that are insensitive or offensive to the communities that surround them,” Givan said. “City and county governments must be able to address the demands of their citizens. This legislation provides a tool for local governments to safely remove these artifacts so that they can be moved to a site more appropriate for preserving or displaying the historical monument.”

Removing the monuments and historical markers is currently illegal under Alabama’s Memorial Preservation Act, which the state Legislature passed in 2017. Givan has been an outspoken opponent of that Republican-sponsored legislation. In 2018, Givan introduced a measure to repeal the bill that barred the removal of monuments.

“I believe HB8 can achieve bipartisan support,” Givan said. “My bill seeks to balance the wishes of the people. It respects the will of communities that want the monuments removed. It also respects those who wish to preserve history. With this legislation, Confederate monuments could be relocated to a public site, like Confederate Memorial Park, whose purpose and mission is to interpret and tell these stories. When the Legislature convenes, I hope to have the support of both the House of Representatives and the Senate.”

If enacted, HB8 would permit county and municipal governments to remove memorial monuments, including permanent statues, portraits and markers, located on public property in their jurisdictions. It would require a transfer of ownership of the removed monuments to the Alabama Department of Archives and History or the Alabama Historical Commission. Finally, the bill would instruct Archives and History or the Historical Commission to maintain and display monuments removed by local authorities in a location accessible for public display.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which keeps track of Confederate monuments and memorials across the country, released an update to its Whose Heritage report, which tracks symbols of the Confederacy on public land across the United States. They report at least 30 Confederate symbols have been removed or relocated since George Floyd’s death on May 25, 2020.

These include 24 monuments removed, 5 monuments relocated and the Mississippi state flag replaced. Since the Charleston church shooting in 2015, 115 total symbols have been removed from public spaces. These include 87 monuments that have been removed or relocated from public spaces. At least 78 monuments were removed and nine were relocated.

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SPLC says there are still nearly 1,800 Confederate symbols on public land, and 739 of those symbols are monuments. The SPLC has prepared an “action guide” to help community activists target Confederate historical markers and memorials for removal.

President Donald Trump has denounced what he calls “cancel culture” that seeks to remove historical monuments and statutes.

“There is a growing danger that threatens every blessing our ancestors fought so hard for, struggled, they bled to secure,” Trump said. “Our nation is witnessing a merciless campaign to wipe out our history, defame our heroes, erase our values, and indoctrinate our children.”

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