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Alabama’s drinking water is safe during COVID-19 crisis, ADEM Director Says

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Alabama’s drinking water is safe, so there’s no need to hoard cases of bottled water during the coronavirus crisis, according to the Alabama Department of Environmental Management.

“With so many things Alabamians have to worry about – their jobs, social distancing, the welfare of loved ones, gathering food and other necessities – the safety of their drinking water shouldn’t be one of them,” said Lance LeFleur, ADEM’s director. “The water they get from their tap, whether it’s from a large municipal system or a small, rural utility, is 100 percent safe due to the proven safety requirements they are required to follow and that ADEM enforces. People don’t need to fear the coronavirus as far as their water is concerned.”

LeFleur in a statement from his office points out that the disinfectants used in the water systems—as standard operating procedures kill viruses, including COVID-19. It is also a standard operation of municipal wastewater systems to kill any viruses before the treated water is discharged into Alabama’s rivers and streams.

“ADEM, through its permitting and inspections, is making sure the drinking water systems, as well as wastewater systems, abide by the appropriate, stringent clean water standards,” LeFleur said.

In a letter sent to Gov. Kay Ivey, on Friday, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administrator Andrew R. Wheeler emphasized the importance of the public having confidence in their water supply during the novel coronavirus outbreak.

“Ensuring that drinking water and wastewater services are fully operational is critical to containing COVID-19 and protecting Americans from other public health risks,” Wheeler said. “Handwashing and cleaning depend on providing safe and reliable drinking water and effective treatment of wastewater.”

Wheeler also said the U.S. Department of Homeland Security recognizes water and wastewater treatment workers and their suppliers as essential critical infrastructure workers and urged state and local officials to “ensure that these workers and businesses receive the access, credentials, and essential status necessary to sustain our nation’s critical infrastructure.”

LeFleur agrees with Homeland Security’s designation of essential workers.

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“From an environmental standpoint, nothing is more important than maintaining clean drinking water,” he said. “While coronavirus does not in itself pose a threat to our drinking water, nor to our wastewater treatment systems, it would be impossible to fight the virus without clean water. Our water systems and their employees are essential, and from our standpoint, so too are the people, our people, whose job is to make sure those systems are safe and well-maintained.”

Aubrey White heads the drinking water branch of ADEM’s Water Division, which oversees municipal and rural water systems as part of the agency’s authority delegated by the EPA to carry out the provisions of the Safe Drinking Water Act in Alabama. ADEM does this through enforcement of regulations, construction and operating permits, robust monitoring and reporting, and frequent inspections of the nearly 600 public water systems in the state.

“Obviously, this is a huge responsibility given us, and we take that responsibility very seriously,” White said. “Even as a lot of business and state agencies have curtailed activities due to COVID-19-related mandates, we must continue the monitoring, inspections, reporting and enforcement of the regulations that help ensure our water is clean and safe and will remain clean and safe.”

An example of ADEM’s continuing efforts to safeguard public health is the State Revolving Fund (SRF), through which the agency provides low-interest loans to public water, wastewater and stormwater management systems to pay for infrastructure improvement projects. Three such projects recently were awarded funding by ADEM totaling millions of dollars and are currently in the public comment period – $1.25 million to the Grand Bay Water Works Board in Mobile County for a new wastewater treatment unit; $1.2 million to Phenix City for a sanitary sewer lift station; and $462,000 to Spanish Fort to restore and improve a drainage canal.

“Some of these projects might not be possible if not for the financial assistance we help provide,” said Kris Berry, chief of ADEM’s State Revolving Fund section. “These projects were proposed by the local authorities based on what they need to maintain and improve their safe water managing systems, reviewed by our staff and opened to the public to weigh in.”

Created by 1982 Law

Making sure our drinking water is safe is just one of the many vital roles ADEM performs. Protecting the state’s air, water and land by enforcing state and federal rules and regulations is why ADEM exists.

ADEM traces its roots to the Alabama Environmental Management Act, passed by the Alabama Legislature in 1982 to create a comprehensive program of environmental management for the state. The law created the Alabama Environmental Management Commission and established ADEM as the vehicle to absorb several commissions, agencies, programs and staffs that had been responsible for implementing environmental laws.

 ADEM, with 575 employees at its headquarters in Montgomery and regional offices in Birmingham, Decatur and Mobile, administers all major federal environmental laws. These include the Clean Air, Clean Water and Safe Drinking Water acts and federal solid and hazardous waste laws.

During the current health crisis, LeFleur said his agency is following the new mandates issued by Gov. Kay Ivey and the state health officer to curtail the spread of COVID-19, which means some employees are working remotely. However, ADEM offices are operating under normal business hours while adhering to social distancing guidelines.

“All essential functions of the department are being performed,” the director said. “All citizen complaints received by ADEM will be investigated, and they can be submitted and tracked electronically. In addition, ADEM staff is readily accessible, and public contact is available seamlessly by phone and email.”

ADEM’s website, www.adem.alabama.gov, provides plenty of useful information, LeFleur said. Website visitors can keep up with current issues, including notices, comment periods and contact information, as well as enforcement actions.

If past public health and public safety crises are an indication, ADEM could be called on to help in another way. ADEM trucks and vehicles are available to the Alabama Emergency Management Agency to transport medical supplies and other uses. LeFleur said those vehicles helped transport supplies following the Gulf oil spill as well as in the aftermath of hurricanes and tornadoes that struck the state.

Helping Protect Jobs

LeFleur said ADEM continues to work with local economic development offices concerning new industry. These efforts help protect current jobs and provides assistance to industry that create new jobs. In addition to the current SRF loan projects, other programs through which ADEM provides assistance include scrap tire cleanups, unauthorized dump cleanups, recycling grants, water and air quality monitoring, weather forecasting, underground storage tank monitoring and cleanups, anti-litter campaigns and brownfield cleanup program.

“The fact is, we are doing a lot that the public is not aware of to assist businesses and local governments,” LeFleur said. “That is especially important now when everyone is eager for the coronavirus crisis to end and for people to go back to work.

“That is not to say, however, that we are going easy on them. To the contrary, if they violate their permits and regulations and cause environmental harm, rest assured we are going to hold them accountable. Our job one is protecting Alabama’s water, air and land resources, and by extension public safety. That is what we are continuing to do.”

 

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Environment

Alabama State Waters reopen for shrimping on June 1

Brandon Moseley

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Tuesday, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Marine Resources Division announced that pursuant to Section 9-12-46, Code of Alabama 1975, all inside waters not permanently closed by law or regulation will open for shrimp harvesting at 6 a.m., on Monday, June 1, 2020.

This opening includes Mobile Bay, Bon Secour Bay, the Mississippi Sound, Perdido Bay, Arnica Bay, Wolf Bay and Little Lagoon.

Licensed live bait dealers holding a permit for Special Live Bait Areas are reminded that an area beside the Battleship Alabama south of the Tensaw River Bridge, north of a line from the north point of Pinto Pass (N30 40.755, W88 01.124) to the northwest edge of Goat Island (N30 40.124, W88 00.784), and west of a line from the northwest edge of Goat Island to the eastern end of Tensaw River Bridge (N30 40.955, W88 00.444) will be open from one hour before sunrise until sunset from June 1 to December 31, 2020.

Shrimp are an important food species for a number of fish and wildlife species. Alabama waters contain 15 to 22 species of shrimp. Only three of these are normally eaten by humans. These are: the brown shrimp (Penaeus aztecus), the white shrimp (P. setiferus), and the pink shrimp (P. duorarum). Shrimp, along with crabs, lobsters, and crayfish, are a species of invertebrates known as decapods. There are about 2,000 species of shrimp in the world.

The brown shrimp is by far the most abundant The pink shrimp is the least abundant of the three. Alabamians harvest approximately 20.5 million pounds of shrimp with an estimated dockside value of $45 million.

The ADCNR closes Alabama’s waters around May 1 each year because May is when the juvenile brown shrimp begin to leave their nurseries in the wetlands and marshes to explore deeper water. The break in the shrimping action gives the commercially important shrimp time to age and grow without fishing pressure.

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.

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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To learn more about ADCNR, visit www.outdooralabama.com.

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Ivey announces $11.9 million for fisheries impacted by COVID-19, flooding

Eddie Burkhalter

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Gov. Kay Ivey on Wednesday announced the $3.3 million in federal coronavirus aid money will be available in the coming months to Alabama’s seafood industry, impacted by the outbreak. 

In addition to the $3.3 million from the CARES Act, the state is to also receive $8.6 million in federal fisheries disaster relief funds due to freshwater flooding in 2019 that impacted fisheries in the Gulf, according to a press release from Ivey’s office Wednesday. 

“The Gulf and its fisheries are vital to Alabama’s economy by providing jobs for fishermen, processors, and others in the seafood industry,” Ivey said in a statement. “We are thankful to provide this much needed relief to those affected in our coastal communities.”

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources worked with the seafood industry to calculate the damages and coordinated with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on the disaster relief funding.

The federal money isn’t yet available to affected commercial and charter fishing businesses, agriculture operations and seafood processors, however. 

 The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) is currently and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to establish eligibility guidelines for applicants, the press release states. Those guidelines are expected to be finalized and released “in the coming months.” 

 “Once we receive documentation regarding the guidelines, the state will develop a spending plan and submit it to NOAA for approval,” said Christopher Blankenship, ADCNR Commissioner, in a statement. “When approved, we will announce the application period and the requirements for eligibility to the public. I would like to thank Senator Richard Shelby for his work to provide the fisheries disaster funding for the seafood industry and for including the fisheries funding in the CARES Act.”

Visit NOAA’s website for more information on federal relief for fisheries and the response to COVID-19.

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ADEM receives EPA grant to “help keep our waters clean”

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Sunset on the Tennessee River

The Alabama Department of Environmental Management recently received a $500,000 competitive grant from the U.S Environmental Protection Agency as part of ADEM’s efforts to keep trash out of Alabama’s waterways and from entering the Gulf of Mexico.

ADEM’s “Help Keep Our Waters Clean” litter abatement project was one of 17 recipients of EPA’s 2020 Trash Free Waters grants in the Southeastern U.S.

“ADEM has a long history of fostering good stewardship of the Gulf’s vast natural resources,” ADEM Director Lance LeFleur said.This grant will help the Department preserve, enhance and develop the area’s resources for present and future generations of Alabamians.

The “Help Keep Our Waters Clean” project is designed to promote awareness about watersheds and reduce nonpoint source pollution entering waterways that drain to the Gulf of Mexico. A goal of the project is to engage the community in the fight against litter through education and outreach that encourage the use of voluntary and sustainable best practices.

“We want to inspire and empower citizens through their voluntary actions to help prevent litter from even reaching our waterways,” LeFleur said. “This project will both educate them about the importance of our rivers, streams and other bodies of water, and create opportunities for them to actually get involved in efforts to prevent and collect litter.

Perhaps the most visible aspects of the “Help Keep Our Waters Clean” project are signs being placed along interstates in Alabama to inform motorists they are entering a watershed and encourage them not to litter, as well as colorful metal sculptures of water lifesuch as fish, turtles and water birds – that will mark litter collection sites at rest areas and other strategic locations.

An important component of the project is education. ADEM will reach out to disadvantaged and other communities to promote anti-littering messages and to educate the public about the importance of good watershed health. The project will target specific locations andschools in its efforts.

In addition to ADEM, the City of Mobile and the Freshwater Land Trust also received EPA competitive grants.

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“The EPA has over 50 partnership projects across the country as part of our Trash Free Waters Program, which focuses on preventing trash from reaching waterways in the first place,” said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. “These 17 recipients will target the Gulf of Mexico Region for clean-up, trash prevention and education. Preventing trash from entering the waterways will have an immediate impact on the Gulf’s ecosystem.”

EPA Region 4 Administrator Mary S. Walker added, “Staying on the front lines of environmental protection requires ingenuity and proactive practices. Investing in efforts to eliminate trash from entering waterways is critical for the protection of our streams, rivers, lakes and oceans and essential for healthy drinking water. From a healthy ecosystem, to an economic boom, to flood protection, the benefits of trashfree waters are endless.”

According to the EPA, common trash from consumer goods makes up the majority of what eventually becomes marine debris, polluting our waterways and oceans. Plastics in the aquatic environment are of increasing concern because of their persistence and effect on the environment, wildlife and human health. About 80 percent of plastics come from land-based sources carried by both wind and water.

ADEM Director LeFleur said the “Help Keep Our Waters Clean” project will be a continuing effort of the state’s environmental watchdog agency.

“This isn’t a one-time deal. We want to promote long-term,sustainable, voluntary practices to reduce this form of pollution,which fouls Alabama waterways, spoils nature’s beauty and harms aquatic life. This grant help jump-start those efforts.”

For more information about the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, go to www.adem.alabama.gov. For more information about EPA’s Trash Free Waters program, visit www.epa.gov/trash-free-waters.

 

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Interior Dept. issues new offshore air quality regulations

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In support of President Donald Trump’s America-First Offshore Energy Strategy, the Department of the Interior (Department) and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) today announced a final rule to update air quality regulations for applicable BOEM activities in the Central and Western Gulf of Mexico and off the coast of Alaska’s North Slope Borough. The new rule does not relax any standards for regulating air quality, uses the best available science and makes important technical and compliance-related updates to bring the regulation into this century. 

“Under the President’s leadership, the Department has taken numerous, commonsense actions resulting in billions of dollars in deregulatory savings, and we will continue to take actions to better serve the American people,” said Secretary David L. Bernhardt. “The final rule released today incorporates current standards, creates consistency with the statutory authorities and is one more step in the right direction.” 

The final rule respects the clear and distinct authority Congress delegated to the Department. The Department’s jurisdiction is limited to activities authorized under the OCS Lands Act in the Central and Western Gulf of Mexico and offshore the North Slope Borough of Alaska. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has air quality jurisdiction over all other parts of the OCS. It is also limited to regulating offshore emissions of criteria and their precursor pollutants to the extent they significantly affect the air quality of any state. With this clear mandate, the final rule operates within these parameters to improve air quality. 

“Offshore energy development accounts for 18 percent of our nation’s oil production and billions of dollars in revenues for the states, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and the American people,” said Deputy Secretary of the Interior Kate MacGregor. “This commonsense update brings the Department’s regulations in line with current standards and within our distinct, statutory mandate.”

The final rule provides a commonsense approach to ensure BOEM’s Air Quality Regulatory Program remains in compliance with the OCS Lands Act requirements by ensuring that BOEM uses up-to-date air quality standards (i.e., National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS)) and benchmarks consistent with those already established by the EPA. 

Summary of Changes under the Final Rule

Pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13795 signed by President Trump and Secretary’s Order (S.O.) 3350, BOEM reviewed its 2016 Proposed Rule on Air Quality Control, Reporting, and Compliance. As a result of this review and analysis of comments received on the proposed rule, BOEM’s final rule adopts the following, notable changes: 

1 Compliance with NAAQS. As was the case with the proposed rule, this final rule adds a definition of the NAAQS. It also clarifies that the Department’s reporting and compliance requirements apply to the emissions of all pollutants on the OCS for which a national ambient air quality standard has been defined. 

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2 Updating Significance Levels (SLs). The final rule replaces the table of SLs in BOEM’s existing regulations – dating back to 1980 – with a revised table, which is based on values set forth in EPA’s regulations (40 CFR 165.51(b)(2)). BOEM will continue to update the table of SLs as appropriate, which will save operators from having to search for the SLs in EPA’s regulations. 

3 New Requirements for PM2.5 and PM10. This final rule replaces the former criteria air pollutant “total suspended particulates (TSP)” modeling requirements with new modeling requirements for the criteria pollutants “particulate matter 10” (PM10) and “particulate matter 2.5” (PM2.5). BOEM is also updating its forms to enable lessees and operators to identify, report, and evaluate PM2.5 and PM10 pollution in the air quality spreadsheets that they submit in connection with their exploration or development plans. 

4 Emissions Exemption Thresholds. The final rule also updates existing regulations that refer to Emissions Exemption Thresholds to clarify that these formulas apply equally to Development and Production Plans (DPPs) and Development Operations Coordination Documents (DOCDs). This update will not lead to a change in practice because BOEM has always applied its existing regulations on air quality to both DPPs and DOCDs. 

5 Clarifying Terminology. The final rule updates various terminology to better clarify the intent of the regulations. For example, the final rule replaces the term “air pollutant” with the term “criteria air pollutant.” Under the OCS Lands Act, BOEM regulates the emissions of criteria air pollutants, since those represent pollutants for which the EPA has defined a NAAQS. BOEM regulates only those emissions that could affect BOEM’s obligation to ensure compliance of state air quality with the NAAQS, so previously  using the term “air pollutant” was not appropriate. 

6 Air Quality Spreadsheets. With the implementation of the new air quality rule, BOEM is also updating the Office of Management and Budget (OMB)-approved air quality spreadsheets, BOEM-0138 (for exploration plans) and BOEM-0139 (for DOCDs, and DPPs). The lessee or its designated operator must use these forms for proposed operations in areas of BOEM air quality regulatory jurisdiction. Concurrent with these changes, BOEM is phasing out its previous practice of including the emissions from transiting support vessels in the EET calculations, consistent with BOEM’s statutory mandates. Air quality modeling will henceforth only be required in situations when a regulated facility, exclusive of support vessels, exceeds the relevant EET. 

Background

On April 5, 2016, BOEM proposed regulations to update air quality regulations promulgated by the Secretary of the Interior almost 40 years ago. 

On April 28, 2017, President Trump issued E.O. 13795 titled, “Implementing an America-First Offshore Energy Strategy.” The E.O. directed the Secretary of the Interior to “take all steps necessary to review BOEM’s Proposed Rule entitled ‘Air Quality Control, Reporting, and Compliance,’ along with any related rules and guidance, to determine whether it should be revised or withdrawn.” 

On May 1, 2017, in response to E.O. 13795, the Secretary of the Interior issued S.O. 3350, requiring the Director of BOEM to “provide to the ASLM, the Deputy Secretary, and Counselor to the Secretary for Energy Policy, a report explaining the effects, if any, of not issuing a new rule addressing offshore air quality, and providing options for revising or withdrawing the proposed rule consistent with the policy set forth in section 2 of the E.O.” This final rule is consistent with the policies of those orders. 

BOEM promulgated the final rule after careful analysis of comments received in response to the proposed rule, including those provided by other government agencies, industry and non-governmental organizations. A summary of the relevant comments and BOEM’s response to them can be found in the final rule. 

More information about the final rule can be viewed here.

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