ADEM, environmentalists at odds over enforcement

Environmental attorney David Ludder for the ADEM Reform Coalition and Choctawhatchee Riverkeeper Mike Mullen each gave compelling presentations about weak enforcement at in ADEM’s NPDES and stormwater programs during the August 21 meeting of the Aalbama Environmental Management Commission. However, their presentations were met with resistance from ADEM Director Trey Glenn, calling the claims of lax enforcement as “insulting and offensive to the department’s 600 employees to suggest that they’re somehow not doing their job.”

Mullen gave a pictorial display of chronic stormwater violations in the Choctawhatchee watershed. Some pictures were dated 2008, while others were from earlier in the year. Director Glenn responded that the information was out of date and if someone visited those sites today, you would see a much different picture. Mullen has provided more recent pictures to the Director since August 21’s presentation revealing the sites discussed are still in violation.

Commissioner Archie asked Director Glenn to investigate the complaints by Mike and provide a response back to the Commission as to what could be done to improve the stormwater program.

In a release by ADEM Thursday and again by Director Glenn Friday, the department refuted the enforcement and compliance numbers offered by the ADEM Reform Coalition. However, ADEM did not explain the discrepancy nor did they provide data to refute Ludder’s presentation. At the meeting, Director Glenn said that the number of ADEM inspections had declined in part because EPA told ADEM to do fewer inspections and reduced their funding. He also stated that there were flaws with the EPA data, and indicated ADEM had not provided all its data to EPA. He said that he agreed with the need for metrics and more data and had already committed to do that – a year ago – but we have yet to see it.

“I’m proud of the changes we’ve made in our compliance and enforcement program,” Glenn said.

Other Business
The EMC took significant amounts of time with three appeal issues before it. First was Canaan Systems v. ADEM, regarding a waste water system in a residential development. After oral arguments, the Commission voted 4-2 in support of ADEM’s position. Scott Phillips and Sam Wainwright were the dissenting votes.

Secondly, Lippert Bank Services v. ADEM and Santek Environmental was before the commission regarding the modification of a permit for the M. Olive Landfill in Jefferson County. The crux of the issue was whether or not Lippert had retained the services of a lawyer to properly represent him. The Commission voted 5-1 in the department’s favor, with Phillips as the lone dissenting vote.

Thirdly before the Commission was Friends of Hurricane Creek and John Wathen v. ADEM and SDW regarding pollution to a tributary of Hurricane Creek. No party was happy with the administrative law judge’s ruling which stated FOHC and Wathen had standing, but imposed a new penalty for SDW’s violations of its stormwater permit. The Commission had six options for their ruling and voted that Wathen and FOHC didn’t have standing and returned the penalty to the original one ADEM had levied. It passed 4-2, with Archie and Phillips voting against.

A fourth item involving Black Warrior Riverkeeper v. ADEM and Shepherd Bend coal mine was tabled until October.

Directors Report
Director Glenn gave a brief (10 minute) overview of ADEM activities. He discussed budget woes at the agency, but stated ADEM is no worse off than any other agency because they rely heavily on funding from its “customers” – referring to permit fees. He also discussed the operating plan of the agency, reminding the Commission of their charge of him when he started 4.5 years ago – “take a good agency and make it better.”

Commissioner Archie questioned Glenn and the department about their reporting practices on federal stimulus dollars after Glenn reported on the revolving loan fund and other programs. Glenn assured her that ADEM is following quality control measures required by the federal government.

In response to a request by the Conservation Alabama Foundation to set up a study committee on air toxics, Glenn stated that there had been several studies already on air toxics and they ignored the elephant in the room – mobile emissions. Instead of working to solve the cumulative risk issue from air toxics emitted from stationary sources (where ADEM already have statutory authority), they are going to focus their efforts on an education effort on school bus diesel fumes. They have developed “idle free zones” around schools to cut down on emissions while buses are waiting to pick up or drop off children.

Chair Report
Although Chair Laurel Gardner was absent, Vice Chair Sam Wainwright brought up the items she had on the agenda. First was a discussion of greenhouse gas emissions. Phillips reminded Wainwright that a 1998 resolution by the Alabama State Legislature precluded ADEM’s director from discussing global warming and greenhouse gas emissions. They are seeking further guidance on what and how they discuss this topic given the legislative limitations.

Secondly, the Chair sought a discussion of a proposal in the ADEM Operating Plan for a methodology to quantify compliance rates for major ADEM programs. Phillips said we need to look at compliance and how the department achieves compliance.

Quick Notes
In attendance were Archie, Pierce, Phillips, Wainwright, Brown (arriving late), and Lester…New Commission members Lanier Brown and Conrad Pierce were named to the Personnel Committee….The next meeting is set for October 16, 2009 at 11 a.m.

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