This week, cities around the state spoke out against House Bill 346/Senate Bill 244, which would prohibit local communities from making laws to regulate plastic pollution. The House version of the bill was on the agenda Thursday, but the chamber adjourned before they took it up.
The Mobile City Council led the way last week with a resolution unanimously opposing the bills. Leaders in Montgomery, Orange Beach, Dauphin Island, Fairhope, and Birmingham also spoke out against the bills, letting the legislature know that cities want the right to solve local pollution problems.
These communities are important allies in our fight to protect local control and keep plastic pollution out of our lands and waterways; your voice helped elevate this issue and bring it to their attention. Since House Bill 346/Senate Bill 244 were introduced two weeks ago, 600 emails have been sent to the legislature through our action alert. Our partners helped amplify the message and reach new audiences. That means that legislators heard over and over that Alabamians want the opportunity to make decisions about local pollution for themselves.
Without you, bills like House Bill 346/Senate Bill 244 can skate through the legislature. When you speak up, legislators listen. We’ll keep updating you on these bills’ progress and let you know when you can make the biggest impact.
Last week, bills were introduced in both the House and Senate to prohibit local communities from banning plastic bags. House Bill 346 is sponsored by Rep. Nathaniel Ledbetter (R-Rainsville) and Senate Bill 244 is sponsored by Sen. Greg Reed (R-Jasper), Sen. Jabo Waggoner (R-Vestavia Hills), Sen. Del Marsh (R-Anniston), Sen. Clyde Chambliss (R-Prattville), Sen. Sam Givhan (R-Huntsville), Sen. Tom Butler (R-Madison), Sen. Clay Scofield (R-Guntersville), Sen. Tom Whatley (R-Auburn), Sen. Randy Price (R-Opelika), and Sen. Rodger Smitherman (D-Birmingham).
Conservation Alabama strongly opposes these bills. Limiting local control over local pollution issues is a bad idea that will prevent communities from taking action to keep unsightly and dangerous plastic bags from littering their land and water.
On Tuesday, the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs quickly passed SB 244 by a vote of 9 to 2. Sen. Chris Elliott (R-Daphne) voted against the bill, saying that his coastal Alabama district wants the right to deal with the plastic pollution they see in waterways. HB 346 was in the House Committee on State Government on Wednesday and was passed by a voice vote.
Here’s a look at why we oppose these bills, and why they are bad for our state, our natural resources, and our local communities:
- Almost 300 of Conservation Alabama’s members have contacted their elected officials in opposition to HB346/SB244;
- The City Council of Mobile has made it clear they want this issue to be decided locally, as they have an inordinate amount of trash in coastal waterways;
- Plastic bags contribute to dangerous and unsightly pollution that negatively impacts our fisheries, farms, and Alabama’s $10.4 billion outdoor recreation industry;
- The average American family takes home almost 1,500 plastic shopping bags a year, and recycles only 1% of those bags;
- Cities spend precious resources cleaning up plastic bags that blow out of landfills and litter the community;
- Chemicals leaching from plastics disrupt fetal and childhood development and increase the risk for certain cancers;
- Up to 80% of ocean plastic pollution enters the ocean from land;
- Fish eat thousands of tons of plastic a year, transferring it up the food chain to bigger fish and marine mammals and impacting fisheries and human health.
Since both versions of this bill were passed by their respective committees, they could be taken up by the full chambers of the legislature as soon as next week.
On Tuesday, Sen. David Sessions (R-Mobile) introduced Senate Bill 215, which addresses the issue of disposing materials that result from dredging projects. As sediment enters the Mobile Bay Ship Channel, it must be regularly dredged to accommodate large cargo ships as they make their way to the Port of Mobile. There is currently no legal provision that dictates what should be done with the sand that is dredged. This will become an even larger issue if and when the planned expansion of the Mobile Bay Ship Channel begins.
When dredging is performed it alters the natural flow of sand, eroding some beaches and depositing the sand on others. Senate Bill 215 calls for the repurposing of dredged material to help support eroding beaches by asking that any construction or dredging project move beach-quality sand to nearby beaches that are suffering from erosion.
The bill makes it clear that ports managed by the Alabama State Port Authority are not required to follow this rule, but that they should “demonstrate reasonable effort to place beach-quality sand from construction and maintenance dredging and port-development projects on adjacent eroding beaches in accordance with port master plans approved by the Alabama State Port Authority, and permits approved and issued by the department, to ensure compliance with this section.”
By monitoring the flow of sand and replacing lost sand on eroding beaches as this bill calls for, we can help mimic the natural movement of sand and restore our coastal environment. Beach-quality sand is expensive, and by using dredged materials the state will save money on beach renourishment projects. The bill also requires that construction projects take into account and “provide protection” for nesting sea turtles, shorebirds, and coastal vegetation.
For more information about dredging’s impact on Dauphin Island, watch the Alabama Sierra Club’s film, “A Disrupted System: Alabama’s Disappearing Barrier Island.”