The triple bottom line is our bottom line this session

By Adam R. Snyder

The people of Alabama ushered in a historical shift in power to all levels of government in November, but none more notable than the Republican take over of both houses of the legislature for the first time in 136 years.

Thanks to the sweeping victory last year, Republicans have a filibuster-proof majority in both houses, meaning the burden of success, or failure, of the people’s agenda over the next four years now falls squarely on Republican leadership. As the state’s only fulltime environmental lobby, Conservation Alabama is working with both Republicans and Democrats to pass legislation this session that meets our bottom line: the triple bottom line.

The triple bottom line refers to policies and initiatives that are focused on achieving social, economic, and environmental success. If one goal is met at the expense of the others, then the maximum benefit for the citizens of Alabama is not achieved. As we crafted our legislative agenda and evaluate bills proposed this session, Conservation Alabama is keeping that triple bottom line in mind.

First and foremost on our agenda is the reauthorization of Forever Wild. The time is now to renew our state land purchasing and protection program for another 20 years without changes. Since its passage in 1992 with 84 percent of the vote, the Alabama Forever Wild Land Trust has protected more than 200,000 acres of land for public use, such as recreation, habitat protection, and hunting and fishing.

Hunting, bird watching, and outdoor recreation in Alabama is a multi-billion dollar industry. Having more protected public spaces to hike and exercise will help Alabamians fight some of the highest levels of obesity in the nation. And preserving Alabama’s special places protects habitat for wildlife on land and in our biologically rich waterways. There is no stronger triple bottom line win for the legislature this session than renewing Forever Wild as-is with no changes.

Beyond Forever Wild, there are other triple bottom line opportunities. Alabamians consume more energy per capita than just about any other state. Yet, there are ways to put money back in consumers’ pockets, increase retail sales, and decrease energy consumption and the impact on the environment. Conservation Alabama is pushing legislation to adopt a state sales tax holiday on Energy Star appliances.

Such a concept, similar to the “back-to-school” tax holiday, has found success just next door in Georgia. While the state loses a fraction of a percent of tax revenue for a weekend, the state and retail outlets more than make up the revenue in additional sales on non-sales tax exempt items. Consumers not only save money on energy efficient washing machines, refrigerators, and the like, but they also save money over time by consuming less energy. And our environment benefits from reduced air and water pollution. Another win-win-win for Alabama.

Third on our priority list is transportation reform. Conservation Alabama is supporting legislation aimed at finding a statewide funding source for transit. With adequate investments in alternative modes of transportation beyond the automobile, Alabama can create more jobs than traditional highway projects alone. Creating more transportation choices in the state can connect citizens to jobs, healthcare, shopping, and educational opportunities.

More than 80 percent of Alabamians drive a single-occupancy vehicle to and from work each day. In the Birmingham area, commuters drive more than 30 miles a day on average, one of the longest commutes in the country. Our almost exclusive reliance on automobiles erodes air quality, threatens our streams and drinking water, and has burdened our state with more than a billion dollars of road and bridge repairs we can’t afford. We must take a triple bottom line approach by investing in transit and alternative modes of transportation.

Of course, not all legislation introduced this session will share our vision for wins in each of the public, economic, and environmental areas. That is where we will have to rely on our defense to protect Alabama from bad legislation. Throughout our 12-year history, Conservation Alabama has been able to stop any bad environmental legislation that has been proposed.

Not only will we be on the ready to fight bad legislation, but we will be evaluating and supporting other bills that seek to achieve the triple bottom line. Our hope is there will be more good environmental legislation than bad this session, and we will be on the lookout for new, innovative bills that both Republicans and Democrats put forth to improve our state’s public, economic, and environmental health.

In order to move our state forward, we must reject the false competition between public health, economic development, and environmental protection in the political arena. Instead, state leaders’ bottom line should be policy solutions that promote the triple bottom line. Together, we can pass win-win-win priorities this legislative session.

You can follow environmental legislation by reading our Conservation Hot List each week at conservationalabama.org. Adam Snyder is executive director of Conservation Alabama and can be reached at asnyder@conservationalabama.org.

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