Conservation opens session strong

The Alabama State Legislature convened its 2011 Regular Session on March 1, and was greeted by three percent education proration and a planned 15 percent budget cut for the General Fund in the 2012 fiscal year.

Despite grim news on the budget, conservation-oriented bills faired well in the first week of the session. The march toward reauthorization of Forever Wild started out strong, with more than two dozen House members sponsoring HB126 and about 20 percent of the Senate sponsoring SB140. The companion bills would extend Forever Wild without changes through September 30, 2032.

The program, which has protected more than 200,000 acres of land for wildlife, recreation, and hunting, is set to expire in 2012 without reauthorization. More than 120 environmental, wildlife, hunting, and business organizations have come together to form the Protect Forever Wild Coalition to help support reauthorization.

Also, HB143 was introduced. Similar to legislation that has been introduced for several years, this bill would make it so that an application for a new landfill would be denied if a local government doesn’t take action on it after 90 days. Currently, the law states that the landfill would be approved without action. This legislation is getting greater attention since Governor Robert Bentley declared a moratorium on landfills late last month.

HB50 and SB80 would give ADEM authority to regulate coal ash as solid waste. Currently, coal ash is exempt from any ADEM regulatory control, making Alabama the only state that doesn’t have disposal rules on coal ash. While some have questioned why the state isn’t designating coal ash as hazardous waste, EPA is expected to classify coal ash as either solid waste or hazardous waste sometime this year.

Finally, a couple of bills have been introduced that could be negative for the environment. First, HB68 would exempt Alabama-made and Alabama-distributed products from federal cap and trade standards. Secondly, HB106 would rollback ADEM’s enforcement and penalty programs by eliminating its current $100 minimum fine per violation per day.

The week of March 7 should be busy as three conservation-related bills are in committee: HB126 at a public hearing at 1:30 p.m. March 9; HB143 in a separate committee at 1:30 p.m. March 9; and HB106 at 3 p.m. March 9.

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