I recently had the opportunity to spend a day with diverse stakeholders from across the state to discuss the next Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan for the Mobile Bay National Estuary Program (NEP). This plan gathers input from leaders in business, government, experts in scientific and research communities, and coastal residents to determine the most important needs in coastal Alabama. At the end of this full day of brainstorming and planning for the future of our state’s coastal resources, Representative Bradley Byrne (R-AL1) took the stage to wrap up the day, and what he said was disheartening. He told us that his office doesn’t hear from voters about environmental protection, and that, unless he and others in Congress do hear from us, discretionary funding for programs like the Mobile Bay NEP will likely be cut.
This is not a new message, and it’s one that we hear from leaders at the local, state and federal level. Yet, we know by working with voters around our state that protecting Alabama’s natural resources is important across party lines. At the end of the day, Alabamians are clear that having places to hunt, hike, and fish are important to our communities and our culture. In 2017, when the first budget President Trump presented to Congress included cuts that would have gutted the Mobile Bay NEP’s funding, 34 businesses and 14 community groups from the coast signed a joint letter to Alabama’s legislative delegation asking Congress to protect funding for environmental protection. We all agreed that protecting our environment also protects our economy and communities.
Alabama receives nearly half of its money for environmental protection from the federal government. Not only would cuts to these federal dollars threaten our state’s ability to run programs aimed at reducing air pollution, cleaning up hazardous waste, and ensuring public water safety; they would also threaten our ability to maintain healthy coastal communities and beaches, which are a huge economic driver for our state. While these issues have been politicized, what we hear when we talk to voters in Alabama is that our ability to maintain clean water for swimming and fishing and healthy public lands for hunting and hiking are important to all of us across the political spectrum.
It’s time for us as citizens to remind our elected officials that they work for us, and that our priorities are clear: Protecting our natural resources in Alabama is the right thing to do because it benefits all of us, whether we hunt, fish, hike, or enjoy a day out on the water with our families. Let’s give Representative Byrne what he asked for – our voice. Tell your elected officials in Washington that environmental protection is your priority, and it should be theirs as well.
While this year’s legislative session is notable so far for its small number of new bills, this week several bills relating to Alabama’s natural resources were introduced. Below are the new bills along with their sponsors and a brief explanation of their potential impact. We’ve also included bills introduced earlier in the session that we’re continuing to track. Click on the bill’s number to read the full legislation, and view a full list of the bills we’re following on Conservation Alabama’s Bill Tracker page.
Water & Agriculture
Senate Bill 255, Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur), Sen. Gerald Dial (R-Lineville), Sen. Gerald Allen (R-Tuscaloosa): Under current law, landowners can’t use rivers for agricultural irrigation unless their land touches the river. This bill would create a system to authorize a landowner whose land is not contiguous to the Alabama River, the Tennessee River, or the Tombigbee River to use water from these rivers for agricultural irrigation. Questions remain about the measures in place to protect downstream communities that rely on these rivers as well as the effectiveness of the Office of Water Resources and the State Climatologist serving as the monitoring agencies.
Senate Bill 262, Sen. Jabo Waggoner (R-Vestavia Hills): This bill would renew the income tax credit that expired in 2016 for the rehabilitation, preservation, or development of certified historic structures. Historic preservation encourages walkable, livable neighborhoods in small towns and big cities alike and attracts economic development.
House Bill 53, Rep. Elaine Beech (D-Chatom): A program allowing schools to purchase food from Alabama farms has already been adopted, but has not yet been implemented. This bill specifies that federal funds for school meals can be used to purchase farm products, and exempts these products from the competitive bid process.
House Bill 288, Rep. Margie Wilcox (R-Mobile): This bill would allow boat owners to purchase a pair of one-year distinctive vessel identification stickers, showing support for an organization that has requested and has been approved to be included in the distinctive vessel program, and would provide for a distinctive license plate. One half of the proceeds from these identifications would be allocated to Alabama’s state parks.
House Bill 7, Rep. Tommy Hanes (R-Scottsboro): Taxpayers are offered the option to contribute a portion of their income tax refund to various programs. This bill would add Alabama’s state parks, the Alabama Department of Mental Health, and the Alabama Medicaid Agency as potential recipients for that contribution.
House Bill 30, Rep. Craig Ford (D-Gadsden): This bill would require each county to provide at least one early voting center to be open four to six days during the week preceding Election Day so that registered voters can vote prior to Election Day.
House Bill 31, Rep. Craig Ford (D-Gadsden): This bill establishes an early voting procedure through which qualified voters may vote, without excuse, at a designated early voting center before Election Day. Currently, all Alabama voters are required to vote on Election Day with the exception of absentee ballots.
Two weeks after former U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) was confirmed as the U.S. Attorney General, Sessions’ score of 0% on the League of Conservation Voters’ (LCV) 2016 National Environmental Scorecard offers insight into what his priorities may be in his new role.
Sen. Richard Shelby and former Sen. Jeff Sessions each earned a score of 0% by voting against clean water, energy efficiency, and public lands. Both senators voted to void the Clean Water Rule that protects the drinking water consumed by one in three Americans. Sessions also voted for a bill that would have gutted the Antiquities Act, a key piece of legislation that is used to preserve public lands from the Statue of Liberty to the Grand Canyon.
“Time and again we’ve seen that conservation can and should be a bipartisan issue,” said Tammy Herrington, Executive Director of Conservation Alabama. “We hope that Attorney General Sessions is mindful of that, and that he remembers his former constituents in Alabama were protected by laws like the Clean Water Act in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster.”
LCV’s 2016 National Environmental Scorecard publishes the environmental voting record for each member during the second session of the 114th Congress. This year, a record-breaking 38 House votes are included in the scorecard. The Alabama congressional delegation’s scores are being released by Conservation Alabama in partnership with LCV. The full scorecard is available in English and Spanish here.
Once again, Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Birmingham) maintained her position as the highest scoring member of Alabama’s delegation by voting to protect the laws that safeguard our drinking water and public lands. The remainder of the state’s delegation in the U.S. House of Representatives scored no higher than 3%.
House District: Member – Score
AL-1: Byrne – 0
AL-2: Roby – 3
AL-3: Rogers – 3
AL-4: Aderholt – 3
AL-5: Brooks – 3
AL-6: Palmer – 0
AL-7: Sewell – 82
Senator – Score
Sessions – 0
Shelby – 0