On behalf of several affected citizens in Perry County, Ala., environmental attorney David Ludder has filed an environmental justice complaint against the Alabama Department of Environmental Management.
The complaint asks the U.S. EPA Office of Civil Rights to investigate the permit for the Arrowhead Landfill. The landfill was selected by EPA in 2009 to receive the coal ash spilled near Kingston, Tenn. in December 2008. Among the issues raised in the complaint are:
– concerns about excessive odors from the facility causing ear, nose, and throat problems and nausea and vomiting.
– fugitive dust that covers citizens homes and cars.
– excessive amounts of flies.
– decreased property values for nearby residents.
Should EPA uphold the complaint, the citizens are asking EPA to withhold federal dollars from ADEM. The vast majority of ADEM’s funding comes from the federal government.
Environmental justice has been defined as the pursuit of equal justice and equal protection under the law for all environmental statutes and regulations without discrimination based on race, ethnicity, and /or socioeconomic status. With Alabama’s high level of poverty and significant number of minority populations, there are many census tracts, especially in the Black Belt region of the state, which could be defined as environmental justice.
The ADEM Reform Coalition, which Conservation Alabama serves as a co-chair, has made environmental justice one of its core goals for reform at ADEM. To date, however, ADEM’s environmental justice efforts have been mostly limited to outreach and education. The ARC wants more substantive changes, including reviewing and approving permits with protection of environmental justice communities in mind.
The Environmental Management Commission met Friday morning for their regular bimonthly gathering in Montgomery. This marked the first meeting since Dr. Kathleen Felker’s resignation in January. The Commission passed a resolution in honor of Felker’s service on the EMC.
The meeting also marked the return of Ken Hairston, who has been absent from most of the meetings the past few years. He contested the major item on the Commission agenda – a resolution that would limit the relationship between commissioners and the ADEM Director. The resolution, which passed 5-1 with Hairston voting against, requires the agency director to seek approval from the Commission Chair to act upon individual requests from Commissioners.
Commissioners contend that, because Director Trey Glenn stated that 50 percent of his time is spent responding to Commission questions and requests, the process of making requests of the director needed to be streamlined. Hairston’s contention was that the director could, at his discretion, act upon requests made, or discuss the request with the commissioner making the request directly.
The move is seen as a response to Felker’s requests of the agency regarding research around the impacts of quarries on state citizens. Prior to Felker’s request, which was announced and not opposed at a commission meeting in August 2008, the EMC and department had all but ignored the concerns of citizens about quarry operations. This is the first time the EMC or ADEM has proactively studied the issue of quarries.
Another item where Hairston was against the majority was the overturning of a previous decision to hold the April EMC meeting in Huntsville. Felker proposed the move in December and received little objection from the EMC. Such a move would have fulfilled a recommendation in the ADEM Reform Coalition’s “Blueprint for Reform” to have EMC meetings around the state occasionally. However at Friday’s meeting, both commissioners from the Wiregrass area of the state – Sam Wainwright and John Lester – contended that the budget cuts at ADEM make such a trip inadvisable, and they proposed moving the meeting back to its regular spot – Montgomery. Hairston, a Huntsville resident, then asked “Can’t we all just get along?” The return to Montgomery was approved 5-1, with Hairston opposing.
In other news, Director Glenn discussed the air toxic report published by the Conservation Alabama Foundation in December. The department is meeting with representatives of the Foundation to discuss the report and address the two main issues – the need for more data, and the need to fundamentally change air toxic regulation in the state. Director Glenn proposed working with Dr. Don Williams of the Alabama Department of Public Health on finding comparable data to compare current data to. Additionally, he will work with his staff to ensure that current operations are in compliance with MACTS standards.
Director Glenn discussed ADEM’s budget woes. Due to proration, 10 percent of General Fund dollars, or about $740,000, has been cut from this year’s budget. However, anticipating funding cuts, ADEM has already reduced spending by $1.4 million. The agency expects a $1 million cut in the 2010 budget. Also, Glenn presented an overview of the Operational Plan, an obligation of the Unified Strategic Plan. Conservation Alabama has requested a copy of the plan and will make it available as soon as we have it.
Quick Notes: Revisions to onsite wastewater treatment facility regulations were tabled; Revisions to air regulations related to mercury passed 6-0; Revisions to hazardous waste regulations passed 6-0; The next Commission meeting will be 11 a.m. April 17 in Montgomery.