The legislature resumed the 2019 regular legislative session on Tuesday, after quickly passing Gov. Ivey’s gas tax increase and adjourning the special session.
On Wednesday, Gov. Ivey released her proposed 2020 General Fund budget, which includes a significant increase in funding for the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM). ADEM’s current annual allocation from the General Fund is $575,000; Ivey’s budget calls for $4 million for the agency in 2020. This funding is necessary for ADEM to be able to do the work of monitoring our state’s water and land and enforce the laws that are meant to keep our environment healthy and safe. Without adequate support from the General Fund, ADEM has depended on federal funding and the fees generated by fines.
The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) does not receive any funds from the General Fund budget, instead relying on earmarked funds tied to specific programs. This year, DCNR’s budget includes $132 million in RESTORE Act funding, stemming from the settlement reached in the wake of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Thanks to your vote in 2016, DCNR will keep all the funding generated by state parks user fees. Before the constitutional amendment was passed to protect state parks’ funding the General Fund could appropriate that money, leading to a crisis for our parks.
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.