Last week I attended a public meeting about the future of Alabama’s coast. I sat at a table with some of the smartest people we have working to protect it. We discussed the importance of monitoring the health of the Gulf, our bays and rivers. We talked about projects that would benefit our fisheries and our beaches, and the importance of educating our communities about how to protect our natural resources. But we kept coming back to our stories. Stories of how we enjoyed being on the water when we were kids, how walking on the beach or just sitting on a pier is so much a part of who we are that it shocked us to our core after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill to discover we could lose it.
If you talk to people who live along Alabama’s coast, you will discover what came of the disaster four years ago is a deep passion to protect our way of life. For me, it is simple. I grew up in south Louisiana, and from an early age I was exposed to the abundance that came from our waters. I had crawfish boils in my backyard with friends and family, learned to make gumbo with my grandmother and how to fish at my grandfather’s side. Now it’s my children’s turn to scoop fish and crabs out of the water, learn to prepare those local delicacies and spend time discovering the joy of our beaches and waterways here along the Gulf Coast.
Until now, the Gulf of Mexico has never been given the funding opportunities of the Chesapeake or Great Lakes. The RESTORE Act mandates that 80% of fines collected for the oil spill under the Clean Water Act must return to the Gulf Coast to pay for restoration. This is a unique opportunity to solve environmental problems, and we should not let it go to waste. Whether you live on Alabama’s coast or elsewhere in the state, this funding impacts you. Our coastal counties bring in significant tax revenue that help support our state, and many of you who live in Huntsville, Birmingham, Tuscaloosa, Auburn or elsewhere vacation on Alabama’s Gulf Coast.
On Wednesday, October 15 the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources will host a webinar on the RESTORE Act from 3:30 – 5:00 p.m. with information on these funds, how they can be spent, and how you can be involved in these decisions. Time will be provided for your questions, and we hope you will participate. You can register for the online webinar here. This is our state, our coast, and our once in a lifetime opportunity to make a difference.
Last week was quiet in Montgomery as legislators took their spring break, but this week we are back in full swing with a packed agenda. The current schedule is for legislators to meet Tuesday and Thursday of this week and wrap up next Monday. With only a few days left to pass legislation, we can expect a flurry of activity, including movement of many conservation related bills.
First up this week, Senate Bill 9 goes before the House Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security Tuesday at noon. As part of an effort to make our streets friendlier for bicycles, SB9 proposes a safe passing distance of at least three feet for vehicles overtaking bicycles. Conservation Alabama supports this bill as part of our “Complete Streets” policies, which maintains that transportation should accommodate the needs of all users. If the bill passes through committee, it could pass in one of the two final days of this legislative session. Before the break last week, Senator Ward of Birmingham also introduced statewide resolutions that would include Complete Streets planning policies for the state.
Another positive bill for conservation with the potential to pass is House Bill 292, dealing with solid waste landfills and how they are approved. HB292 would eliminate the automatic approval process that currently exists when municipalities do not respond to permits for landfills, and instead replaces it with an automatic denial after 120 days. This change in the permit approval process also requires applicants to provide fact-based information supporting their proposal.
SB355, a bill that restricts local governments’ ability to control pollution into nearby waterways is also moving quickly. As it stands right now, this bill that compromises our water quality could pass this week. Water protection groups throughout the state have sent action alerts this week asking members to contact their legislators. To contact your Representative and ask them to vote no on this bill, visit our action center.
Last up on our watch list is SB12, the wind bill, which may come up for vote on Tuesday. Two local bills regulating wind energy in Etowah and Cherokee counties have already passed, and several wind companies are now pushing for this statewide bill to supersede the local bills. Conservation Alabama has proposed an amendment that includes language for both land based and offshore protections in wildlife corridors in addition to the changes already made to the bill.