Most of the bills Conservation Alabama supports or opposes during the legislative session are directly related to environmental and public health. We support SB 4/HB 128 because we want people to feel safe on their roads, whether they’re on a bike or driving a car. We support HB 61 because companies who violate pipeline safety regulations need to receive more than a slap on the wrist for putting our communities in danger. At first glance, it might seem like our support of HB 214, which extends an existing tax credit for rehabilitating buildings that are eligible to be on the National Register of Historic Places, has nothing at all to do with the environment. In fact, it’s a crucial step to making our communities greener and more livable.
The most obvious benefit of making use of buildings that already exist is that it reduces waste. When property owners decide to fix what’s already there instead of tearing down a building, they’re also deciding not to send materials to a landfill. We’re not saying it’s always easy to bring an old building up to modern standards, but it’s worth doing well to preserve not only the materials but also the personality of your community.
Older neighborhoods, particularly in small towns, are also built to accommodate people first and cars second, if at all. Sidewalks, even if they’re cracked, encourage you to walk through your neighborhood. Front porches that were designed to catch cool breezes in the summer encourage conversation with your neighbors and interaction with your community. Small towns and urban centers are experiencing new growth across the country as families and businesses are choosing to live with a smaller footprint and closer connections.
Think about towns you like to visit in Alabama. Maybe you’re planning to go to Eufaula for the annual Tour of Homes, or you take a detour on your way to the beach to drive under the live oaks on Government Street in Mobile. Montgomery’s Garden District, Talladega’s Silk Stocking District, and Fairhope’s Fruits and Nuts neighborhood are all places that resonate with us because they are working to preserve their unique historical character. It can be difficult for communities to do this, and they have to know that families and businesses will be able to buy into their historic neighborhoods and make them active, viable communities.
HB 214 continues the assistance the state provides to people willing to make an investment in their historic communities. A tax credit might make all the difference for a young family that wants to live in a historic neighborhood but needs space to grow, or a small business owner who wants to be a part of the community but has to meet building codes. Conservation Alabama believes these investments are worthwhile, not just for the environmental benefits of using existing materials and structures, but also for the social and economic benefits of supporting existing neighborhoods that reflect the history and culture of our state.
Correction: This post initially provided incorrect information about the buildings that are eligible for tax credits. It has been updated to reflect that all buildings eligible for the National Register of Historic Places are also eligible for rehabilitation tax credits. We regret the error.
Throw in the primaries and Bingo Trial II, there are plenty of storylines that could dominate the next three months in Montgomery. But where does the environment fit into the mix for this year?
When we left last session, the environment enjoyed the beginning of winning under the new Republican-controlled legislature. The renewal of the state land preservation program Forever Wild is on the ballot this fall. A two-year moratorium on landfills was passed. Life-cycle budgeting was adopted. And the disposal of coal ash is now regulated.
However key issues such as transportation, energy, and water policy need more focused attention. As Alabama’s only fulltime environmental lobby organization, Conservation Alabama will be hard at work this session to protect the health of our citizens, economy, and environment.
Citizens soundly rejected a proposal to borrow $1 billion to build new roads in 2010. Now, two highway funding proposals are being floated – one by Governor Robert Bentley to borrow $2 billion for road projects and another by Sen. Arthur Orr to create a $600 to $700 million highway infrastructure bank.
Nearly a quarter of Alabama roads are not in good condition. The state needs to shift more funding from new highways to highway and bridge repair. Additionally, more funding for transit, sidewalks, and trails will decrease the pressure on our roads, improve our health, and create more jobs per capita than new highway construction.
The state also needs to follow the lead of local governments like Birmingham and Mobile by making a greater commitment to complete streets – rehabbing and building roads that work for all users including pedestrians, bicyclists, transit riders, the disabled, the young and elderly, and motorists.
Over the last decade, Alabama ranks fifth in the number of pedestrian deaths, and Birmingham ranks 16th in the country among large metro areas. We are supporting AARP Alabama’s efforts to pass legislation creating a complete streets policy at ALDOT in order to save lives, provide economic opportunity for the more than 30 percent of Alabamians who don’t drive, and to create more walkable and greener communities.
One of the most prolific committees in the state legislature as of late has been the Permanent Joint Legislative Committee on Energy Policy, which has passed numerous energy bills. The committee has repopulated following the 2010 election, and we hope more positive bills on energy policy will be introduced this session.
Alabamians consume more energy per capita than just about any other state. Yet, we can put money back in consumers’ pockets, increase retail sales, and decrease energy consumption by adopting a state sales tax holiday on Energy Star appliances.
Such a concept, similar to the “back-to-school” tax holiday, has found success around the country. The state more than recoups the “lost” tax revenue in additional sales on non-sales-tax-exempt items. Consumers not only save money on energy-efficient washing machines, refrigerators, and the like, but they also save money over time by consuming less energy. And our environment benefits from reduced air and water pollution. Another win-win-win for Alabama.
In contrast to the energy committee, the Permanent Joint Legislative Committee on Water Policy and Management has yet to introduce legislation, but we expect that will change in 2012.
As Alabama continues its 20-year “war” with Atlanta over water, our state needs to get its water policy house in order. Without a meaningful plan for the sustainable use of our state’s water resources, water will become the limiting factor for growth in Alabama and the health of our rivers will suffer as more demands are put on these valuable resources.
Governor Bentley and the water committee’s leadership of Sen. Orr and Rep. Alan Boothe are developing a process to formally adopt a statewide, comprehensive water plan over the coming years. Groups such as the Alabama Rivers Alliance and Southern Environmental Law Center have been advocating for a water plan for years and will be working to ensure the process is open to meaningful stakeholder participation from all interests.
Transportation, energy, and water figure prominently in environmental issues this session, and Conservation Alabama will be working proactively on these bills and others. Of course, not all legislation introduced this session will share our vision for wins in each of the public health, economic, and environmental areas. That is where we will have to rely on defense to protect Alabama from bad legislation. Throughout our 13-year history, Conservation Alabama has been able to stop any bad environmental legislation that has been proposed.
We look forward to keeping you informed during the session about progress on the green legislative agenda.
You can follow environmental legislation by reading our Conservation Hot List each week at conservationalabama.org. Adam Snyder is executive director of Conservation Alabama and can be reached at email@example.com.