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.
Last week was a busy week for conservation related bills in the Senate. On Thursday, SB12, The Wind Energy Conversion Act, made its way to the Senate floor. Since our last update several positive changes have been made to the bill. The original bill required strict ordinances for noise (limited to 40 decibels at property’s edge) and distance (2500 feet) from neighboring properties. The current version of the bill requires noise levels be limited to 50 decibels, and the setback is now based on the height of the system, 5x the height of the system from its center to the edge of the residential or commercial building. Neighboring properties are also allowed in this bill to waive those setbacks. While these requirements are still higher than most neighboring states, feedback from the majority of wind companies is that the current version of the bill is more reasonable and would not completely hinder their ability to do business in Alabama. Even with these changes, there was reservation on the Senate floor with numerous Senators asking questions. Senator Williams agreed to carry the bill over at the call of the chair, so negotiations could continue.
Conservation Alabama continues to communicate with Senator Williams and has requested that provisions also be added for wildlife protections. SB12 could make its way back before the Senate this week.
Another bill making its way through both the House and Senate is SB355/HB475. These companion bills would restrict local governments’ ability to control pollution into nearby waterways and reduce fines paid by polluters. Currently, local governments are able to monitor activities that could threaten local water supplies. This bill would transfer all oversight and authority to the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM). This could potentially put local governments at risk of being noncompliant with the Clean Water Act and at risk of lawsuits. SB355 was heard before the Senate committee on Energy and Natural Resources last Thursday, but after a Public Hearing call by Conservation Alabama, the committee did not take action on the bill to allow time for opponents and proponents of the bill to attempt a compromise. House Bill 475 makes its way to the House Commerce Committee this Wednesday at 2:30 p.m. Conservation Alabama is opposed to these bills and is working with water protection groups throughout the state to stop the advance of these bills in their current form.