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 local bills passed for both Cherokee and Etowah counties that would regulate Wind Energy Conversion systems in both of these counties. These local bills contain language from the original version of Senate Bill 12 and impose strict regulations on wind energy providers. SB402 and SB403 require noise levels of no more than 40 decibels, setbacks of 2500 feet from the center of the device to the nearest property’s edge and permission from the local governing body before installing wind turbines that provide power for resale. Due to the level of restrictions these bills impose, their passage means there is little chance of any wind projects in those two counties.
In addition to the passage of these local bills, Senate Bill 12 makes its way to the House committee on Commerce and Small Business on Wednesday for a public hearing. In its current form, SB12 is much less restrictive than the local bills passed last week. The noise levels were increased to 50 decibels and setbacks are now 5 times the height of the system from its center to the edge of the nearest commercial or residential building. SB12 also allows for neighboring properties to waive these setbacks and eliminates Cleburne county altogether.
However, SB12 still provides no protections for birds and other wildlife. Conservation Alabama is working with partners at Birmingham Audubon to include language for both land based and offshore protections in wildlife corridors.
Last week SB12 passed the Senate with a vote of 24-6. As we mentioned last week, the substitute bill that passed included several positive changes. The original bill required strict ordinances for noise (limited to 40 decibels at property’s edge) and distance (2500 feet) from neighboring properties. The bill in its final version 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. Also of note is that Cleburne County is exempted from the bill’s provisions.
While these requirements are still higher than most neighboring states, Conservation Alabama was pleased with the progress that was made in the bill’s amendments. In its original form, SB12 would have prevented wind power in the state of Alabama. With the amendments presented, many wind companies say they can enter Alabama to provide clean, sustainable wind energy to the region. The bill will now go to the House, and Conservation Alabama will request that provisions also be added for wildlife protections where bird and other wildlife habitat could be at risk.
In addition to the passing of SB12, two local bills were introduced last week to regulate Wind Energy Conversion Systems in Etowah and Cherokee Counties. SB402 and SB403, both introduced by Senator Williams, require similar restrictions to SB12 in its original form, including noise levels no higher than 40 decibels and setbacks of 2500 feet. If passed, these bills would basically mean no wind power would be possible in these two counties.
HB475, a bill that would restrict local governments’ ability to control pollution into nearby waterways, made its way to the House Commerce Committee last week and could now make its way to the House floor for a vote. Conservation Alabama recently sent an action alert on behalf of Alabama Rivers Alliance and the Alabama Stormwater Partnership to oppose this bill. Please visit our action page to ask your Representative to vote NO on HB475.