Something is very wrong in the Land of Cotton



Dr. Robert Bullard
Environmental Justice Movement Founder

Friday, October 29, 2010

**Breaking News** Press Release From US Northern District Attorney Joyce White Vance

Are they expecting some shenanigans in Alabama?
It certainly appears so and why are they asking for a delay in this press release?
We have it for you here because, in our opinion, it should not be held back until the day before the election.

United States Attorney Joyce White Vance

Northern District of Alabama


DATE: November 1, 2010 
PHONE: 205-244-2020
FAX: 205-244-2171

NOTE: Please consider running or airing this notice Monday, Nov. 1, as an advisory for Tuesday’s general election.


U.S. Attorney Joyce White Vance announced today that Assistant U.S. Attorney Jim Sullivan will lead the efforts of her office in connection with the Justice Department for Tuesday’s general elections in Alabama. Sullivan will serve as the Acting District Election Officer for the Northern District of Alabama, and in that capacity is responsible for overseeing the district’s handling of complaints of election fraud and voting rights abuses in consultation with Justice Department Headquarters in Washington, D.C.

In order to respond to complaints of election problems or abuses on Nov. 2, and to ensure that such complaints are directed to the appropriate authorities, Vance said Sullivan will be on duty in North Alabama while the polls are open. He can be reached by members of the public at the following telephone numbers: 205-244-2001 and 205-244-2240.

The FBI also will have special agents available in each field office and resident agency in North Alabama to receive allegations of election fraud and other election abuses. The FBI can be reached by the public at 205-326-6166.

Members of the media may inquire at 205-244-2020.

Complaints about ballot access problems or discrimination can be made directly to the Civil Rights Division’s Voting Section in Washington at 1-800-253-3931 or 202-307-2767.

“The effectiveness of our Election Day Program depends in large part on the watchfulness and cooperation of the American electorate,” Vance said. “It is imperative that those who have specific information about discrimination or election fraud make that information available immediately to my office, the FBI or the Civil Rights Division.”

United States Attorney Joyce White Vance
Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

FRONTLINE / Pro Publica Newly Released Special "The Spill"

Some amazing investigative work by FRONTLINE and Pro Publica that's not to be missed.

Over the past decade, BP vaulted from an energy "also-ran" to one of the biggest companies in the world, gobbling up competitors in a series of mergers that delivered handsome profits for shareholders. But an investigation by FRONTLINE and the nonprofit newsroom ProPublica shows that BP's leadership failed to create a culture of safety in the massive new company.

As BP took increasingly big risks to find oil and extract it, the company left behind a trail of mounting problems: deadly accidents, disastrous spills, countless safety violations. Each time, BP acknowledged the wider flaws in its culture and promised to do better. The FRONTLINE/ProPublica investigation shows that the rhetoric was empty. From the refineries to the oil fields to the Gulf of Mexico, BP workers understood that profits came first.

Through interviews with current and former employees and executives, government regulators and safety experts, FRONTLINE correspondent Martin Smith (The Quake, The Storm) and ProPublica reporter Abrahm Lustgarten examine the trail that led to the disaster in the gulf.

"It was the corporate culture that was at fault," David Uhlmann, former head of the Environmental Crimes Section of the Department of Justice, tells FRONTLINE. "It was the company that did not have the necessary commitment to environmental compliance and worker safety."

The Spill takes viewers from BP's vast oil fields in Alaska to its refineries in Texas, and to BP's trading rooms in New York and London, uncovering an unusually high number of safety violations and incidents that should have raised red flags.

The disaster at BP's Texas City refinery in March 2005 was one of the worst refinery explosions in U.S. history, killing 15 people. Government and independent investigators ultimately determined that cost cutting played a role in the explosion, and BP promised to reform. BP's chief executive at the time, Lord John Browne, said BP would learn to take safety more seriously. When it comes to safety, he said, "BP gets it." But the trouble continued.

In 2006, a corroded BP pipeline ruptured in Alaska, spilling more than 200,000 gallons of oil -- this despite several internal and external reports, obtained by ProPublica and FRONTLINE, which warned that if BP did not improve maintenance and inspections it could lead to a spill.

"When you start finding the same problems over and over again," says Jordan Barab, deputy assistant secretary of labor for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, "I think you were pretty safe in saying they've got a systemic problem."

Meanwhile, regulators may not have been doing enough to prevent future accidents. The disaster in the Gulf of Mexico further underscores the fact that the government underestimated the possible costs and consequences of lax enforcement.

"We obviously understand now that things can go wrong," said White House energy adviser Carol Browner.
(Click title for link to full story, entire program and accompanying stories)

Next in their series airing November 2, 2010 "Obama's Deal" 
Through interviews with administration officials, senators and Washington lobbyists, Obama's Deal reveals the dramatic details of how an idealistic president pursued the health care fight -- despite the warnings of many of his closest advisers -- and how he ended up making deals with many of the powerful special interests he had campaigned against.
Bookmark and Share

The Trouble With EPA Region 4--Dr. Robert Bullard Op-Ed

In an Op-Ed piece from May 2009, Dr. Robert Bullard, the founder of the Environmental Justice Resource Center, whose also considered the "father" of the environmental justice (EJ) movement, makes the case for a central EPA rather than the ten regional "autonomous fifedoms" that we have now.

Region 4 has long been considered the weakest arm of the regional EPA branches and has yet to implement stronger environmental justice programs despite being ordered to do so. We wrote about this is a previous posting about Region 4 dismissing over 16 environmental injustice cases and being taken to task on their failure to implement action plans on EJ.

We believe Region 4's lax attitude contributes to ADEM's attitude because ADEM knows that Region 4 will not hold their feet to the fire and crack down on them to uphold the federal CAA & CWA laws. Twice in the last year, federal EPA agents from the criminal division have swooped into Alabama and raided two facilities--Dothan, Alabama September 2010 two wastewater facilities, Jefferson County sewer dispatch office June 2010 Homewood, Alabama.

We're hopeful this may be the start of a trend from the US EPA.

But if you're poor and minority in the south, there seems to be no justice in the region from the federal government and Dr. Bullard makes a compelling case on why. Unlike Rep. Sanders, who we took to task on his statement of "blacks returning to the days of Jim Crow and going back to the cotton fields" if republicans are the majority winners in Alabama's upcoming elections, Dr. Bullard is highly educated and is held in great esteem by many who consider him to be the authoritative voice on this subject.

He's right about this as uncomfortable as that may be for many to consider.

His op-ed piece is reprinted here with permission and a linkback to original publishing site at the conclusion.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was created in December 1970 under President Richard M. Nixon. From the very beginning, EPA's ten regions were set up as nearly autonomous sub-agencies. President Barack Obama made a bold move this year by selecting Lisa P. Jackson, the first African American to head the EPA. Now the president is set to select EPA regional administrators--ten important and powerful posts that can reshape the agency which suffered severe setbacks under President George W. Bush.

Having Jackson, an African American woman who grew up in New Orleans, at the helm of EPA is historic. However, having a black head at EPA headquarters in Washington, DC is not sufficient. Fundamental change is needed in the regions, especially regions where states have a legacy of slavery, Jim Crow segregation, and resistance to civil rights and equal environmental protection under the law, such as Region 4, eight states in the Deep South (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee).

The 2007 United Church of Christ Toxic Wastes and Race at Twenty report found glaring disparities in the location of commercial hazardous wastes facilities. 

Nationally, people of color make up about one third of the nation's population and more than 56 percent of the residents living in neighborhoods within two miles of commercial hazardous waste facilities. 

They also make up more than two-thirds (69%) of the residents in neighborhoods with clustered facilities. Forty of 44 states (90%) with hazardous waste facilities have disproportionately high percentages of people of color in host neighborhoods?” On average about two times greater than the percentages in non-host areas (44% vs. 23%).

Nine out of ten EPA regions have racial disparities in the location of hazardous waste facilities. People of color comprise 28.5 percent of Region 4. 

However, people of color comprise the majority of residents living within two miles of the 67 commercial hazardous waste facilities in Alabama (66.3%), Florida (52.7%), Georgia (55.6%), Kentucky (51.5%), Mississippi (50.6%), North Carolina (55.9%), South Carolina (43.9), and Tennessee (53.8%).

After nearly four decades, all of the Region 4 administrators have been white. None of the Region 4 administrators, under Democrats and Republicans, have adequately addressed legacy issues such as environmental racism, unequal protection, and policies and decisions that adversely and disproportionately impact African Americans and other people of color in the region.

According to a recent article in Earth Times, several names have been floated as possible picks as Region 4 administrator: Acting Region 4 Administrator Stanley Meiburg; acting Deputy Administrator Beverly Banister; Russell Wright, assistant administrator of Region 4's Office of Policy and Management; John Hankinson, former Region 4 administrator in the Clinton administration; and Jim Powell, a former senior official with the Energy Department who retired in 2007. Bannister and Wright are African American.

Historically, regional administrators have served as a bridge between EPA headquarters and the state and local governments. While on the surface this traditional role may be appealing to state and local government officials who would move the center of power and authority away from Washington, DC to regional offices, it has been a disaster for African Americans in Region 4. 

A long string of bad decisions have turned far too many black communities into the dumping grounds, lowering nearby residents' property values (stealing their wealth), and exposing them to unnecessary environmental health risks.

Prime examples of these harmful EPA Region 4 state collaborations include permitting of waste facilities and clean-up of toxic contamination.

African Americans make up 21 percent of the population in Region 4. Except for Florida, African Americans comprise the largest ethnic minority in the region. Hispanics make up 20.1 percent of Florida's population compared to 15.3 percent African Americans. African Americans comprise 26.3 percent in Alabama, 29.6 percent in Georgia, 7.6 percent in Kentucky, 37.1 percent in Mississippi, 21.3 percent in North Carolina, 28.6 percent in South Carolina, and 16.6 percent in Tennessee.

Many of the bad facility siting and permitting decisions result directly from deals and compromises made between Region 4 and state and local governments--often at the expense of and over the opposition of African American residents. It is no accident that the modern civil rights movement and the environmental justice movement were born in the South. The glaring inequities that exist in the regions should not exist.

We need one EPA--not 10 autonomous fiefdoms that dispense "separate and unequal" environmental protection for rich and poor and for people of color and whites. We need EPA regional administrators that will apply the rules equally to all Americans, regardless of race, status, or region. We've never had this before. Now this would be radical change we all could believe in and live with.

Robert D. Bullard directs the Environmental Justice Resource Center at Clark Atlanta University.
Bookmark and Share

Monday, October 25, 2010

Walker County, Alabama & ADEM Wars With Tires, Child's Toys and Old Mattresses-- Not Concerned With Coal Mine Contamination

In a state that has so many significant environmental problems it's comforting to know that under new director, Lance LeFleur, ADEM has its priorities straight regarding "serious threats" to the environment. Walker County serves as a skewed example of the misplaced concern over what it is really important to crack down on (i.e. coal mining) for community health and the environment of its citizens and what's not as big of a threat in ADEMs view--like arsenic and mercury in the groundwater and tributaries of the Black Warrior River from coal mine discharges.
Old tire dumping "could be a felony."
Child's toy and old mattress "threatens" environment in Cordova Walker County, Alabama
These recent statements from various Walker County personnel and one Jasper physician about the illegal dump sites found in the area, and the "threats" they pose, makes us wonder why we haven't seen this type of saber rattling and condemnation before about the effects of coal mining on the local environment in Walker County. Well, no not really, we know why, one word: Drummond.

Trent McCluskey, administrator for the Walker County Jail:
"This is a serious issue that is destroying parts of our county. ....this behavior is endangering the inhabitants of our county."
Walker County Sheriff John Mark Tirey:
"This is a serious problem...In some instances this would be a felony."
Jerome Hand ADEM Public relations:
"Across the state this is a major concern. We will help in cost recovery for the cleanups of these areas..."
"State agency is willing to do it's part to help local officials rid Walker County of illegal tire dump sites."
Sumiton Mayor Petey Ellis (who just happens to own a business near one of the dump sites):
"This is a good thing and they are doing a good job taking care of this problem. This is making our city and entire county look better and it is making a safer place for citizens."
Jasper physician Dr. Casey Vague:
"Health problems are a major concern around dumps of any size."
(It's interesting that his opinion is important for this specific issue, but anytime ADEM wants to issue a new landfill permit anywhere in the state it's not a problem.)
McCluskey's parting thoughts end the article with this:
"Walker County is home to a lot of good people. Walker County is not a mere waste receptacle for the thoughtless. Report illegal dumping. Help to protect the environment."

We'll agree that illegal dumping of any kind is not to be taken lightly but when you have "state and local agencies rallying" to save the county from these potentially "felonious transgressions" and ignoring many of the real ones it can all be summed up in another image.
ADEM & ASMC on Alabama's environment
Recently, the Alabama Surface Mining Commission (ASMC) approved a permit for the Sheperd's Bend/Poplar Springs Mine despite strong resistance from the Birmingham Water Works Board, physicians, lawyers, engineers, environmentalists and others who warned this proposed coal mine would have devastating effects on Jefferson County's drinking water, in addition to the groundwater in the surrounding area. The mine will be discharging into the nearby tributary waters of the Black Warrior River.

Cordova Mayor Jack Scott, who was himself a coal miner for twenty-two years, presides over the community where the mine will be placed and shows that he is a Mayor of vision with the following remarks;
"We support it. This is Walker County. We are famous for strip mining coal," Scott said. "It'll have no effect but positive for Cordova."
He can't summon any sympathy for pollution concerns of the Birmingham Water Works, which has a water intake just across the river from the proposed mine site. For Scott, the Water Works tap is a raid on a local resource.
"I couldn't care less about Birmingham," he said. "They are going to suck the river dry." 
The Shepherd Bend site is five miles from downtown, and Scott does not believe it would thwart redevelopment. Nor is Scott concerned about mining's impact on the river.
"Things happen, but it is highly regulated. It's not like it is going to ruin the river," Scott said. "The land is not as pretty after it is stripped but coal is a necessity. This country was built on coal. If everybody blocked coal companies from stripping, we'd be back in the 1600s." 
Between this jughead's lunacy and Alabama Representative Sanders recent claims of blacks would return to the "days of Jim Crow and cotton fields" if republicans are elected November 2 is it any wonder we are the laughing stock of the nation?

Closer examination of the linked story from the Daily Mountain Eagle reveals that it may really be about the Mayor and city anticipating a big cash windfall that will allow them to have their hands directly in the funds. Now why does that sound familiar....? Oh yeah, that's right---the City of Vincent and why they approved a controversial quarry (from Shelby County's and Governor Riley's behind-the-scenes persuading) located in one of the riskiest places you could choose to put a such massive excavation.

Home grown corruption in Alabama's counties and small communities is why we have so many "ethically challenged" politicians in the state house--they learn it on local levels first and carry it with them to Montgomery and Washington.

In yet another really bonehead move by ADEM and the ASMC they permitted this recently approved Walker County mine with the following justification:
Randall Johnson, director of the Surface Mining Commission, said the permit issued today is 4,200 feet upstream from the water intake. *The company will be required to monitor water quality and make corrections if the discharges from the mine violate water quality standards.
* (Yep, the fox will be required to watch the hen house as usual)
"We wanted to make sure we are not going to get any metals or sediment that would compromise the quality of water going into the Birmingham water works intake," Johnson said. "We do not anticipate any problems. If we issue a permit we issue one that is environmentally sound and I think that is what we have here."
We're not even going to bother to go into the long list of how many times ADEM and ASMC decisions are anything but environmentally sound because there's not enough room in three sites to cover them. In fact, we have not been able to find a single one that is environmentally sound or one that's sound on any level for that matter.
ASMC Commissioners (note Dorman Grace the former Ag 2010 candidate. Mining and Ag are as far away from each other as you can get because one seeks to preserve lands while the other intends to destroy them.)

The conclusion of this fight is hinging on the University of Alabama's next move since it owns all the contiguous land to be leased to the mine which will add much more acreage to the 34 acres that are permitted now. The mine is counting on that UA land which is why they have pushed so hard to get a permit on the 34 acres. This has got to be uncomfortable for the Roll Tide big house because many of its alumni and trustees (Drummond among them) have deep ties to big coal and big business.
The proposed mine still has a ways to go before it is fully approved. Black Warrior Riverkeeper and the Southern Environmental Law Center are challenging the pollution discharge permit granted by ADEM. Also, the ASMC still has to decide on whether to approve a mining permit for the Drummond Company subsidiary.
For a university dedicated to improving the state of Alabama, leasing the land for a strip mine would be an aberrant decision. This proposed mine, more than an hour away from campus, does not visibly damage the university itself, but it has the potential to harm two communities and the reputation of the self-proclaimed flagship university of the state.
The University of Alabama should decide not to lease its land, even if the mine passes all regulatory tests. A university’s purpose is to prepare its students for the future so that they can improve their communities. This university needs to prove that it practices what it preaches.
It will be interesting to see what the next moves are by UA. If you are a former student of UA and care about this issue, take a moment to let the university know what your take is on it. The last thing UA wants is a black eye (literally) of any kind and their public perception is paramount to them as any resident of Alabama knows.
UA President Dr. Robert E. Witt
(205) 348-5103

In the meantime, citizens of Alabama stand warned--in the eyes of ADEM if you dump a tire, a broken child's toy or an old mattress somewhere other than your residential waste receptacles and local landfills you could be a felon, and may be vigorously prosecuted from your "thoughtless" actions if you dare soil Alabama's pristine environment and endanger the health of an entire community with your "toxic" Playskool, Serta and Goodyear castoffs.

Notice--this does not apply to any members, friends and business associates of the Drummond and Walter families-- State of Alabama
Janice Barrett of Wild South sums it up nicely in a Letter to the Editor from the September 25th edition of the Birmingham News. Judging from the reader's comments, with the exception of one, most people get it--this mine is a really bad idea any way you look at it.

“In 1819, when Alabama entered the Union, its leaders designed a great seal that featured the state’s waterways. In adopting this symbol they affirmed their belief that the future of Alabama lay with its rivers.
It did, and still does.”
Harvey Jackson III
Rivers of History

Bookmark and Share

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Sunday Funnies--"Weather Penis" Rams Through Southwest

Our webmaster Winger is responsible for this. If you're offended hate mail goes to him, if you think it's funny then it was Max's idea first.

Somebody in the graphics department was having a bit of fun with the weatherman, he doesn't seem at all phased by it and dutifully goes through the weather cast warning San Angelo, Texas residents of the potential explosive nature of the, er..umm...well, you get the idea.
**(after the video finishes, look in the bar below it, video #3 "drunk weatherman" is pretty darn amusing too.)

Meteorologists at San Angelo, Texas' KLST station recently discovered a massive penis of thunderstorms preparing to barrel through west Texas and penetrate its tip into Mexico.

Bookmark and Share

Friday, October 22, 2010

More Bad Behaivor From Coal Ash Cad Greg Jones of Jones Group LLC

Updated October 27
This ABC news story from the 2010 National Legislators Convention in Kentucky was hot news on many blogs and various news sites late yesterday evening that focused primarily on decadent bad behavior by the attendees from the ethics standpoint, but it's on our radar for additional reasons: We know a thing or two about lobbyist Greg Jones who was hosting a golf outing for four Alabama legislators who thought it was more important to play with their balls instead of attending ethics seminars that were going on while these bad boys were enjoying their recreating.

"Par fore the course" because you know what they say about birds of a feather..." Vultures is more like it, read on.

Mr. Jones' lobbying firm represented the Perry Uniontown Ventures Group who were responsible for establishing dump sites in the Perry and Marengo black belt counties that accepted the toxic coal ash sludge removal wastes from the Kingston TVA spill in 2008. The sites were specifically chosen to be placed in minority areas and have caused great misery to those residents, some of whom have filed lawsuits, and it is the subject of ongoing debate that stretches from Alabama to Washington, DC.
According to the permit granted to the landfill by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, the landfill owners and managers are bound to bury the coal ash separately from household garbage, which is also dumped into the ground there in Perry County very near people’s homes. This angle clearly shows that coal ash is being mixed with household garbage, which can contain dangerous substances by itself. According to expert sources, it may be unprecedented for a landfill to combine these elements in one place, and there is no sound science showing the cumulative effects. Add that to the problems the landfill has had getting rid of the liquid waste that drains out of the coal ash, and you have the makings of a massive environmental justice disaster on a scale no government agency has even begun to come to terms with. (Photo credit: Locust Fork Journal/Glynnis Wilson Southwings)

As we have written about before, the Jones Group holds itself up as a champion for minority causes and touts solidarity with "their own" in addition to being one of the vanguards of Alabama's minority children, but we do notice that some of their stellar causes have been removed from the website since we last reported on them.

But this is still there;
Services: "Lobbying - Educating legislators and using our knowledge of the legislative process to affect legislation."
"In lobbying legislation on behalf our clients, we make every attempt to affect the outcome of legislation by coordinating planned and well-executed efforts to either have legislation passed or conversely, keep it from being passed."

They have the added distinction of lobbying for Stephen Bradley & Associates (BARD) who is himself a lobbyist and "governmental affairs consultant." Mr. Bradley, who is pasty white in color only, carries on the fine tradition of the Black Belt Big Mule Coalition that specifically targeted minorities and took advantage of them every chance they got during the Industrial Age of Alabama and into the Civil Rights Era.
*(Neither client is listed on the Jones website under clients, but they are on page 45 of 83 of the 2010 lobbyists form submitted to the Alabama Ethics Board.)

Ethics in either of these men seems non-existent based on their documented histories. The contrast between the Jones Group's causes and the history of the Big Mule Coalition is striking and the images that portray them are in direct conflict with each other. But not in Alabama the veritable definition of contradiction and corruption.

If we didn't have enough of a reason to dislike Mr. Jones before, this story does little to change our opinion towards this cad. We have to wonder if the minority people of Alabama knew what he is really made of,  if there wouldn't be a little reverse Big Mule justice applied to him and these minority legislators that choose to associate with this fiend.

The most compelling aspect of this is that minorities, in a state that fought hard to overcome racism and crimes against them from the Big Mules among others, are now experiencing similar crimes from within their own race. If you're black, poor and live in Alabama you're still viewed as an expendable commodity and the poverty pimps in their own race have made an unholy alliance with the remnants of the Big Mules to keep them further enslaved from the toxic effects of big business and the elected representative corruption in their communities.

The ABC news story describes this state legislature convention as "one big party on the taxpayer dime" that's nothing more than a four-day party. We can go them one better than that--we hear that for the 90 days each year that the Alabama legislature meets in Montgomery that the hi-jinks and debauchery going on while the state's business is supposed to be conducted would rival the National Lampoon film Animal House.

ABC Video

The Alabama group is composed of:
Artis McCampbell (D-Demopolis, Perry County)
Oliver Robinson (D-Birmingham)
Harry Shiver (R- Bay Minette)
Bobby Singleton (D-Greensboro)

A story in today's Montgomery Advertiser has these arrogant jerks defending themselves with claims of "they weren't doing anything wrong."  Even if that non-plausible excuse flies, we need only to look at the past actions of some of these thug-like villains to see what they do and bear witness to the bad behavior of certain Alabama politicians.
Bookmark and Share

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Gone With The Wind On Mescaline--AKA Alabama Politics

"Gone with the Wind on Mescaline" is one of the most memorable lines from the Eastwood film based on John Berendt's book "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil." It's also an accurate descriptor of Alabama politics because the political system in Alabama doesn't make one lick of sense unless you are under the influence of psychedelics or off the hall without permission from Bryce Hospital. Actually, the original name for Bryce, the Alabama State Hospital for the Insane probably should be emblazoned above the entrance of the Alabama state house.

Here's the latest foray into the brown button haze;
"Hello this is Hank Sanders, Alabama state senator, and I'm still mad as hell. I say hell no! I ain't going back to the cotton fields of Jim Crow days. I'm going forward with Ron Sparks, Jim Folsom and others who will do right by all of us. I hope you are mad as hell and will not go back. You have the power to choose. I will stand until hell freezes over for Ron Sparks for governor and Jim Folsom for lieutenant governor on November the second." 
audio of robo call

In the South we're strangely proud of our crazies. We don't hide them away in some attic room and keep them out of sight of visitors like our Northern counterparts, nope, we bring them on out and set them up in the front parlor with unabashed pride because we don't think there is anything to be ashamed of and that they really are stark raving lunatics. They seem just mildly "off" to us.

But sometimes we vary our routine and instead of adding them to our front parlors we elect them to the Alabama legislature.

Bookmark and Share

South and its Leaders are "Mired in Mediocrity"--Andrew Brack of Citizens For A Better South

The following Letter to the Editor appeared in the October 21 Mobile Press-Register from Andrew Brack and we reprint it with permission from him here. He's made some excellent points and he's 100% correct on all of them, which is probably why the Kingfishers of the Press-Register Editorial Board went after him brandishing all of their well-honed knives with a frenzied gusto.
*(Brack's September 29 Huff Post Op-Ed that started it all)

Their editorial response is nothing short of ignorant, misplaced and evidence of a bully's bravado to cling to the old ways of "don't tell us whut ta do." We're not even going to refer to any of their silliness in this post and let the reader access their nonsense through the link. But we do find it interesting that their bragging of two particular industries says nothing about the ensuing cost to the environment because just mentioning that word, environment, brings on the attacks from Alabama's machine.

Alabama doesn't care about education, another of Mr. Brack's points, and the recent numbers bring the state in at almost dead last in the nation. The Kingfishers and politicians hate that inescapable revelation and give further strength to why that is by refusing to talk about how to fix it--all they're interested in is more roads, more big polluter industries to brag on, continued terminally dead environmental enforcement and a lowly educated budding workforce in our schools to produce more of the same. The higher universities are working in concert with this and their best and brightest are being indoctrinated to carry on the Big Mule agenda.

It all serves to keep the staus quo of no change and the continued destruction of our environment and education system. Alabama can do better but not with the same old ways that have held back this state for years and that, we believe, was Mr. Brack's point.

We suspect that with Mr. Brack's pedigree and resume' the Press-Register knew they were outgunned on the intellect level and chose to descend to what the loser of a sensible argument usually does and resorted to name-calling and personal attacks. It's a badge of honor they handed to you, Mr. Brack, with their venomous response (albeit predictable) and you should be proud that they proved your points, and in doing so they showed they weren't smart enough in their arrogant, knee-jerk blustering to think before they attacked.

We say bravo to you Mr. Brack for your fortitude, insight and a compelling letter that tells it like it is and strikes at the nerves that need all the stomping that can be afforded to them on a regular basis.

South and its Leaders are "Mired in Mediocrity"
How comforting it must be for the people of the Mobile Bay area to know that the editorial board of its largest newspaper is a vanguard of intransigence, a seeker of vanilla in a world filled with countless exciting flavors.
Rather than face facts of how our South is being mired in mediocrity by dimwits and pompous politicians who wouldn’t know leadership if it smacked them on the head, the Press-Register would rather shoot a messenger for challenging Southerners to demand better and more.
Based on its Sunday, Oct. 17, attack editorial (South: not perfect, but no ‘clunker’), one wonders whether the editorial board wants poor children to do anything other than attend underachieving, underfunded schools. Or whether it prefers the status quo for unemployed workers struggling to make ends meet.
Yes, the editorial board obviously agrees that we need to push ahead with all guns blaring to keep things the same so we can stay at the bottom — just like we were before the hurricanes and oil disaster.
Good going, edit gang. Bully for you. But I hope the people of the Mobile area see through your slothful embrace of a past that has caused so much pain and hurt to people of the South for generations.
We can do better in our South. But it’s going to take bigger thinking than is going on at the Mobile paper to generate the progress that we so desperately need.

Center for a Better South
Charleston, S.C.

Charleston businessman Andy Brack publishes several online offerings, including weekly commentary in CharlestonCurrents.com and StatehouseReport.com AndyBrack.com is a compilation of some of Brack’s commentary.
Brack, has a national reputation as a communications strategist and Internet pioneer.  A former U.S. Senate press secretary and reporter, Brack provides communications consulting for HawkerBritton, an Australian government affairs firm, and the Charleston School of Law.  He also publishes SC Clips, a daily news service.
Currently, Brack serves as president and chairman of the Center for a Better South. He also chairs the board of trustees of Charles Towne Montessori School. He is a past president of the historic Rotary club of Charleston. Brack is a a former director of the National Wildlife Federation and a past president of the S.C. Wildlife Federation. Brack, a graduate of Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, lives with his wife and two daughters in Charleston, S.C.
*Editor's note--We'll add the links to our R sidebar for future reference.
Bookmark and Share

Smilin' Bob Riley and The Partnership of Shelby County, Alabama

Can someone please name another county in Alabama that Governor Riley has such a keen interest in that matches his interest in Shelby County, Alabama? If there is another county website with a picture like the one below from The Partnership of Shelby County, Alabama, what would they hope to convey with this type of image that seems better suited to a personal photo album than it does as the web presence of an economic Shelby County Chamber of Commerce committee? Does it mean to say come to Shelby County and climb aboard the Riley express to whatever you want?
Photo from homepage of shelbycountypartnership.org October 20, 2010. Pictured are: Heather Ruth Stripling, Jennifer Trammell and Lindsay Humphries with Bingo Bob.
Why is Governor Riley "tickling the ribs" of these women?

Additional information from The Partnership website;
Strategic Business Development
Mission: To promote the creation, expansion, and preservation of Shelby County businesses of all types and sizes through education, access to information and contacts, as well as assisting public and private efforts to improve the business climate in Shelby County while maintaining the quality of life Shelby County residents have come to expect.

We have written extensively on the environmental problems in Shelby County resulting from industrial development and business and residential developments. The EPA audit for the county outlines their extensive problems and has earned them a noncompliance notice for their stormwater management program (SWMP). In addition to citing the non-existent industrial inspections by the county that are having a detrimental impact on the county's environment. So, the question we have is what's their definition of "maintaining the quality of life" and what have they heard from their citizens about what "Shelby County residents have come to expect" in that regard?

If the residents were fully informed of what is really going on in the county and their environment we don't think they would be happy with the county's actions and the glaring lack of good stewardship in maintaining a healthy environment for its residents. Clearly, the county is more concerned with economic development at the cost of the environment. The EPA 2009 audit and CWA violations of some of the residential developments (linked in the R sidebar of this site) in the county illustrate that point with compelling documentations.

We took note of a tweet on Ms. Trammell's twitter page:
Shelby County Reporter | Vincent Town Council approves White Rock quarry request http://ping.fm/Zoctx

*(Parable of the Good Samaritan) 

More from The Partnership site;
About Us/Contact:
It is the vision of The Partnership to create a unified voice for developing the human, physical and financial capital to support the current and future economic vitality in the greater Shelby County region.

What is meant by the term human capital and how is that quantified? Is that a dressed up term for workers, similar to garbage men being described as sanitation directors?

Let's have some more fun with photos from the 2009 Partnership launch:
Jennifer Trammell in one of her more "professional" moments. Who was the bonehead who thought this photo portrayed anything business-like? It almost seems to say: "I told you I would get the Governor here, are my blood red, painted just for Riley nails in the shot too?"
C'mon Jen you know how much we like to play paper dolls together...
The absurdity is great comic relief and it just shows you what pillars of intellect and the razor sharp judgment these egotistical hand baskets possess that we have running this county. And as much cheekiness as we are applying to these images, we are not claiming there is any type of physical relationship going on between the Governor and Ms. Tranmmell, we're just having a bit of fictional fun with them.

We are going to close this with a question that is serious and deserving of not only of a good answer, but it also deserves some further investigation: Why does the Shelby County Chamber of Commerce employ Dr. Robert Wayne Nichols as a lobbyist for the SCC? (page #23) He's got one hell of a pedigree that's for certain.

Heavy hitters like this don't come cheap to a county that is claiming they have slashed their budget "to the bone" and cannot "afford pay raises." Between what the county jail spends for Pine Sol and what they are paying this fellow it starts to make sense why they claim those two "hardships" which affect everyday, hard working, average Shelby County workers, but not polished older gentlemen with cute little dogs.
(We'll agree with what you say on your Facebook page Doc, because we also pray everyday for "the strength to not slap an idiot" ourselves.)
Dr. Echols and dawg wishin' everybody a Roll Tide Christmas y'all! (Love the pom pom too)
The following municipalities and cities do not have COC lobbyists according to the 2010 Alabama Ethics Board registered lobbyist list: Montgomery County, Baldwin County, Jefferson County, City of Mountain Brook and the City of Vestavia Hills.

Shelby County is considered heavily politically connected, the pictures above prove some of that and what are the legislators and elected state representative for the county not able to accomplish in their own state house that an expensive, well-heeled lobbyist can? How much is it costing the county to employ Dr. Echols and what do they get for their money?

Why does the Shelby County COC require a lobbyist while there are none in the above communities listed where you might expect to find someone to represent their economic interests to the legislature?

It's a simple and valid question and probably, in truth and secrecy, one that has a complicated answer that we won't ever really know.
Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Alabama Claims State's Rights Trump EPA Jurisdiction

Alabama has a dismally poor history of enforcement by the lead state regulatory agency the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) and its oversight committee the Environmental Management Commission (EMC). Big business has enjoyed a freedom in this state that borders on criminal, and have now they have turned out their attack dog lawyers to put the bite on a federal takeover of ADEMs water permitting authority by the EPA implying it to be a violation of Alabama's Constitution.
BARD attorney Gilbert says the EPA's demands to ADEM are an overreach by the Obama administration, pushing changes that would amount to new regulations that contradict state law. "What EPA doesn't take into account is state law and the state constitution," Gilbert said. "EPA is reinterpreting the regulations to this administration's liking. And they are focusing on Alabama because the environmental community has lobbied them to do it."
As we have reported before, 14 environmental groups have filed a petition with the US EPA to do what ADEM has never been willing to do--follow and enforce the federal laws of the Clean Air Act (CAA) and the Clean Water Act (CAA). The lawyers are from one primary law firm, Balch & Bingham and the lead bulldogs are BARD lawyers Joel Gilbert and Rob Fowler, both of whom are are very aggressive pro-business advocates exclusively and who have both shown little regard for any environmental regulation and oversight from the EPA.

Their talking points of state's rights and business first have made their way into the gubernatorial candidates rhetoric as reported on in a recent article by the Birmingham News Thomas Spencer.

The following are some lowlights from the candidates, but there is a glimmer of truth in Bentley-R who at least admits there is no real enforcement going on;
Democrat Ron Sparks is dismissive of the federal focus on Alabama's program for protecting water quality. Meanwhile, Republican Robert Bentley wants ADEM to do a better job of enforcing environmental laws. "I do believe you have enough rules and regulations but you do have to enforce them," Bentley said.
"And companies that do not abide by the rules, they need to be fined and that money needs to come back into ADEM," Bentley said. "I think ADEM is lacking in its enforcement. And I talk to a lot of companies that do things right that get upset with the companies that don't do things right. The enforcement is just not there."
Sparks, on the other hand, doesn't take kindly to EPA scrutiny. His negative opinion of EPA is rooted in his dealing with the agency during a conflict in which a north Alabama company was trucking in treated human sewage from the Northeast and spreading it on farmers' fields as fertilizer. EPA had approved the use of the biosolids. "I can tell you, EPA saying ADEM is having problems is the pot calling the kettle black," Sparks said. "EPA certainly don't (sic) need to be pointing the finger at Alabama, in my opinion. I certainly don't want EPA taking over any of the responsibility we have."  *(Note--Sparks bungled that Synagro issue horribly (so did the EPA to be fair) but he should have never agreed to it in the first place. The company was run out of town on a rail after less than three years in business.)
On the national push to lower ozone standards, Bentley took on the more combative role.
Sparks said he'd rely on experts to make sure that meeting the new standards were reasonable and didn't hurt industry.
Bentley said the new ozone standards, which would greatly expand the number of Alabama counties required to take measures to reduce ozone pollution, amount to an intrusion on states' rights. "I believe states should have more of a say-so in what's going on within their borders than they do at the present time," Bentley said. "This gets into a state sovereignty issue."
Both candidates have received campaign support from the coal industry and both are cheerleaders.

 Bentley believes coal's environmental impacts can be countered with advances in science. "I want to save coal production and energy in this country," he said. "If the Germans could figure out a way to make gasoline out of coal, I know it probably takes a lot of carbon, but Americans ought to be smart enough to figure out a way we can use coal."
A recent upsurge in coal mining in Alabama has aroused opposition from communities near mine sites.
Bentley said that, in those cases, property rights need to respected, but coal production needs to be accommodated. "Do I want us to mine more coal? I do. Because that produces jobs," Bentley said. "You have to reach a balance between residential areas and coal mining," he said.

"Coal is extremely important to Alabama,"
Sparks said. "It is extremely important to keep our utility bills low. It is extremely important to many people's livelihoods in Alabama. There again, any regulation that we do we ought to make sure we are using sound science. I know some people get upset with me when I say 'clean coal' but we need to be looking at every ounce of technology we can."
It's hard to believe Ron Sparks is a Democrat. He is so far from the Democratic platform on the environment he sounds more like George Bush than a progressive, although we'll admit that using the word progressive and Alabama is an oxymoron of the first degree.
The memo that Sparky boy apparently did not get our simply cannot read;
"The Democratic Party believes that it is our responsibility to protect America's extraordinary natural resources. The health of our families and the strength of our economy depend on our stewardship of the environment. "We reject the false choice between a healthy economy and a healthy environment. Farming, fishing, tourism, and other industries require a healthy environment. New technologies that protect the environment will create new high-paying jobs. A cleaner environment means a stronger economy. Far too many Americans live with unhealthy air or water quality." 
Bentley-R is wandering into an argument he knows nothing about and is parroting talking points he's been fed by the lawyers on the state sovereignty issue, unfortunately no one has really pressed him on the basis for his remarks. If they did, he would be shown for the ignoramus he is on the issue and is only capable of repeating what he is told to say, rather than having any real knowledge of what the subject has its roots in. We'll be more specific on the roles of Gilbert and Fowler further on in this post, but let's take a look at what this issue is probably stemming from first.

In a ruling by the Eight District Court Harmon Industries, Inc. v. Browner, 191 F.3d 894 (8th Cir. 1999) that court decided that the EPA cannot prosecute its own penalty action under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) after a company has settled an action for the same violations with the state enforcement agency.
The Court reasoned that RCRA statutory language providing that the state hazardous waste program operates "in lieu of" the federal program and that actions taken by the state enforcement agency have "the same force and effect" as actions taken by EPA under RCRA indicate that overfiling is impermissible. The Harmon Court further ruled that RCRA specifically limits EPA's overfiling authority to situations where a state with delegated enforcement authority fails to take any action against a violator after receiving notice from EPA that it intends to overfile if appropriate action is not taken. Finally, the Harmon Court ruled that overfiling by EPA in that case was barred by principles of res judicata, since the company already had settled its violations with the state agency.
Harmon is controlling precedent only in Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota, the states over which the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit has jurisdiction.
This action was brought about under the issue of EPA overfiling;
Overfiling occurs when EPA brings an enforcement action against a company which duplicates an enforcement action taken by a state agency. Under prevailing EPA policy, EPA claims the right to overfile whenever a state fails to take "timely and appropriate action" in response to an environmental violation occurring under an environmental program delegated by EPA to the state.
What's important to note is that this rule only applies to the states mentioned and most importantly that the principles of res judicata are used to handcuff the EPA in those states.

Why do we mention all of this? Because this is what the lawyers are trying to accomplish. They want the Harmon ruling to become effective in Alabama and what is most chilling about that move is the res judicata handicap because it will mean that even if ADEM doesn't do it's job, which they rarely do anyway, and simply enact the weakest level of some kind of enforcement, the feds will be powerless to step in.

Since the courts in Alabama have been packed with pro-business judges, if the Harmon ruling were to become law in Alabama, industries would stand a great chance of prevailing in any legal challenge brought before them, by let's say, the "environmental community." (You'll see that phrase again shortly.)

This is what the lawyer's are up to and Alabama citizen's will ignore this at their peril.

In one of our earlier posts we wrote about ADEM being given a swift kick by the EPA when they were brazen enough to submit a proposal to the EPA with the feds mandated recommendations to their Phase I  & II MS4 programs (which covers stormwater permitting) that they "ran by the business community" (primarily BARD members) first. Predictably, the "business community" was not happy with more regulations and changes of any kind from the toothless tiger ADEM, so they "had a voice" in the changes ADEM made before the final draft was submitted to the EPA.

That kind of makes it clear who is really in charge.

Back to Mr. Fowler and Mr. Gilbert.

On August 19th there was a meeting in Montgomery at the offices of the League of Municipalities of  the Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee (EENR) that was attended by various Council members and Mayors from different cities around the state, and Resource advisers for the committee-- we''ll name the latter;
Dale Hurst, ADEM Air Division
Glenda Deans, ADEM Water Division
Dennis Harrison, ADEM Water Division
James Dailey, ADEM SRF Program Manager
Phillip Davis, ADEM Solid Waste Division
Dave Bolin, Alabama Oil & Gas Board
Joel Gilbert and Rob Fowler of the Balch & Bingham law firm

It would be interesting to know what the criteria was for choosing these particular lawyers given their aggressive, anti-regulation, anti-environmental stance in addition to the companies they represent and those companies' horrendous records on environmental compliance.

Dale Hurst was lamenting about the ozone standards which are a big problem in this state, as well as a nationwide problem, which the EPA recognizes and that's why they're proposing new, stricter guidelines in an effort to control it.

Mr. Hurst states that if the new proposals were adopted "...all counties in a consolidated statistical metropolitan area (CMSA) with a violating ozone monitor, and all counties in a metropolitan statistical area (MSA) with a violating monitor, will be affected. Under these revised Ozone standards, a worst case scenario of non-attainment areas...would affect 29 counties in Alabama. Hurst said this could impact municipalities by creating obstacles for obtaining a construction permit in a non attainment area..."
Mr. Hurst went on to say that "the EPA is constantly changing standards, mostly making them more stringent...these are obstacles to constructing to new or expanding existing industries which have high levels of air pollutant emissions. These will be ongoing issues for municipalities to manage to ensure growth in the future."

Granted this was a municipality meeting and we would expect it to have a business tone to it, but all we hear is complaining about the EPA and that stricter rules will impede industry and new construction.

Next are a few "gems" from our favorite two environmentally sensitive busy boys;
Mr. Gilbert said many felt the the initial draft contained requirements beyond what is mandated by the CWA and that conflict (sic) with Alabama law and the State Constitution. Based on comments from the business community and Phase I & II municipalities, ADEM revised the draft Phase II MS4 general permit....Mr. Gilbert said ADEMs revisions addressed many, but not all, of the concerns raised by the business community and various municipalities.
(They really do want it all their way don't they?)
Mr. Fowler said the EPA, with pressure from the environmental community, had threatened to formally object and take over the Phase II MS4 permit if ADEM did not re-incorporate the requirements it had deleted from the original draft.
(The EPA did formally object which really shouldn't be a surprise Mr. Fowler.)
Gilbert got back into it and claimed that; Either the inclusion of the requirement EPA is demanding or the takeover of the Phase II MS4 permitting by EPA would be financially devastating to the municipalities with the new "burdensome" permitting requirements. (Following the law is tough for multi-million and billion dollar companies Mr. Gilbert?)

Last but not least;
"Mr. Gilbert stressed that industries/businesses and the affected municipalities would be subjected to double regulations from federal/state agencies and subject to requirements that are not part of the CWA of even the EPAs own regulations."

So there you have it, the intentions and sentiment should be very clear to the reader. There really is an easy solution to all of this: companies should follow the law, ADEM should do it's job and penalize them with harsh enforcement that is designed to end the violations, not encourage them and use the monetary penalties as a "cash cow." The profits that ADEM makes off of increased emissions (Alabama Power comes to mind) are diametrically opposed to enforcement--this is an unholy alliance that should be ended promptly.

This is the most ineffectual state agency in the nation, dogged by corruption and collusion and completely unable and unwilling to do anything remotely resembling environmental management. It has always been this way with ADEM and the lawyers are used to running the show much to the detriment of Alabama's environment and their citizens.

"We reject the false choice between a healthy economy and a healthy environment."

If these companies truly fear the overfiling process then here's how you fix it:
At a minimum, they should review relevant federal rules and guidance documents to ensure that any state-sanctioned settlement does not contravene federal policy or standards. They also should educate themselves as to trends in EPA's overfiling in the states in which they operate. If a state's enforcement under a given statute is particularly lax, if a company's industry has a poor environmental track record, or if the settling company is a chronic violator, the risk is higher that EPA may overfile in order to make a strategic point. Where the likelihood of overfiling appears to be great, it may be advisable for the company to negotiate its settlement directly with EPA in the first instance or, in the alternative, to insist that EPA participate in and sign off on any settlement with the state agency.
If they fear EPA takeover and being made to finally follow the rules of the CWA & the CAA then they have only themselves to blame for resisting it for years. Even they have to know that they must demotivate themselves from what they're doing because in the long run, their ways will catch up with them and they are setting themselves up for an expensive fall with their corporate arrogance. Ditto for the lawyers who act as their enablers.

Alabama has already attracted the federal eye and there is intense pressure on coal gluttons and the big polluters to rein in their toxic terror as the effects are more widely known through medical and scientific investigation and study. To blame the federal scrutiny entirely on environmentalists is disingenuous and distracting and it's the argument of a stoic mind that is incapable of forward thinking into the 21st century. It's the argument and the mindset of the past before any laws were enacted, when rivers caught on fire from the high level of pollutants and bellowing smoke was commonplace in most American cities.

By the same token, corporate whores are firmly embedded in all levels of Alabama's government (one of two more will be our next Governor) and good intentions from the environmental groups and a few brave souls will have a very difficult time overcoming them.
Bookmark and Share