AG Strange should sober up, fight for Alabama, not against EPA

This Op-Ed from ARA Program Director Mitch Reid  originally appeared on AL.com. Click here to read it there. 

Alabama’s Attorney General Luther Strange is on an environmental bender and, like so many other instances of irresponsible excess, it is the innocent bystanders — in this case the citizens of Alabama — who will suffer.

Over the years, Attorney General Strange has made a name for himself by attacking the EPA and the agency’s efforts to provide for a safe and healthy environment for all citizens.  This week, the Attorney General exalted in his continued assault on the EPA at the expense of safe water in Alabama.  Over the past few years, Attorney General Strange has used taxpayer money to buy rounds for the electric utility industry in federal lawsuits aimed at blocking EPA rules that would limit the amount of toxic mercury that can be spewed into the air and contaminate our water.  The result of this pollution is that there are fish in every corner of the state that in some quantities are poisonous to eat.

Last Thursday, right on the heels of yet another fish consumption advisory from the Alabama Department of Public Health, the EPA reached an agreement with Alabama Power to shut down some of its worst generators and install “state of the art pollution control devices” on its remaining systems. Calling EPA protections of clean air and water a “radical political agenda”, on Monday, the Attorney General stumbled out of his Montgomery office to brag about his latest efforts to block the EPA’s rules to limit mercury pollution.

With over 145,000 miles of rivers and streams, most of which drain into our treasured Mobile Delta and Bay via our mighty rivers, Alabama’s citizens have directly benefited from the protections of the Clean Water Act.  These protections have been threatened in the past few years because of a concerted effort by big polluters to undermine the rule through a string of lawsuits across the country.

In a rulemaking process that has taken several years, relied on more than 1,200 peer reviewed scientific papers, and considered tens of thousands of public comments, the EPA developed a rule that clarifies the federal responsibilities to protect our nation’s water under current United States Supreme Court case law. Recognizing that pollution dumped upstream always flows down and in keeping with the current guidance from the Supreme Court, the EPA and United States Army Corps of Engineers concluded that tributaries and wetlands of our nation’s rivers must be protected in order to meet their mandates under the Clean Water Act.

Confronted with a barrage of attacks from big business and their accomplices, the agencies bent over backwards to accommodate farmers, industry, and the states.

The final rule is a necessary and rational explanation of what waters must be protected in order to meet the minimum requirements of the Clean Water Act.

The Clean Water Network, with help from Homer, does a pretty good job at explaining the rule.  Arguably, the agencies should have gone much further.

Not one to know “when to say when,” the AG is back at it again, this time ordering up shots against EPA’s clean water rule.  Tipsy under the influence of power and money, the Attorney General is suing to undermine the Clean Water Act. Posturing like that guy who’s gotten much too loud, Attorney General Strange is making wild and unsupportable claims about the EPA interfering with fence posts and farm puddles.

It’s time for our Attorney General to get on the wagon and pledge to stand up for the citizens of Alabama.

The sobering fact is that if you are dumping waste or fertilizer in a stream, you are polluting the water and if you are “ditching” a creek – that is going to have impacts to water users downstream.

There are many pressing environmental issues right here in Alabama that Attorney General Strange could devote himself to correcting.  Alabama is ranked number four for the amount of toxic material that is already allowed to be dumped in our water and we are also fourth for the number of threatened and endangered species.

If he wanted to really get his hands dirty, EPA’s ECHO database reports the overwhelming majority of sewage treatment systems in Alabama are violating permit conditions or on the verge of failure. Most of these are in Alabama’s rural communities – the ones that are already struggling to stay afloat.

Rather than preening for his big business buddies in showboat attacks on the EPA, Alabama’s Attorney General’s time, and our state’s woefully limited tax dollars, would be better spent making life better here at home.

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