On the cusp of a new legislative session, we are very excited about the opportunities to advance some good pieces of legislation that will improve environmental and public health, as well as kickstarting the process of protecting our state’s water resources with a Water Plan.
An enhanced emphasis on legislative work is a big part of ARA’s new strategic plan for 2023 – 2027. This year, we are especially focused on continuing to build partnerships and relationships with our legislators, local elected officials, and our more than 100 partner groups across the state and region in order to further our work in the legislature.
Often times it can feel like those of us who care about the health of our environment are playing a lot of “defense” in Alabama. We’re often fighting against bad bills that threaten our unparalleled water resources and biodiversity. As a movement, we have gotten pretty good at stopping bad legislation. A lot of that success is due to you, our supporters and allies, who call and write and meet with their legislators to stand up for our right to a clean and healthy environment.
Luckily, this year, we haven’t seen any bad bills rear their head (yet). That represents a great opportunity for those of us in the environmental and conservation community to get some good things done for our rivers and streams and the people who depend upon them. At the head of the list is the Safe and Health Outdoor Recreation (The SHOR Act / HB 14), sponsored by Representative Craig Lipscomb!
This bill will:
- Codify the existing fish consumption advisory program into law
- Install advisory signage at all public boat ramps and fishing piers across Alabama
- Create a blue ribbon panel for community input and feedback
- Add fish consumption advisory information to fishing licenses
Last year, versions of this bill passed both the House and the Senate, and we are very optimistic that it will cross the finish line this year and become law!
ARA is also working with partners on potential legislation related to waste sludge, and we are working to reconvene the Joint Legislative Committee on Water Policy And Management in order to advance efforts to create a Water Plan to protect and account for our state’s water resources. Additionally, we’re expecting some updates to dam safety legislation that passed last year in order to make that law more effective and impactful.
Last but not least, the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) will be looking for more funding from the state general fund to support their water program. ADEM is the least funded state environmental regulatory agency in the United States. ADEM has already informed the legislature that their current funding levels will not be able to support the water program, and that more funding is needed. We support ADEM receiving the money they need to continue their existing water program operations, but would like to see greater oversight from the legislature and targeted funding to ensure that ADEM can improve their existing water protection programs in order to protect our state’s irreplaceable and unique water resources.
If you have any questions about the legislative process, or about ARA’s work, please don’t hesitate to reach out! You can email me or call me at the office at 205-322-6395 ext. 1002.
Water Is Life,
Charles R. Miller, J.D.