On November 16th, the director of Alabama’s Department of Environmental Management signed on to a letter from the Secretary of North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality to President-elect Trump calling for a halt on important environmental and public health progress that has been developed over the past several years and suggesting a significant roll back of the responsibilities of the Environmental Protection Agency in protecting our lands, water and air.
Those of us working to protect clean water, clean air, and public health in Alabama are greatly concerned that ADEM, the state agency charged with ensuring that our air and water are protected, would take a position that would essentially erode protections achieved in recent years, such as the rules that clarify it is not legal to dump pollution into our tributary streams and wetlands and the rules that keep harmful toxins like arsenic and mercury out of our rivers and streams.
We live in a state blessed with more than 132,000 miles of rivers and streams and we cannot afford to open the door for unregulated pollution to be dumped on the people of Alabama. We owe so much to the protections provided through the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, and the Clean Air Act.
These federal rules, which are the responsibility of both EPA and ADEM, are the safeguards against cancer-causing agents in our drinking water, toxic pollutants in our air, and the loss of fish and other species in our rivers and streams. Since the passing of the Clean Water Act, thousands of miles of streams are now clean enough to swim and fish in, developers can no longer dump mud from their construction sites in our waters, and power plants must now clean up their coal ash ponds to keep toxic waste from leaching into our rivers. These are benefits that we rely on for our health and the well-being of our children.
Not only is it essential that we continue with the existing rules put in place, it is critical that we continue to respond to new information about what is and isn’t harmful to our health. Just this year, the EPA issued new guidelines alerting us of certain chemicals in our drinking water sources that can be harmful to human health. We would not have known this — let alone been able to respond — without valuable federal research and guidance.
The letter suggests that states like Alabama could do a better job at protecting our health and environment without as much help and oversight from the EPA. We reject the notion that Alabama can do all of this on its own or even with less help than they have now. In recent years, our state government has consistently cut funding for environmental protections and has attempted to lower the standards set by EPA through legal challenges. Our state elected officials have not demonstrated a commitment to clean water and clean air. In fact, without federal funding, the water program at ADEM would not even exist.
Actually, we have a real life example of what it means to leave power in the hands of the state when it comes to our water. While protection from pollution is set by the federal Clean Water Act, the protection of the amount of water in our streams and the use of water is currently left up to the states. For more than 35 years, Alabama has been talking about developing a water management plan and it has not. Now we are on the heels of one of the worst droughts in history and we have seen no state response to ensure that water uses are fairly balanced and that our rivers are protected during this crisis. Without a water management plan, our streams have run dry, causing losses for people, wildlife and economic activities. Is this the kind of evidence that would lead us to want to return more responsibility to the state for essential environmental and health protection?
We will continue to advocate the best, science based solutions to protect our environment and our health and for the most effective path of implementing and enforcing those solutions. We would rather work with ADEM and EPA towards this goal.
Alabama Rivers Alliance, Black Warrior Riverkeeper, Cahaba River Society, Cahaba Riverkeeper, Chattahoochee RiverWarden, Choctawhatchee Riverkeeper, Save our Saugahatchee, Tennessee Riverkeeper