On January 14th, 2010, the Alabama Rivers Alliance and thirteen partner organizations from across the state officially submitted a petition identifying 26 separate areas where the State of Alabama was neglecting its responsibilities under the federal laws outlined in the Clean Water Act. The petition requested that the Environmental Protection Agency remove the Alabama Department of Environmental Management’s authority over its water pollution permitting process.
On April 23, 2012, the Alabama Rivers Alliance and partner organizations submitted a supplement to the petition in which they maintained that the State of Alabama continued to neglect its responsibilities under the federal laws outlined in the Clean Water Act and expressing concern that rather than improve its program, the State has systematically eviscerated the program by levying budget cuts on top of budget cuts, leaving the Alabama Department of Environmental Management’s funding at fraction of what it was when the Petition was filed and facing still more budget cuts in the coming year. In light of these developments, the petitioners requested that the Environmental Protection Agency take accelerated action to remove the Alabama Department of Environmental Management’s authority over its water pollution permitting process.
On April 9, 2014, Heather McTeer Toney, Regional Administrator for EPA Region 4, released a response to the 2010 Petition. In this response, the EPA found that, while the petitioners had raised many valid issues of concern, the EPA would not initiate withdrawal proceedings at this time. Importantly, EPA will not yet issue a decision on whether the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM)’s penalty program is adequate and whether ADEM has the resources necessary to implement the program.
Although Petitioners are still reviewing the EPA’s response, it’s clear that the petition has already been successful,” Alabama Rivers Alliance Program Director Mitch Reid stated. “Requesting commencement of withdrawal proceedings is an extraordinary action reserved for those situations where the state’s program is so deficient that it would better for the federal government to step in with its limited resources rather than to continue under the current state program.”
“In January 2010,” Reid continued, “Alabama’s pollution permitting program was going over a cliff and the petition was the option of last resort to protect Alabama’s waterways and the people that rely on them. Judging from the changes that EPA has noted at ADEM, it is clear that filing this petition has had a positive impact on the protection of our environment.”
While the petition has been pending, the ADEM has had notable changes in leadership. Director Lance LeFleur replaced Director Trey Glen shortly after the filing of the petition. Additionally, Glenda Dean was promoted to Chief of the Water Division. Most importantly, the adoption of several new policies and updating many existing policies has resulted in the improvement of the agency’s protection of Alabama’s water resources.
In many instances, EPA’s response credits improvements in Alabama’s program over the past four years as reasons not to withdraw ADEM’s authority at this time. Unfortunately, EPA also finds that several areas need improvement. Many of these deficiencies are reflected on the EPA’s most recent State Review Framework report issued on March 31, 2014, which the director alluded to in his April 11, 2014, report to the Environmental Management Commission.