A 2014 report from the Environment America Research and Policy Center paints a pretty bad picture of Alabama’s rivers and lakes. Drawing on data industries are required to provide to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) each year, the report makes it clear Alabama must do much more to protect its iconic waters from pollutants and to safeguard human health, wildlife and the state’s fishing and tourism economies, which rely on clean waterways.
Alabama ranks fourth among 50 states for total toxic discharges. Industries such as stainless steel mills, pulp and paper mills and timber plants released 12.3 million pounds of pollutants into waterways in 2012. Unfortunately, Alabama is:
• Second in the nation for release of cancer-causing chemicals, with 119,116 pounds pouring into its rivers and streams; and
• First in the nation for total reproductive toxins, with 765,972 pounds released.
Specific watersheds of concern include the Lower Tombigbee River, Wheeler Lake and the Lower Alabama River. Based on this and other reports, it appears that toxic dumping in Alabama is on the increase. In Environment America’s previous water pollution report issued in 2012, Alabama ranked 8th in the nation with 9.8 million pounds of toxic dumping. The nearly 25 percent jump to 12.3 million pounds in this year’s report is a startling increase that needs thorough investigation. Clearly, actions must be taken to reverse this dangerous trend. The question is whether that will happen.
Inadequate state funding has to be a major cause of worsening water pollution scenarios in Alabama. Years of deep budget cuts to the Alabama Department of Environmental Management have left the agency bordering on the edge of noncompliance with federal regulations in permitting, inspecting and fining companies that may have violated anti-pollution laws. Cindy Lowry, executive director of the Alabama Rivers Alliance, made this observation:
Alabama must realize the need for more investment in the protection of our waterways and adequately fund the agencies that are charged with implementing the Clean Water Act.
We can’t afford to tie the hands of pollution regulators either at the national or state levels. To do so will only continue to see the problems get worse. Alabama’s reputation is one that polluters have pretty well run the show. The health and well-being of the people of Alabama must be considered and protected.
On the national level, proposed rule changes to the Clean Water Act now under review at the EPA are another critical step to rein in unlawful discharge of pollutants. The changes clarify which bodies of water, such as tributaries that filter to rivers, must be protected from toxic dumping. These make sense because of the interconnected nature of water systems. Common-sense exemptions carved out for agriculture can remain in place.
If they really care about halting the degradation of rivers, lakes, bays and wetlands in our state, members of Alabama’s congressional delegation won’t be a party to the efforts by some on Capitol Hill to obstruct the Clean Water Act improvements. There can be a balance between the economic factors and the public health issues in the regulation of industries that pollute our environment and our water. But the current imbalance – where polluters rule – is a big time mistake.
Source: Environment America Research and Policy Center 2014 Report
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