SELC op-ed: Alabama can’t afford to go it alone on environmental protections
Below is an excerpt from an op-ed by Keith Johnston, Managing Attorney of SELC’s Birmingham office, in The Birmingham News today. The piece explores the unprecedented attempts from the Trump Administration and Congress to roll back fundamental, longstanding environmental protections and funding for essential state and federal programs, and how these decisions directly impact local communities throughout Alabama.
“After just under three months in office, the Trump Administration has made significant changes to our environmental laws…stripping longstanding clean air and clean water protections, and a proposed budget [that] would shrink the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency by over 30 percent, significantly cutting the agency's ability to enforce environmental safeguards.
“These actions aren't simple reductions to a faceless bureaucracy in Washington, D.C. or curtailing meaningless regulations; they will have real, tangible effects in Alabama and across the South–on our economy, on our communities, on our health, on the water we drink, and on the places we love.
“Crippling EPA's ability to enforce basic protections threatens the health and safety of all of us in Alabama, especially when state funding for environmental programs and many state protections have already been cut to the bone.
“Alabama currently ranks 49th in environmental spending per capita. In recent years, drastic cuts to our environmental protection budgets and staff, including consistent, precipitous drops in funding to the Alabama Department of Environmental Management by the legislature, have slashed the agency's budget by nearly ninety-five percent since 2008.
“With virtually no state funding, ADEM must rely almost entirely on federal money, permitting fees, and fines. In 2016, federal funds accounted for about $60 million, or approximately 40 percent, of the department's $154 million budget.
“The attempt by the Trump Administration to shift environmental responsibilities to money-strapped state and local governments will impact on-the-ground response to environmental disasters. EPA stepped in to lead cleanup efforts after a pipeline spill released 250,000 gallons of gasoline south of Birmingham, causing the governor to declare a state of emergency.
“Passing the buck on environmental protections leaves our state vulnerable–we literally can't afford to have the Trump Administration shift decades of federal environmental protections and responsibilities to state and local agencies that lack the resources to provide these protections.
“Sacrificing our environment at the request of well-connected polluting industries risks irreparable harm to our abundance of environmental wealth, world-famous biodiversity, and the natural resources that make Alabama a special place to live, work, and protect.”