5 months ago

‘Can’t even begin to tell you’: Marsh, McCutcheon discuss impact of Rebuild Alabama, Port of Mobile expansion, EV revolution

MONTGOMERY — Yellowhammer News on Wednesday evening held the first Yellowhammer Connection event of 2020.

The event featured a live interview with Alabama Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) and Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia), who gave an overview of the legislative session so far and previewed what is still to come. Yellowhammer Multimedia owner Tim Howe moderated the comprehensive, in-depth discussion.

The gathering at the Alabama Association of Realtors also attracted some of the state’s top policymakers, including Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed (R-Jasper) and House Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter (R-Rainsville).

The contents of the interview with Marsh and McCutcheon will be rolled out in multiple segments. In this article, the first part of the series, we take a look at infrastructure in Alabama.

Howe introduced the subject by mentioning two important project announcements made recently.

First, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers last week announced the allocation of $274,300,000 in federal funds to initiate and complete construction of the deepening and widening of the navigation channel at the Port of Mobile. The federal funding was made possible by the historic leadership of U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), the powerful chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. However, this was not the only critical component of the project funding; the state match was secured last year through the enactment of the Rebuild Alabama Act.

The second project mentioned by Howe was actually announced earlier in the day Wednesday. He referenced Brookwood’s Warrior Met Coal announcing a landmark $550-$600 million investment to open a new world-class longwall mine on the Blue Creek reserves in West Alabama. The met coal industry in Alabama is the Port of Mobile’s biggest customer, and Howe mentioned how the Port project — and thus Rebuild Alabama — has paved the way for the met coal industry and others to expand their operations and grow more jobs.

“The infrastructure bill in general was a big plus for the state of Alabama,” Marsh outlined. “The House and Senate looked at all aspects of infrastructure, and in that conversation, of course, the Port came up. And we knew that if we could deepen the harbor, we could double the amount of freight coming through there. When you double the amount of goods coming in, well, they’ve got to go somewhere. They’re going to be on your roads on trucks — or rail. And it’s going to also provide opportunity to industries and businesses in the state in many cases to ship at cheaper rates because of volume.”

He continued, “There’s no doubt the harbor depth increase was critical; it was, from day one, something we wanted to do. And I can’t even begin to tell you — we don’t know all the areas it will create improvement. But it will create opportunity and improvement in the state.”

The EV future, Alabama head of the curve

McCutcheon soon thereafter discussed the electric vehicle aspect of the Rebuild Alabama Act. The legislation charges hybrid and plugin electric vehicle drivers an annual fee so that they pay their fair share to use the state’s roadways. However, a portion of those annual fees also goes towards a grant program to build electric vehicle charging stations throughout the state.

“One of the positive things that came out of the infrastructure bill, the Rebuild Alabama Act, was the fact that we addressed the electric vehicles,” McCutcheon advised. “We even had discussions about anonymous vehicles … and of course the basis for the discussion was the fact that these vehicles are going to be traveling on our roadways, and they’ll be putting wear and tear on the roads. And therefore they need to have been contributing to the expense.”

“But it was during those discussions that we were able to gain a lot of knowledge and build up relationships with the manufacturers of these types of vehicles so that we could talk about things for the future and the fact that we recognize them — they came to the table,” the speaker added. “And it was more than just talking about dollars being contributed for the use of our roadways. It was an ongoing dialogue about how could they contribute versus the future.”

He again stressed the importance of bringing “the people with the technology” (electric vehicle manufacturers) to the table during the Rebuild Alabama process.

“[A]nd they recognized that Alabama was concerned about their industry and we wanted to keep them involved in what we were doing,” McCutcheon explained. “And that was one of the positive things that happened.”

Marsh also underlined the importance of the electric vehicle portion of the legislation.

He further spoke about electric vehicles potentially being built in Alabama in the near future.

“I absolutely [could see electric vehicles being manufactured in the state soon],” Marsh remarked. “I quite honestly believe that the rate at which electric vehicles will hit the roads will be faster than people expect.”

“And I say that because the battery technology is advancing at a quicker rate,” he continued. “And that’s the key. When you can get a battery that’s charged in 30 minutes or less and you get a range of 500-600 miles, that’s when it takes off. I’m convinced that that’s coming.”

Marsh projected that all automobile manufacturers will ultimately have to get in the business of selling some electric vehicles or “they’re going to be in trouble.”

“So, yeah, I think that everybody (all automobile manufacturers) in the state will have a play in that game, and I think that it’ll be quicker than you expect,” he concluded.

McCutcheon wrapped up his remarks on the subject by noting that the electric vehicle aspect was just part of the “forward-thinking” Rebuild Alabama Act.

“When you look at the Port, and you look at the fees for electric vehicles, when you look at the growth mechanism that was put in that bill, as well as addressing the revenue — just the revenue that was needed from the actual revenue coming from the gas pump — this was probably one of the most forward-thinking bills that the legislature has addressed in several years,” McCutcheon emphasized.

He summarized further, “We didn’t just put a bandaid on a problem to fix it for a little bit. We looked to the future.”

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

Ledbetter: Alabama’s teachers are standing tall with return to classroom instruction

All of the personality traits, values and life lessons that we carry with us as adults were shaped and instilled in us by the people we encountered in childhood. For many, the strongest influences came from our schoolteachers, who opened new worlds of knowledge and taught us skills that remain with us today.

Consider for a moment the music teacher who taught you to play an instrument, the math teacher who led you to a love of numbers, the history teacher who brought to life the stories of our nation’s past, or the English teacher who inspired you to love great literature.

Teaching is one of the few professions whose impact continues to last for decades after the individual who does the job retires.

As many children across Alabama are preparing to return to school even while the coronavirus pandemic continues, teachers have never been more important or vital or deserving of our deepest appreciation.

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Returning to brick-and-mortar school instruction will, hopefully, restore a sense of normalcy to our children’s lives in these decidedly abnormal times.

A return to the classroom and even resuming the online instruction that some are adopting will also help our students maintain their education progress and continue the important social and emotional development that interaction with their peers and instructors allows.

Our English second language learners will receive the communication skills they need in order to better assimilate, and many low-income students will receive the healthy nourishment from the school lunch program that might be denied them at home.

Given the current circumstances and environment, I recognize that some of our public school employees may have a sense of trepidation about returning to school, and that is certainly understandable. Wearing a face mask to do something as simple as shopping for groceries, paying for gas or walking into a restaurant offers all of us a constant reminder that COVID-19 is a very contagious virus.

But our teachers and educators are setting their concerns aside and answering the call to duty.

I know that Gov. Kay Ivey, State Superintendent Eric Mackey and the staff of the Alabama Department of Education took great care in developing the “Roadmap to Reopening Alabama Schools,” and local school boards are being equally diligent in creating and implementing their own safety guidelines.

The importance of sanitization will be stressed more than ever before, and billions of dollars made available to Alabama through the federal CARES Act will help ensure that any resources that are needed to reopen schools safely will be readily available.

As the majority leader of the Alabama House, I can also offer assurances that the legislature stands ready to pass legislation or make appropriations that are necessary to ease the return to classroom instruction once we are in session.

The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted an even deeper appreciation of the frontline heroes who have remained on the job and provided the most essential services throughout the crisis.

Doctors and nurses in our hospitals and health clinics; grocery store and other retail employees; law enforcement officers, emergency workers and firefighters; postal workers; sanitation workers; restaurant personnel; and those in dozens of other professions are among those who continued working even when times were their toughest.

I am proud to say that the teachers, school nurses, administrators and support personnel in Alabama’s schools also rank high upon the list of those who have stood tall, and their already invaluable service to our state is even more important to students and parents in each of our cities, towns and crossroads today.

Helen Keller, one of Alabama’s most inspirational figures, once said, “It was my teacher’s genius, her quick sympathy, her loving tact which made the first years of my education so beautiful. It was because she seized the right moment to impart knowledge that made it so pleasant and acceptable to me.”

As I close by wishing everyone a safe, happy and healthy school year, we would all do well to keep Helen Keller’s words in mind.

State Rep. Nathaniel Ledbetter (R-Rainsville) serves as majority leader in the Alabama House of Representatives

5 hours ago

Alabama Ag Commissioner Pate gives update on unsolicited seed packages from China, urges public to stay ‘vigilant’

MONTGOMERY — Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries (ADAI) Commissioner Rick Pate gave an update Monday afternoon on the spate of seed packets from China that people across Alabama have received in recent weeks despite never having ordered anything.

Pate said that after the state seed labs had performed tests on the packets they had collected from individuals across Alabama, and none of them proved to be dangerous.

“Right at 50% of them proved be some kind of weed flower … 41% were vegetables, and 9% were herbs … we found no noxious compounds, no dangerous compounds,” said Pate at the event.

However, he warned, “They might send out the first seeds that weren’t treated with anything, have a sense of security come about, and then later send something out that could be harmful.”

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The commissioner further urged members of the public to refrain from planting any unsolicited seeds and continue to report them to the Department.

“At the very least something criminal has gone on here,” stated Pate, referencing laws that prevent seeds from being moved across state lines without being inspected by the relevant agencies.

Pate said his department had collected 252 seed samples as of Monday morning.

A total of 385 individuals in all but 11 of Alabama’s 67 counties have received one of the packets, according to information relayed at the press conference. State workers will be collecting the remaining samples soon.

(AL. Dept. of Ag/Contributed)

“Because we’ve got such a good food and drug lab, because we’ve got such a good seed lab, we knew this was inside of our comfort zone,” Pate said of the decision to conduct the seed tests in-house as opposed to shipping them to the federal government.

Andy Tipton, division director of Food Safety and Ag Compliance, said that 25 states had reported similar seed packets showing up at consumers’ doorsteps. He added that the ADAI was turning over all relevant info to the FBI, who were monitoring the situation.

Pate further told Yellowhammer News that one of the prevailing theories remained that the cause was an internet seller running a scam to artificially inflate their customer numbers and create opportunities for fake reviews.

He ended his press conference saying, “We have no idea the reason for this happening, but it doesn’t mean we can stop being vigilant.”

Any Alabamian still receiving one of the packets can report it here.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95

6 hours ago

Alabama basketball star John Petty returning for senior season

University of Alabama star forward John Petty, Jr. will return for his senior season, the player announced on Monday.

The Huntsville native was a second-team All-SEC honoree this past season, after leading the Southeastern Conference in three-point percentage.

Petty was considering entering the 2020 NBA Draft, however he decided to return for a final season in Tuscaloosa after evaluating his prospects. Another college season could see Petty lock down his chance at being a first-round pick.

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Tide head coach Nate Oats released a statement on Monday afternoon celebrating Petty’s return.

“It’s great to have John back for his senior year,” Oats said. “He is certainly one of the best, if not the best, shooters in the country which is extremely important to us with how we play.”

“He’s made it clear that it’s his goal to become a first round pick in the 2021 NBA Draft and we’re going to work with him to make sure he’s in the best position to reach that goal. Let’s get to work!” the coach concluded.

Follow along with the Bama men’s basketball program here.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

6 hours ago

State of Alabama, University of Alabama System officials unveil GuideSafe app aiming to keep schools virus-free

Key figures from Alabama’s government and university systems joined to announced the new GuideSafe platform that bills itself as the key for students to safely return to college campuses amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The GuideSafe platform will help the state fulfill its promise to test every single college student before they return to campus, and the platform will provide a space for ongoing health monitoring throughout the semester.

The unveiling took place over videoconference, where State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris, University of Alabama System Chancellor Finis “Fess” St. John and other key players detailed the importance of GuideSafe to the upcoming semester.

GuideSafe was developed by the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) in conjunction with the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) and tech company MotionMobs. It will be provided to any educational institution in the state that wishes to use it.

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Governor Kay Ivey apportioned some of Alabama’s CARES Act funds for the development of GuideSafe and the universal free testing for college students.

St. John on Monday praised Ivey’s “decisive action to provide funding” for the testing initiative and other campus reopening measures.

(Click for higher resolution version that will open in new tab)

GuideSafe will be accessible via app on smartphones and tablets and via web browser on any computer. Students will be invited to join the platform in the coming weeks.

One of the key features of the GuideSafe app is that it will track the location of students via smartphone and then inform them if they have come into contact with someone who has tested positive for the coronavirus.

“This new app – using Google- and Apple-led technology and created by UAB faculty, staff and MotionMobs for the people of Alabama – is a necessary tool in our effort to return to college campuses safely this fall,” said UAB President Ray Watts.

The app also allows students and faculty to report symptoms as they experience them, and get directed to a nearby testing site if necessary.

“The combination of these tools enables every participating college, university and K-12 school to engage faculty, students and staff regarding on-going monitoring of symptoms, exposure and risks of acquiring COVID-19,” said Sue Feldman, professor and director of graduate programs in health informatics at UAB.

A general factsheet on GuideSafe is available here.

Watch:

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95

7 hours ago

Trump fires TVA board chair after outsourcing uproar

President Donald Trump on Monday announced that he was removing the Tennessee Valley Authority’s board chairman, Skip Thompson, an Alabamian.

Thompson, a resident of Decatur, is the president and CEO of Corporate Billing, a subsidiary of Birmingham-based National Bank of Commerce. He previously served as the president and CEO of both First American Bank in Decatur and First Commercial Bank in Huntsville, as well as serving on the board of Decatur Utilities.

Trump appointed Thompson to the TVA board in 2018. He was elected chairman of the board last year.

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The president on Monday cited TVA’s plan to outsource information technology jobs overseas as the reason for firing Thompson and one other board member. Trump warned the other board members that they would be next if the outsourcing continued. The president also called on them to replace the organization’s CEO, who Trump said was making far too much money.

The president added, “Let this serve as a warning to any federally appointed board: If you betray American workers, you will hear two words: ‘You’re fired.’”

The TVA is the electricity provider for much of North Alabama. Self-described as “a corporate agency of the United States,” it is regulated at the federal level and not under the jurisdiction of the Alabama Public Service Commission.

Congressman Mo Brooks (AL-05) applauded Trump’s move on Monday.

“TVA fires AMERICANS & hires cheap foreign labor,” the North Alabama congressman tweeted. “TVA executive salaries EXORBITANT. TVA=NO competition, unlike private sector execs who compete to earn profits to earn pay… WAY TO GO [President Trump]!”

RELATED: Doug Jones: ‘The TVA has lost its way’

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn