1 year ago

Greg Reed: ‘God put’ coal on earth for a reason; Alabama’s miners have strong ‘sense of pride’

JASPER — Yellowhammer News on Thursday held the fourth of its 2019 News Shapers events: “West Alabama and the coal industry.”

Hosted at Musgrove Country Club, top stakeholders from industry, government and academia came together to discuss the coal industry’s impact on Alabama.

Yellowhammer co-owner Tim Howe moderated the forum, which featured Alabama Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed (R-Jasper); Philip Saunders, vice president of engineering for Warrior Met Coal; Ken Russell, director of workforce solutions for Bevill State Community College; Judith Adams, vice president of marketing for the Alabama State Port Authority; and Brett Bussman, senior vice president and general manager for Tractor & Equipment Company.

Areas of focus included analysis on the past, present and future of the industry, highlighting the industry’s state and regional impacts, related workforce development efforts and community influence.

‘For me to represent those folks — it’s important’

Reed was the first panelist to speak and kicked things off by emphasizing how much the coal industry has meant to West Alabama historically — and how that special importance remains today.

He said the impressive standing room only crowd, which included a bevy of state legislators, local elected officials and representatives from various state agencies, was a tribute to the continuing impact coal has throughout the Yellowhammer State.

“Some of you have heard me say this before, but I pride myself on saying that I’m ‘the coal senator.’ And it’s because I represent Walker, Winston, Fayette, Tuscaloosa and Jefferson Counties,” Reed said. “If you look at the numbers, those are the top coal-producing counties in the state of Alabama.”

“But you go a long way back — I’m 54 years old and I grew up in Cordova, Alabama, down on the Warrior River in south Walker County,” he continued. “And just about everybody was involved in some way with the coal industry… It’s just a fiber of who I am. My wife Mitsy is with me tonight. Her grandfather was a coal miner. Her daddy was a coal miner. Both my grandfathers were retired coal miners. So, the roots run deep in this community in regards to the significance of coal.”

“And the reality is God put something in the ground, and he gave men and women the intellect to know how to extract it, be able to then use it to produce all kinds of fantastic things that are so important to our lives. So, there is a certain sense of pride in knowing that’s who you are and what you do. For me to represent those folks — it’s important.”

Reed then said while Alabama’s coal industry has experienced “ups and downs,” the present state of affairs looks relatively good.

“[T]hings are back, and they’re positive,” he advised. “They’re exciting.”

However, that has not always been the case, recent times certainly included.

Reed outlined, “We’ve had some difficult times, too. I remember — you may know (Alabama Secretary of Labor) Fitzgerald Washington … this was only, during my tenure in the Alabama Senate, only about five or six years ago. We had an event at the Jasper Civic Center that was a job fair for coal miners (who were unemployed). At that time, I had about 1,000 men and women in my district that were out of work. And the coal industry had run on tough times. That day, we signed up 1,100 men and women that were standing in there with their resume, waiting for an opportunity to ask somebody for a job when they had spent their whole life being a coal miner. The good news is most all those folks have gone back to work (in the coal industry since then). And we’ve got folks that are on the panel with me here and those of you that are sitting out there (in the crowd) that know that the industry has hired hundreds and hundreds of new folks that are making big money doing what they enjoy doing and love doing, which is a great benefit to our community.”

Jobs, jobs, jobs

Bussman then spoke about the steam/thermal coal (which is burned for power generation) industry, explaining the high startup costs that these surface miners in the state face. He said a fleet of equipment alone would easily run someone $15 million off the bat.

Not only is this equipment supporting indirect jobs in Alabama, but so is maintaining the equipment. Whether that means highly skilled mechanics or giant specialty tires for the trucks, this is still big business. Additionally, there are tools and resources needed that have provided many secondary jobs from the industry, including the mining explosives provided by companies such as Nelson Brothers. That is not even to mention the transportation jobs supported by coal, from trucking to rail to inland waterways.

Saunders built off of this in his remarks, explaining that the modern mining industry is now what people perceive it as.

Using pictures to make his point, Saunders said that long gone are the days when coal mining entailed miners using pickaxes picking out rocks out of stores of mined coal by hand.

Now, the equipment is massive, high tech and, yes, very expensive.

However, high tech equipment also calls for highly trained workers to operate and maintain them.

This is why miners at Warrior Met Coal are also highly paid, with starting annual salaries of $80,000.

Through the company’s unique collaboration with Bevill State, Saunders and Russell outlined that Warrior Met Coal has trained 600 new miners this year alone.

Saunders stressed that this public-private workforce development effort is integral to the company’s ability to thrive and grow, which in turn is crucial to the surrounding community.

This past legislative session, Bevill State’s groundbreaking mine training facility was given another major boost via an approximately $1 million grant for longwall mining training. Reed spearheaded this effort, according to the Alabama Coal Association.

A major theme from the industry and academia panelists on Thursday was that the state’s support of workforce development initiatives and infrastructure investments are crucial to the coal industry, as well as many other jobs juggernauts in Alabama.

Adams said this especially included the Rebuild Alabama Act, which will make possible the deepening and widening of the Port of Mobile’s ship channel in order to compete at the highest level of international trade.

In fact, the met coal (coal used for coke, which is a necessary component in steel and iron making) industry is by far the port’s biggest commodity exporter– and Warrior Met Coal is the port’s largest single customer by tonnage. Overall, coal accounts for 50% of the port’s total business.

Looking forward, Adams predicted that deepening the ship channel will allow Alabama’s coal exports to make a significantly increased dent in Asian markets especially.

Saunders advised that Australian met coal producers are currently Warrior’s biggest international competitor, and the Rebuild Alabama Act’s effects are expected to make the state’s met coal industry even more of a player on the worldwide stage.

Adams hailed state leaders, such as Governor Kay Ivey and the Alabama Legislature, for the infrastructure package and especially singled out the stalwart efforts of Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) for his support of the port improvements.

“We see the money that’s being invested and what that means for these shippers. And this industry up here (coal), they’re going to be able to load more coal,” she said. “They’re going to be able to put 20/30,000 tons more per ship, and for the first time, we think we’re going to have a competitive edge in the Asian market. We already serve Latin America and Europe… We’re excited about it.”

While things look up from this perspective, Saunders also advised that Warrior Met Coal was seriously looking into another expansion.

He said that its Blue Creek Mine has been identified as one of the largest untapped coal reserves in America. The company is studying the economic feasibility of the project, with a decision to likely come near the end of this year or early 2020.

If Warrior Met Coal does move forward with this expansion, it would probably mean another 450-700 high-paying jobs in the area.

‘This is a big deal’

This type of industry optimism can continue, with the support of the state and federal governments, Reed said.

“We’re proud of the fact that we are a pro-business state,” Reed emphasized. “We are looking for ways … minimize regulatory requirements that would cause us to not be able to see the kind of investment and growth that we have.”

He then recounted a story a vendor told him this past session that provides powerful perspective into the impact of Alabama’s coal industry across the globe and back here at home.

Met coal mined in the state is being shipped by barge down to the Port of Mobile and then shipped out to European steelmakers. Some of that steel is then sent back through the Port of Mobile to Mercedes-Benz’s manufacturing facility in Tuscaloosa, and those automobiles are enjoyed worldwide, thanks, in part, to the contributions of hardworking, proud Yellowhammer State coal miners.

“For West Alabama, this is a big deal,” Reed concluded. “And I’m just excited to be a part of it.”

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

6 mins ago

Doug Jones attacks longtime Alabama law enforcement officer as ‘fool’

U.S. Senator Doug Jones (D-AL) on Friday lashed out at one of Alabama’s most respected, longtime law enforcement officials.

In a tweet, Jones shared a television ad that Republican U.S. Senatorial nominee Tommy Tuberville’s campaign is running.

That ad features Supernumerary Sheriff Mike Hale, who served as Jefferson County’s sheriff for five terms.

In the spot, Hale begins, “The lawless, violent mob wants to defund our police and erase our proud American history.”

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“Liberal Doug Jones is standing with them, not us,” he continues. “Jones spoke at a liberal rally in Alabama that turned into a riot where a monument was destroyed and buildings were damaged. Doug Jones is undermining law enforcement and coddling dangerous criminals and putting Alabama families at risk.”

Hale, a Republican, was defeated in 2018 in the solidly blue Jefferson County; however, the close race (51.4% to Hale’s 48.54%) underscored Hale’s continued bipartisan credentials and popularity in Alabama’s most populated metropolitan area.

He entered into the world of law enforcement as a Homewood Police Department officer in 1973, embarking on a 45-year career protecting and serving Alabamians of all stripes.

Hale went on to receive national, non-partisan recognition for his tenure as sheriff on several occasions.

Among a litany of achievements, he successfully fought to strengthen Alabama law, making it a felony when convicted sex offenders violate the state registry laws. This change made the Yellowhammer State’s law the strongest in the country in relation to convicted sex offenders.

Next, Hale created an Identity Theft Unit and Computer Forensics Unit, both of which were the first of their kind in the region.

In 1999, he also created the sheriff’s office groundbreaking School Resource Division for county schools to fight domestic terrorism. This was pre-Columbine and that division has since been lauded as a national model for law enforcement agencies.

Under Hale’s leadership, the department was also effectively released from a consent decree that dated back to 1982, well before he became sheriff, regarding the hiring and promotion of African-Americans and females. In doing so, a federal judge emphasized that under Hale, the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office’s hiring and promotional practices had been fair and that they did not discriminate against African-Americans or females. The judge complimented Hale on his commitment to diversity and compliance with federal law. These plaudits are reflected in the objective numbers: nearly 30% of the county’s deputy sheriffs were African-American, and nearly 20% of the deputy sheriffs were female, both as of 2018. Additionally, more than one-third of the officers were African-American.

“I’m proud I turned a white-male-dominated sheriff’s office into one that reflects the community we serve,” Hale told Alabama Media Group after his 2018 defeat. “I’m very pleased that I was inclusive. I believe in my heart that prejudice cannot survive and thrive in a department that needs to reflect its community.”

Another shining jewel of Hale’s leadership was the creation of the Metro Area Crime Center (MACC). The MACC has 13 different agencies staffing a work center that allows them to share information about suspects and crime trends on a daily basis. Additionally, the MACC is a law enforcement resource for any agency in the state that needs assistance with difficult investigations. MACC investigators use state-of-the-art technology and software to assist in solving the most complex of cases. The MACC also has a video center that is staffed 24/7/365 to prevent and reduce crime through the use of deployable mobile surveillance platforms (camera trailers). Overall, the MACC is bringing crime fighting into the modern age and revolutionizing how law enforcement agencies fight crime.

However, in his Friday tweet, Jones blasted Hale as a “fool.”

Alabama’s junior senator referred to the ad as “crap” while affirming that he had indeed featured at what he even referred to as a “liberal rally.”

Less than two hours after being posted, Jones’ tweet had boosted the reach of Tuberville’s ad by more than 10,000 views.

This is not the first time rioting has come into play in Alabama’s U.S. Senate race. The NRSC previously released a video ad tying Jones and his fellow Democrats to riots that occurred across the nation over the summer. Jones has not condemned Antifa during his time in the U.S. Senate.

Voters will decide between Jones and Tuberville in November 3’s general election.

Tuberville has the endorsement of the Alabama Fraternal Order of Police in the race.

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

19 mins ago

Dale Jackson: I made a mistake by voting early, so vote ‘YES’ on Amendment 4

I dislike early voting.

I oppose it for many reasons. Things change in the race as new info becomes available and, as we will learn this year, it creates a hassle, room for fraud and opportunities for legal wrangling.

But, I thought I would vote early this year.

I was already decided on all the candidates, and I knew the amendments pretty well.

Or so I thought.

As part of my daily radio program, “The Dale Jackson Show” on WVNN, I get to interview lawmakers and decision-makers on a regular basis and get to pick their brains about individual issues.

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A few weeks back, State Senator Sam Givhan (R-Madison) and I were discussing the constitutional amendments on the ballot, and I expressed that I was a “NO” on Amendment 4.

Givhan told me as time was running out that we need to discuss that further, so I agreed to do so at a later date. That time came this week, and now I would like to change my “NO” to a “YES.”

I can’t, obviously, but I would like to.

Amendment 4 is worded as follows:

Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, to authorize the Legislature to recompile the Alabama Constitution and submit it during the 2022 Regular Session, and provide a process for its ratification by the voters of this state.

In plain English, it says: Alabama’s constitution can be changed only during a constitutional convention or when a majority of voters approve a constitutional amendment.

If a majority of voters vote “YES” on Amendment 4, the Alabama Legislature, when it meets in 2022, would be allowed to draft a rearranged version of the state constitution. This draft could only (1) remove racist language, (2) remove language that is repeated or no longer applies, (3) combine language related to economic development, and (4) combine language that relates to the same county. No other changes could be made.

I was mistaken when I believed that a rewrite of the constitution would open the door to long-desired changed from the more liberal members of Alabama’s legislature.

They have wanted to change the way taxes are raised in the state for at least the last 20 years.

Sure, they cloak it in “the Alabama Legislature is too long” and “there is racist language in the Constitution,” but the end game is a rewrite, and I am always out on that.

I don’t care how long the document is. Attempts to remove racist language in the past was fought by black leaders.

But as I raised these issues to Givhan about the rewrite, it was clear I had made a mistake, and he set me straight and the impact of that language is non-existent in 2020.

As Givhan explained this week on “The Dale Jackson Show” what the bill does, I knew I made a mistake.

“Number one, this gives us the authority to do what for the large part has actually already been done as far as reorganizing it,” Givhan advised.

He added, “This is not going to change the way we do our taxes. We’re limited in what we can do and the voters will have another check on that and we’ll also have to have a super majorities of both the house and the senate to pass this move to recompile the constitution.”

My takeaway:

My reasons for being a “NO” vote were a mistake. I cast a bad vote, but I can’t take it back.

The best I can do is tell other people I made a mistake and hope they cancel me out.

So, vote YES on Amendment 4 on Tuesday!

Listen:

Dale Jackson is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News and hosts a talk show from 7-11 AM weekdays on WVNN.

 

3 hours ago

Anheuser-Busch donating hand sanitizer to Alabama polling places

Anheuser-Busch is helping to brew democracy this fall.

The famous American beermaker is producing and donating more than 8 million ounces of hand sanitizer to polling places across the country.

A partnership between Anheuser and the National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS) is helping to bring some of that free sanitizer to precincts in Alabama.

Secretary of State John Merril, Alabama’s chief elections official, says his office has distributed 1,579 gallons of hand sanitizer among 44 counties that requested the substance. Merill is heavily involved in NASS, including currently serving as the organization’s vice chair for the southern region.

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“It is critical that counties are supplied with adequate sanitation supplies, personal protective equipment, and other items necessary to protect voters, poll workers, and others involved in the electoral process,” he said in a release on Friday morning.

Facilities that create alcoholic beverages have the ability to switch to making alcohol-based hand sanitizer quickly. It is a substance easily made with the equipment and materials on hand at such beverage producers.

Breweries and distilleries in Alabama and across the nation switched to making sanitizer for a time when the coronavirus began spreading in the United States this past spring.

Cesar Vargas, Anheuser-Busch chief external affairs officer, remarked in a statement, “Anheuser-Busch is committed to uniting our communities, strength­ening our democracy and encouraging even greater participation in the political process.”

“One part of this commitment is shifting our production capabilities to donate hand sanitizer so that election officials and voters throughout the country can take part in a safe election this fall,” he added.

Anheuser has donated over 500,000 bottles of hand sanitizer since COVID-19 reached the United States.

Additional groups helping to distribute the sanitizer are the National Association of State Election Directors and the online payments company PayPal.

Grace Newcombe, press secretary for the secretary of state’s office, told Yellowhammer that “because such a high volume of hand sanitizer was requested, PayPal provided an additional 630 bottles of hand sanitizer on top of those provided by Anheuser-Busch.”

Merrill credited the multi-group partnership with helping to make it so that “voters can confidently head to the polls on Election Day to cast their ballot in a safe and sanitary environment.”

The general election will occur on November 3; Alabama’s precincts will be open for voters from 7:00 a.m. until 7:00 p.m.

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

3 hours ago

How to vote if you test positive for COVID-19 before Election Day

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall has issued guidance for voters who receive a positive coronavirus test between Friday, October 30, and the day before the election, Monday, November 2.

Marshall says that a positive COVID-19 test during that period qualifies a voter to apply for an emergency absentee ballot.

Such ballots, and the system to get one, already exist in Alabama law.

Citizens who test positive may designate an adult to assist with the emergency absentee ballot process, meaning an individual who tests positive will be able to remain in quarantine and still vote.

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The voter’s designee can deliver the emergency ballot application, pick up that ballot and bring it to the voter, and return the filled out ballot to the absentee election manager.

The space to assign the designee is at the bottom of the emergency absentee ballot application.

Voters can access an emergency absentee ballot application here, and citizens can find the address for their county’s absentee election manager here.

An application for an emergency absentee ballot requires the signature of a physician, or a physician can issue a signed report, and the voter can include that with their application.

Applications for an emergency absentee ballot must be turned in by the close of business on Monday, November 2.

Filled out emergency absentee ballots must be returned to the county absentee election manager by noon on Election Day.

In a typical year, emergency absentee ballots are used by individuals who find out suddenly that they must undergo a serious medical procedure on Election Day, or people who have their employer send them out of town for business at the last minute.

There appears to be no alternative to voting in person for someone who receives a positive coronavirus test result on Election Day.

The last day to apply for a standard absentee ballot was Thursday, October 29, creating the relatively narrow window of time for which Marshall has issued guidance.

People can also contact their absentee election managers by phone to get more details on hours of operation or answers to any questions they have about their emergency absentee ballot application.

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

Setting the record straight on Baldwin County’s toll fallacies

Baldwin County voters will head to the polls in just a matter of days to cast their vote on a full ballot, including several local amendments which will influence various aspects of residents’ everyday living. Of the four local amendments on this year’s ballot is Local Amendment 2, which I co-authored, and which proposes the creation of the Baldwin Beach Express II (BBEII), extending the northern end of the current Baldwin Beach Express to link I-10 with I-65 (the project).

If approved by the voters of Baldwin County, a toll authority would be established on this new stretch of road to pay for the construction and continual maintenance of the roadway. The toll authority would only be granted jurisdiction over the BBEII, and no other road, leaving drivers the choice to take this new roadway or continue using their everyday roadways just as they have been doing for years, still free of charge. We anticipate the new road will be available for use in five to eight years.

Due to the four-letter word “toll,” opposition has taken to various platforms urging Baldwin County voters to reject Local Amendment 2. However, these opposing voices misrepresent crucial aspects and facts of Local Amendment 2 that make the BBEII a safe and sound move for Baldwin County. While similar initiatives have appeared on ballots in years past, this year elected officials are asking Baldwin County voters to vote yes on this new roadway. The proposed BBEII is a totally different, locally controlled toll authority.

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This amendment is appearing on this year’s ballot in a timely manner. If not voted on this year, it is likely the amendment would not be presented to the public for at least another two years. Moreover, construction of the approved roadway would not finish until five to eight years after the initial vote. This is time we simply do not have when dealing with matters of infrastructure, county growth, safety, and economic opportunity.

Since 2014, our county’s population has grown nearly 50%. The time to invest in our future infrastructure is now and doing so will assure that we are able to support and sustain Baldwin County’s potential growth for years to come.

Recently, it has been suggested that Baldwin County voters will be giving lawmakers a blank check to construct this new roadway. The blank spaces found in the legislation are put in place due to the introduction of contingent acts. In other words, this amendment cannot be considered an act until final passage, and until Baldwin County votes “yes” on Local Amendment 2.

False assertions have also been made regarding the makeup of the toll authority members and their powers. The proposed act clearly requires that the Toll Authority Directors be appointed by the Baldwin County Commission and will serve a maximum six-year term limit. Toll Authority Directors will be held accountable by the Baldwin County Commission and may be subject to impeachment by the County Grand Jury, District Attorney or the Alabama Attorney General. The legislation also includes a provision of law (page 23, line 17) that prohibits nepotism, ensuring the Toll Authority Directors are acting on behalf of the common good for Baldwin County.

A yes vote on Local Amendment 2 will only improve our way of life in Baldwin County. We may continue using the existing free routes as we have been doing, free of charge, and will never have to be concerned with any toll. Your tax dollars are not going toward this project. Rather, the roadway extension will be 100% paid for by the toll itself, if and only if you choose to drive on the BBEII. Drivers who opt to take their regular free routes will never have to pay the toll fee.

This local amendment offers strengthened infrastructure to keep up with our rapidly growing population, secures an additional north-bound evacuation route, and will bring new job and economic development opportunities to our region.

Please, join me in voting yes on Local Amendment 2.

Alabama State Representative Steve McMillan represents District 95 and serves as Chairman of the Baldwin County Legislative Delegation.