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2 weeks ago

Gulf Council plans April vote; Alabama sets snapper season

One casualty from the recent partial federal government shutdown surfaced last week when the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council met at the Perdido Beach Resort in Orange Beach, Ala.

Because of the shutdown, the Gulf Council was unable to publish a notice in the Federal Register on a pending vote on Amendment 50, the state management of red snapper. The Council voted to call a special meeting for February to vote on the measure, but that effort was canceled because of logistics problems.

The Council will vote on Amendment 50 at the next regular Council meeting scheduled the first week of April at Biloxi, Miss.

In the meantime, Alabama set its 2019 red snapper season, which is operating under the final year of an Exempted Fishing Permit (EFP).

The 2019 Alabama red snapper fishing season for anglers fishing from a private vessel or state-licensed guide boat will be three-day weekends (Friday-Sunday) from June 1 through July 28, 2019, including Thursday, July 4. Except for the opening weekend, which begins on a Saturday, weekends are defined as 12:01 a.m. Friday through 11:59 p.m. Sunday. This does not apply to for-hire (charter) boats with federal reef fishing permits. Charter boats will operate under federal regulations in 2019.

Alabama Marine Resources Division Director Scott Bannon said a vote on Amendment 50 at the April meeting should provide enough time to get the rules changed for the 2020 season.

“We should we able to get it done, but we don’t need any more delays,” Bannon said.

Amendment 50 shifts red snapper management to the states and allots each state a share of the red snapper quota. The preferred alternative will give Alabama a 26.49-percent share, while Florida’s share is a little more than 44 percent.

The 2018 and 2019 snapper seasons in the Gulf are operating under an Exempted Fishing Permit (EFP) that allows the states to set the snapper seasons under the catch limits. Last year, a 3.78-percent share of the quota was left after the pie had been divvied up. NOAA Fisheries (National Marine Fisheries Service or NMFS) gave Florida that 3.78 percent last year.

That 3.78 percent will be split between Florida and Alabama in the preferred alternative for Amendment 50.

“The eastern Gulf is where most of the harvest of red snapper is occurring,” Bannon said. “That is why we think that percentage should be split.”

Bannon said currently there are no plans to include for-hire (charter) boats in any of the state management plans.

Bannon expects Amendment 50 to pass in some form at the April meeting.

“Right now, I’m confident we will have a state-managed season for 2020,” Bannon said. “Allocation was the biggest concern with the options available. I think we will pass it at the next meeting.”

During the 2018 snapper season, the first under the EFP, Alabama set an optimistic private recreational season of 47 days, mostly on three-day weekends.

However, a renewed enthusiasm for snapper fishing and excellent weather conditions forced Marine Resources to shut down the season after 28 days.

“We will again be evaluating the season as it goes along through Snapper Check,” Bannon said. “We have the option to add days if we feel it’s appropriate, based on the harvest rate.”

Of course, that harvest rate will likely be weather-dependent.

“The weather last year was almost ideal throughout the entire red snapper season, and I think that contributed to the increased harvest rates,” Bannon said.

Plus, Alabama’s unparalleled artificial reef zone provides easy access to anglers who want to catch a limit of two red snapper with a minimum length of 16 inches.

“In the Alabama reef zone, we feel we have a very healthy population of red snapper,” Bannon said. “They are relatively accessible, and the size of the fish caught has been larger over the last couple of years. That also lends to reaching our allocation of pounds earlier.”

Dr. Bob Shipp, professor emeritus of Marine Sciences at the University of South Alabama, has been studying red snapper off the Alabama Gulf Coast for decades, and he’s happy to see that the excellent health of the red snapper stock is finally being recognized.

NOAA Fisheries Southeast Regional Director Dr. Roy Crabtree acknowledged at the meeting in Orange Beach that the red snapper fishery is rebounding at a much faster rate than expected.

“The recovery of red snapper has been very robust,” Crabtree said. “There’s no evidence that it’s not going to continue. It’s a remarkable success story.”

Shipp applauded Crabtree’s confirmation that red snapper resiliency is far greater than NOAA scientists and their computer models predicted.

“I was delighted to hear Roy say that,” Shipp said. “Roy has been aware that the recovery is a lot faster than the models projected. That’s good news. I think everybody is on the same page now in terms of the status of the red snapper stocks. The species is very, very healthy. All the testimony we get from Texas all the way to the Keys is that snapper stocks are really strong.”

Earlier this year, the U.S. Congress passed the Modern Fish Act, which was lauded by the recreational fishing community. However, the effect of the Modern Fish Act is not yet fully understood.

“There are provisions in the Act for the National Academies of Sciences to study the fisheries management plans,” Bannon said. “It also directs the Comptroller General to study the allocations, ensuring they are utilizing all the appropriate data that may be provided by the states and other entities. It’s really an outside look to make sure we’re using all the pertinent information to make management decisions. There are some pretty tight timelines, so they’ll have to quickly develop plans to present to NOAA and the regional fisheries management councils.”

In other action by the Council last week, Amendments 41 and 42, which deal with headboats and charter boats, respectively, were postponed until electronic log book data becomes available.

Right now, the charter industry in Alabama will remain under federal guidelines, which is fine with Capt. Johnny Greene, who runs the Intimidator out of Orange Beach Marina.

“Last year, we fished about 50 days, and we may get about 60 days this year with the reduction of the buffer because we stayed within our sub-quota for the past three years,” Greene said. “The buffer was reduced from 20 percent to about 10 percent. When you get 10 percent more, that is significant, especially at that time of year (tourist season). At the end of the day, it’s all about the people on the back of the boat who are really going to benefit from this. For the non-boat-owning public, this is their best avenue to reap the rewards of the expanded season.”

David Rainer is an award-winning writer who has covered Alabama’s great outdoors for 25 years. The former outdoors editor at the Mobile Press-Register, he writes for Outdoor Alabama, the website of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

25 mins ago

The case for state control of alcoholic beverages

It’s that time of year again. The Alabama Legislature is only days from its opening session, and lawmakers across the state are drafting bills they say will make Alabama better.

As in years past, some special interest groups – big-box retailers and liquor distributors – are pushing again to privatize liquor sales in Alabama. By privatize, they mean closing state-operated liquor stores and handing over the sale of all liquor in the state to private businesses.

On the surface, that might sound sensible. Why should the state even be in the liquor business?

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Look closer, though, and you will see that privatizing hurts state budgets, public safety and health, and even Alabama consumers. I like to tell people that Alabama is not in the “liquor business”; the state is in the “control business” – controlling the sale of alcohol and protecting the people of the state from the harmful effects of alcohol.

Last year, the Alabama Alcohol Beverage Control Board’s operations provided $262 million to state and local governments. Most of that went to the habitually challenged General Fund and agencies such as the departments of Human Resources, Mental Health and Public Health and law enforcement.

The argument from those pushing for privatization is that the state will come out ahead financially because it no longer would incur the costs of operating stores. That argument is false. Every state in recent memory that has privatized elements of alcohol sales it once controlled has lost revenue or had to raise taxes.

The most recent example is the state of Washington. After Costco pushed through the state legislature a referendum to privatize liquor sales and spent $22 million to make sure the referendum went the way Costco wanted, Washington voters in 2011 approved closing state stores in favor of opening private stores. The result? Stores selling liquor went from 328 to more than 1,400, two large distributors grabbed 93 percent of the wholesale market while big-box stores dominated retail sales, and the state raised liquor taxes by 27 percent to make up for lost state revenue. Today, Washington has, by far, the highest liquor prices in the country.

As someone deeply concerned about the harm alcohol inflicts on families and society in general, I have no problem with higher liquor prices. I do, however, worry about already struggling state agencies that assist families and protect public safety and health taking a financial hit due to lost revenue.

I am also concerned about the ABC Board’s ability to adequately “police” the sale of what is a destructive substance. Remember, one of the agencies the ABC Board funds with dollars from its stores is itself. Take away that revenue, and the ABC Board would not be able to inspect, license and investigate stores and restaurants that sell any form of alcoholic beverages to ensure their compliance with state laws.

Just like prisons and Medicaid, the ABC Board would be dependent on funds from the General Fund. We all know the struggles the Legislature has had patching together the General Fund budget.

Let’s be frank about alcohol. It is not just any commodity, and we shouldn’t treat it like buying bread, milk or eggs. Alcohol is a mind-altering, addictive drug. It kills more people each year – 88,000, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – than all illicit drugs combined, including opioids. Excessive drinking costs the U.S. economy $249 billion each year, the CDC says. It costs Alabama more than $3.7 billion.

Alcohol is a factor in a majority of violent crimes, including rape and murder. About half the suicides in our country are linked to alcohol. Most of the people in our prisons had alcohol in their system when they committed their crimes.

I am especially alarmed by the great harm alcohol inflicts on families. Alcohol is a major cause of domestic violence, child neglect, unwanted pregnancies and divorce.

My question to lawmakers is this: Why would you want to make all of those problems worse? Make no mistake about it, that’s exactly what privatization would do. It would multiply the number of stores selling liquor, hamstring enforcement and take money away from critical state agencies that assist and protect our most vulnerable citizens.

Who benefits from privatization? It’s not Alabama citizens. The only winners are those who sell liquor, particularly corporate-owned superstores and other chain retailers – based out of state – that see liquor as a way to further increase their profits. But, at your expense.

It is that time of year again. Spring is getting nearer, and so is the arrival of lawmakers gathering in Montgomery. It is also a good time for us to get smarter and put to rest for good the notion that we can make it easier to sell liquor without all of us paying a higher cost.

Joe Godfrey is the executive director of the Alabama Citizens Action Program (ALCAP)

56 mins ago

Forensic Sciences awarded nearly $400,000 in grants to combat opioid and drug crisis

Governor Kay Ivey reaffirmed her support for the fight against opioids and other illegal or abused substances by announcing a grant to the Department of Forensic Sciences worth $386,207.

The award, which consists of two grants valued at $260,207 and $126,000, will provide the Department of Forensic Sciences with necessary equipment, including two state-of-the-art substance analyzers which have the capability to rapidly analyze and identify opioids, prescription drugs and other illegal substances.

Both solid and liquid substances can be detected by the analyzers and the presence and type of drug can be found. The screening time for each sample will last approximately two minutes, according to the Forensic Sciences department, which is responsible for the collection and identification of evidence for more than 450 law enforcement agencies in the state of Alabama.

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“Evidence provided by the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences is often the difference between whether a suspect is convicted or set free,” Ivey said in an announcement. “These new tools will greatly enhance the ability of technicians to accurately examine drug evidence and provide that information to law enforcement agencies and prosecutors.”

The grants made available from the U.S. Department of Justice are being administered by the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA).

“Gov. Ivey recognizes the tireless work that the Department of Forensic Sciences performs daily to assist our law enforcement agencies and prosecutorial services in doing their jobs effectively and efficiently,” ADECA Director Kenneth Boswell stated. “ADECA is pleased to join Gov. Ivey in this partnership to provide this new equipment.”

Kyle Morris also contributes daily to Breitbart News. You can follow him on Twitter @RealKyleMorris.

2 hours ago

Obama era environmental regulations strike again, force closure of APCO’s Gorgas Steam Plant

The Obama administration has ended, but job-killing environmental regulations from the 44th president’s time in office are still hurting Alabama.

Alabama Power Company announced Wednesday that the Gorgas Steam Plant in Walker County will be shuttered because of unrealistic and cost-prohibitive mandates put in place by President Barack Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The plant, which has been operational since 1917, will cease operating its three coal-fired generating units and close April 15.

The facility could not meet the stringent mandates related to coal combustion residuals (CCR, better known as coal ash) in time, and the cost to convert to gasification would have been monumentally high. In a press release, the company said it estimated a price tag of approximately $300 million just to comply with one set of mandates and continue operating the plant’s coal-fired units.

Alabama Power has worked to ensure that almost all Plant Gorgas employees will be transferred to new facilities and get to keep their jobs. Bevill State Community College has been working with the company to retrain affected employees. 

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Jim Heilbron, senior vice president and senior production officer for Alabama Power, said, “We recognize that Plant Gorgas and the men and women who have operated it have brought great value to Alabama Power, our customers and the local community.”

Patrick Cagle, president of the Alabama Coal Association, told Yellowhammer News that he commends Alabama Power’s efforts at minimizing the economic impact of the closure.

“President Obama’s administration declared war on the coal industry and unfortunately this is the latest example of that legacy,” he stated.

Cagle continued, “The Alabama Coal Association is keenly aware of the economic impact this closure will have on the local community, and we commend Alabama Power for working to relocate affected employees and minimize this economic impact as much as possible. Alabama Power has been a longtime partner to us and our members, and we appreciate their continued commitment to investing in our great state and local economies through the use of Alabama coal.”

In a statement to Yellowhammer News, Congressman Robert Aderholt (AL-4) commented, “This is just another example of [Obama’s] ‘War on Coal.’”

“While I’m certainly glad to hear that most of the employees of the Gorgas plant will be able to keep their jobs, the loss of tax revenue to Walker County is astronomical,” he advised. “This is just another example of the ‘War on Coal’ that was prevalent during the Obama Administration and how it deeply impacts rural communities with little concern for those who are hurt.”

Aderholt also outlined how elections – and the policies of respective administrations – have consequences that cannot be undone overnight.

“President Trump has made progress in rolling back the Obama Administration executive orders that were trying to kill coal and coal jobs. And in Congress, I voted in 2015 on a bill that would roll back crippling EPA rules, but as has been the case for far too many bills, it went to the Senate where it was allowed to die,” he explained.

Aderholt concluded, “I, along with my conservative colleagues, are fighting alongside President Trump to stop these job choking, economic crushing and community killing regulations. But changing the chronic Washington lack of understanding when it comes to rural America, will take time to reverse.”

Alabama Public Service Commission — ‘The war on coal finally took its toll’

A press release from the Alabama Public Service Commission (PSC) stressed that due to “extreme Obama Era Federal regulations… there is just no choice regarding the future of Plant Gorgas.”

“In 2008, candidate Obama declared war on coal and promised to bankrupt anyone who built a coal fired electricity plant. President Obama immediately went to work signing one after another punitive, burdensome federal mandates on the coal industry. Now his promise has come to fruition at Plant Gorgas,” the release said.

It added, “[T]he responsibility of the Alabama Public Service Commission is to require Alabama Power to provide secure, reliable service at the lowest cost to their customers.  Given this charge, along with the astronomical rising cost to comply with Obama era mandates, there is just no choice regarding the future of Plant Gorgas.”

“The company has taken every possible step to keep the plant up and running, but the war on coal finally took its toll,”  Public Service Commission (PSC) President Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh said.

“Obama said he wanted to make it too expensive to run coal-fired plants, and he did. I commend President Trump for rolling back as many of the Obama mandates as he could. The problem for us here in Alabama was that Obama placed the biggest bullseye on us, and Trump’s valiant effort at finally implementing common sense came along a little too late,” she concluded.

Commissioner Jeremy Oden remarked, “I serve the State of Alabama as the Chairman of the Clean Coal Committee for the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners. One of my duties across the country is to make sure these plants continue to serve their mission in economical ways. With the mandated environmental retrofit required to continue to produce energy at Gorgas with coal, it is no longer feasible. I have spent years nationally trying to save these plants, and it saddens me deeply to see this happen in our state.”

Commissioner Chip Beeker commented, “Obama’s negligence and disregard for Alabama families and their jobs is one of the many destructive outcomes of his presidency. The liberals who helped drive Obama’s agenda continue to put Alabama’s economy at risk. Our task moving forward is to keep the ones affected by this and their families in our hearts and in our prayers. We will continue to fight for our state to achieve the most reliable and affordable energy.”

The PSC emphasized that it supports Alabama’s coal industry and the miners who “have supported their families and our state’s economy with their self-sacrifice, hard work and dedication.”

The commission is urging Alabama Power to continue working “to minimize the impact of this closure on the communities and on the numerous families affected.”

Just the latest example

Unfortunately, Plant Gorgas is just the most recent Alabama casualty of Obama era mandates.

On New Year’s Eve, PowerSouth CEO Gary Smith emailed employees that Lowman Plant on the Tombigbee River in Washington County will be forced to close.

He pointed to the coal ash regulations as prohibitive to keeping the facility in business, saying “we are left few choices other than to close the Lowman Plant and obtain additional generation resources to replace the coal-fired generation.”

Smith also outlined why having coal in a power generation portfolio is so important to this day, lamenting “extremist environmental ideologies.”

“With closure of the Lowman Plant, we lose the diversity of coal-fired generation as a natural hedge against higher natural gas prices, and we are more dependent upon natural gas as a generation fuel (The Lowman Plant has been economically dispatched ahead of our most efficient natural gas units for the past four weeks because of higher-priced natural gas),” he advised.

“It is sad and disheartening that environmental activists, politicians, bureaucrats and others have allowed environmental and climate change movements to close coal-fired units and cost good, hardworking people their jobs and livelihoods,” Smith added. “The real victims are the hopes and dreams of Lowman employees, people with families, lives and needs that were met with their employment at the Lowman Plant, not the abstract climate threats to public health. Maybe one day our leaders will understand the real damage they have done.”

Additionally, Plant Gorgas is far from the only example just when it comes to Alabama Power facilities being affected by Obama administration environmental mandates.

“Federally driven environmental mandates related to coal, and the costs to comply with those mandates, are changing the way Alabama Power provides electricity to customers,” the company’s press release Wednesday noted.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

All roads lead to Alabama jobs

“940,353 full times jobs are completely dependent on Alabama’s transportation network. If we want to recruit new industry and create more jobs, we need a road and bridge system that supports economic growth in Alabama. It’s time to take this issue seriously and invest in Alabama’s future. Let’s take action and rebuild Alabama’s roads!” #FixALroads

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2 hours ago

Save the date: Yellowhammer News Shaper series kicks off with its 2019 legislative edition

Yellowhammer News will host its next “Yellowhammer News Shaper” event in Montgomery on March 19. The gathering will offer a networking opportunity as well as a live interview with Alabama Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) and Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia).

The discussion will be moderated by Yellowhammer News editor and owner Tim Howe and will cover issues surrounding this year’s legislative session.

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The event will take place at the Alabama Association of Realtors, 522 Washington Avenue, and will begin at 5:00 p.m. with a cocktail reception followed by the moderated interview and questions from the audience.

Several more Yellowhammer News Shaper events will take place across the state this year. The series is non-partisan, on-the-record and designed to localize issues and highlight thought leaders.

Continue to visit Yellowhammernews.com for announcements during the 2019 calendar year.