1 week ago

Hearings give public opportunity to weigh in on coal ash plans

The mission of the Alabama Department of Environmental Management is to ensure for all Alabamians “a safe, healthful and productive environment.” It’s a mission that ADEM and its nearly 600 employees take very seriously.

Ensuring a safe, healthful and productive environment means more than simply being the environmental cop, though that certainly is part of ADEM’s job. When the Alabama Legislature passed legislation in 1982 that led to the creation of ADEM, lawmakers’ intent was for the agency to promote public health and well-being.

The term “healthful” in ADEM’s mission statement speaks directly to that. ADEM’s work is to contribute to the health of Alabama’s environment and the health of all Alabamians.

An example of that work is managing the process that will determine how coal combustion residuals (CCR) – or coal ash – are dealt with in a safe and effective manner. Managing CCR promotes a healthful environment by protecting our land and water.

On Oct. 20, ADEM will hold the first of a series of public hearings on permits drafted by ADEM to require electric utilities to safely close unlined coal ash ponds at their power plants and remediate any contaminated groundwater. The hearings, and the comment periods leading up to them, give the public the chance to provide ADEM input on the requirements in the draft permits.

To understand how we got to this point today, let’s go back to Dec. 22, 2008, in Kingston, Tenn. On that frigid night, the containment dike surrounding massive ponds holding decades worth of CCR produced by the coal-burning TVA power plant collapsed, spilling more than a billion gallons of coal ash sludge into the Emory River and onto 300 acres of land.

That spill drew the attention of regulators and the nation to the issue of coal ash storage, for which there was little regulation at the time. It also started the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on the road to adopting a federal CCR rule, which took effect in 2015. The Alabama Environmental Management Commission approved a state CCR rule in 2018, patterned after the EPA rule.

The rules address two primary issues: closing coal ash ponds to avoid threats of spills into waterways or onto land, and preventing and cleaning up groundwater contamination from arsenic, mercury, lead and other hazardous elements that may leach from the coal ash.

Both the EPA and state rules give the electric utility operators two options in closing the ash ponds. One allowable method is to excavate the millions of tons of coal ash and either move the coal ash to a lined landfill or find an approved beneficial use for the ash. The other is to cap in place, where an impervious cover, or cap, is placed over the ash impoundment. Both methods have been used successfully for decades to close some of the most contaminated sites in the nation.

It must be emphasized that the closure method selection is made by the utilities, as allowed by both federal and state rules. Alabama Power, TVA and PowerSouth all elected to utilize the cap-in-place option.

The permits will also set out the steps to be taken to clean up contaminated groundwater caused by the coal ash ponds. ADEM’s job, in its environmental oversight role, is to ensure the closure and groundwater remediation plans proposed by the utilities and included in the permits meet federal and state standards and protect both waterways and groundwater. The permits provide for regular monitoring to confirm the closure and cleanup plans are being implemented as required. If necessary, the plans will be adjusted to ensure the intended results are being achieved.

Currently, ADEM has scheduled public hearings on the permits for three Alabama Power plants. The first is Oct. 20 for Plant Miller in Jefferson County, followed by Oct. 22 for Plant Greene County and Oct. 29 for Plant Gadsden in Etowah County. Permits for the other five sites in Alabama are in development, and hearings will be scheduled when they are complete.

The purpose of these hearings is to allow the public, including nearby residents, environmental groups and others, opportunities to weigh in on the proposed permits. This past summer, Alabama Power, TVA and PowerSouth held informational meetings in the communities where their affected plants are located to explain their proposed groundwater cleanup plans (including the CCR unit closure component) and answer residents’ questions.

The draft permits, the hearings’ dates, locations and times and other information are available on ADEM’s website, www.adem.alabama.gov. The public can also mail or email comments related to the permits, including the closure plans and groundwater remediation plans, directly to ADEM during the proposed permits’ 35-day minimum comment periods, which will run one week past the date of the public hearings. Those comments will be considered in the decisions to issue the permits, and ADEM will provide a response to each issue raised.

For maximum protection of the environment, ADEM encouraged the power companies to go beyond the minimum requirements of the state and federal CCR rules. ADEM’s scientists and engineers who analyzed the plans through an exhaustive review and revision process determined the final plans provide the environmental protections Alabamians expect and deserve. But we want to hear from the public.

Certainly, there are pros and cons of each option in closing the coal ash ponds. The daunting task of cleaning up contaminated groundwater will be undertaken regardless of which closure method is utilized. As one opinion writer recently said, there is no easy answer to the coal ash problem. But this is a matter we cannot duck. We must deal with our coal combustion residuals – by EPA requirement and for the sake of our environment.

Here’s what you can count on from your state agency charged with protecting your environment. ADEM will make sure the closure and cleanup of the coal ash sites will be done in a way that will protect the state’s land and water resources now and in the future.

Ensuring that is our mission.

Lance LeFleur is director of the Alabama Department of Environmental Management. For more information about the upcoming CCR public hearings, go to Public Hearings on ADEM’s website.

3 hours ago

Alabama Democrats are shambling towards a bloodbath, and they will learn nothing… again

Let me jump forward about two weeks for you: U.S. Senator Doug Jones (D-AL) loses his Senate seat to former Auburn head coach Tommy Tuberville by 10+ points, incumbent Republican Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh beats Democrat Laura Casey for Public Service Commission president and every Republican running a Congressional race blows out their opponent, as U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Birmingham) does not have a general election opponent.

We will then be told that some random Democratic mayor is the next major threat to a statewide Republican sweep in 2022.

This, of course, is not true.

The same was said for Ron Sparks (rural voters totally coming out), Parker Griffith (moderate enough to be a Democrat, then a Republican, then an independent, and then a Democrat again) and Walt Maddox (a “cool” young mayor), and we all know what happened with them.

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Democrats in Alabama had no business winning the Senate seat that Jones will lose in less than two weeks and their behavior, which mirrors national Democrats, only marginalizes them further.

Look at Macon County Democrats: They are placing signs telling voters that “Racism is on the ballot.” It’s not, and this divisive messaging doesn’t stay in Macon County anymore.

All over the state, voters were told that Alabama Democrats can’t stop calling everyone “racist.”

This isn’t 1965 or even 1995. This kind of inflammatory nonsense gets spread to suburbs and rural areas via the internet.

Non-racists don’t like this.

Witness the completely asinine push for a debate by Senator Jones with Tommy Tuberville. This does nothing but scream, “I am going to lose.” We are 12 days out, and all we are getting from Jones is that Tuberville was a bad coach (he wasn’t), swindled people (it appears that is untrue) or that he’s a “coward” for not debating.

Now email me at dale@yellowhammernews.com, and tell me a single candidate that lost a race because he refused to debate. I’ll wait.

Oh, and a Joe Biden endorsement? That’ll really help in Alabama. Was Hunter not available?

You know what Jones, the state’s highest-profile Democrat, can’t do? Explain how he is in touch with the politics and culture of Alabama.

His campaign is one long explanation about how the way he feels is different than what we have all seen with our own eyes.

On guns, he believes Alabamians are ready for gun control. Alabamians aren’t.

On abortion, he has said he is pro-choice until birth, but now he isn’t — and the media is going right along. Alabamians aren’t.

One of two things has to happen for Democrats to be more than a party of Birmingham, the Black Belt and a shrinking media-PR arm that can’t move the needle outside of their congratulatory tweets to each other:

  1. The state has to change.
  2. They have to convince people they are something they are not.

I don’t think the state is going to become a liberal hotspot anytime soon, so it might be time to just start attempting to change people’s minds by being honest about what you want as Alabama Democrats.

Run people that will tell you what they actually believe and not require an untrusted media to repackage your positions.

Yes, Democrats in other states will send you money, but they can’t vote for you.

Go all in. Stop trying to be Republican-lite. No one believes you and November 3’s election results in Alabama will make that point again.

Learn nothing.

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

3 hours ago

Drug discovered, tested at UAB becomes first fully FDA-approved treatment for COVID-19

Remdesivir on Thursday became the first drug to be fully approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for treating the coronavirus.

The antiviral produced by the pharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences received an emergency use authorization from the FDA in May; Thursday’s announcement will likely expand its usage across the nation. The drug has been approved for the treatment of patients requiring hospitalization.

Remdesivir showed promising results for treating COVID-19 in a much-discussed clinical trial conducted in the spring and early summer. After this trial, White House health advisor and NIAID Director Dr. Anthony Fauci proclaimed to the nation that remdesivir “will be the standard of care” moving forward for coronavirus-positive inpatients. He called the trial results “quite good news.”

The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) was a participating clinical site in the now-famous study and administered the drug to participating patients. However, UAB’s involvement goes significantly farther.

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As reported by Yellowhammer News in February, a drug discovery program housed at UAB led to the development of remdesivir. This discovery came from a public-private partnership that also included Birmingham-based Southern Research and Gilead Sciences.

The drug discovery was funded by federal monies awarded to the Antiviral Drug Discovery and Development Center at UAB after U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) became chair of the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations.

Remdesivir was taken by President Donald J. Trump in his recovery from COVID-19, along with Regeneron’s experimental polyclonal antibody cocktail. That cocktail is currently being tested at UAB.

In a Thursday release, Gilead explained the treatment guidelines for remdesivir and reacted to the FDA approval.

“Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Gilead has worked relentlessly to help find solutions to this global health crisis. It is incredible to be in the position today, less than one year since the earliest case reports of the disease now known as COVID-19, of having an FDA-approved treatment in the U.S. that is available for all appropriate patients in need,” stated Daniel O’Day, chairman and CEO of Gilead Sciences. “The speed and rigor with which [remdesivir] has been developed and approved in the U.S. reflect the shared commitment of Gilead, government agencies and clinical trial investigators to advance well-tolerated, effective treatment options for the fight against COVID-19. We will continue to work at speed with the aim of enhancing patient outcomes with [remdesivir] to ensure all patients with COVID-19 have the best chance at recovery.”

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

3 hours ago

U.S. Rep. Gary Palmer: Joe Biden ‘highly, highly compromised’ by China

U.S. Rep. Gary Palmer (AL-06) on Wednesday interviewed on Talk 99.5’s “Matt & Aunie Show,” discussing the recent bombshell stories that have come out indicating that former Vice President Joe Biden was potentially involved in certain lucrative foreign business dealings of his son, Hunter.

Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe this week announced the assessment that Hunter Biden’s laptop and the emails on it “is not part of some Russian disinformation campaign.” The FBI has said that it has “nothing to add” to this assessment.

Palmer, speaking to radio host Matt Murphy, emphasized that the questions raised involving the Bidens are serious and “real.”

“This is a real story. The FBI has the laptop. This is not a Russian hoax. This is real,” the central Alabama congressman said.

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“And the most concerning thing is, it’s not what Hunter Biden did — we’ve known about Hunter Biden’s corrupt activities with Russia, with the money he got from the widow of the mayor of Moscow, we’ve known about the corrupt deal he had with Burisma, and there are other people that I think at some point we will be able to talk about that may have been involved, and we’ve known about what he did in China. What is new about this is the possibility, the allegation, that Joe Biden himself benefited personally, that he was taking money off the top for himself,” Palmer continued. “And I think that’s what’s got to be investigated.”

He lamented that “the mainstream media is ignoring this” and that “they think they can keep people from finding out about it.”

On Thursday, a business partner of Hunter Biden told Fox News that Joe Biden was indeed involved in his son’s foreign business dealings and profiting monetarily. The business partner also confirmed the authenticity of emails previously publicized by The New York Post and has provided outlets on Thursday with further electronic communications involving the Bidens not found on Hunter’s laptop.

Palmer in a subsequent part of Wednesday’s interview commented on what would be the consequence of Joe Biden becoming president while potentially compromised by China.

“You are in danger of being held hostage,” the congressman warned. “The whole world would suffer if Biden gets elected president. Because the Chinese have the goods on him.”

“Now think about that,” Palmer continued, “how it would impact nations like Australia and Japan and South Korea and Vietnam, who’s becoming an ally of ours because they fear the hegemony of China. It’s going to spread across the world. This is a critical moment for this country. And you literally have left-wing media that are part of a conspiracy to defeat a president. They tried to remove him from office, now they’re trying to defeat him and put somebody in office that is highly, highly compromised.”

He also raised the specter of what could happen if Biden is elected on November 3 and then investigations subsequently reveal that he is compromised by a foreign power.

“[I]t doesn’t give me any comfort whatsoever to think that Biden would be removed from office and replaced with … Senator [Kamala] Harris,” Palmer decried. “Communist Kamala.”

RELATED: Director of National Intelligence: Iran attempting to damage Trump’s reelection

In stark contrast to recent revelations and Palmer’s Wednesday remarks come the past statements of U.S. Senator Doug Jones (D-AL) about the Bidens’ foreign endeavors. Jones, an earlier endorser of Biden’s 2020 presidential bid, recently explained that he has considered Biden a friend and mentor since 1978. Jones recently had Biden campaign for him virtually in Alabama, and the former vice president also campaigned for Jones in his 2017 special election bid.

Congressman Bradley Byrne (AL-01) last year called for an investigation into Joe Biden’s China ties.

“Do you think everything about these ties between the vice-president’s son and China are OK? Don’t you think we ought to ask some important questions like we spent all this time and money doing with President Trump? I’d like to hear what he has to say about that,” Byrne asked of Jones at the time.

When Byrne subsequently filed a bill to investigate the Bidens over foreign dealings, Jones then went into defense mode for his old friend.

“We should all want the same things – the facts, the truth, and the rule of law – not pandering partisanship trying to be relevant,” Jones asserted at the time, while not supporting an investigation.

His campaign spokesperson at the time also claimed, “Information about Joe Biden and his son has been around for a long time and all alleged improprieties have been debunked by numerous sources.”

RELATED: Jones on Biden investigation: ‘We cannot go around trying to investigate every perceived enemy of the president, especially this president’

Overall, Jones has been quick to come to Biden’s defense this election cycle. Alabama’s junior senator defended Biden last year when he came under fire for remarks about former segregationist Democratic senators, as well as deeming past sexual misconduct allegations against Joe Biden as distractions from beating Trump in 2020.

Additionally, Jones earlier this year attacked the “credibility” of Tara Reade, the former Biden Senate staffer who has accused Biden of sexually assaulting her in 1993. She recently interviewed with “60 Minutes” in Australia about the alleged assault.

RELATED: Doug Jones: Biden does not have ‘senior moments’ — Just ‘Joe Biden moments’

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

3 hours ago

After staying flat for weeks, Alabama’s coronavirus numbers are going up again

Alabama’s coronavirus statistics have climbed steadily over the last week after spending more than a month on a plateau.

Over the last seven days, the state has averaged 898 new cases per day, a rate not experienced since the first few days of September.

Especially troubling to experts, 16.06% of coronavirus tests administered in the last 14 days have come back positive, the highest rate the state has ever experienced.

Yellowhammer News used numbers from the website BamaTracker for this report. BamaTracker collects and charts the information gathered by the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH).

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The disease has reached Alabama’s halls of power; Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth and at least five state senators have come down with the virus. Ainsworth reports being asymptomatic, but State. Sen Randy Price (R-Opelika) was hospitalized earlier this year during an endured an extended battle with COVID-19.

Between 6,300 and 7,000 coronavirus tests have been reported each day in Alabama during October, a rate that has remained consistent as the totals of new positive results have risen.

Yellowhammer News is referencing new cases as those testing positive via a molecular-based PCR test and confirmed by ADPH. When including positive results from rapid test devices, the average new cases per day for the last week rises to 1,129.

Ninety-nine Alabamians have been admitted to the hospital with COVID-19 each day over the last week, a tick up from the mid-80s average seen for most of the last six weeks, but not as pronounced as the rise in the new case count.

Clicking image opens interactive new cases chart in new tab. (BamaTracker)
Clicking image opens BamaTracker in new tab. (BamaTracker)

Public health experts have reported on numerous occasions that a rise in hospitalizations usually follows a rise in new cases by around two weeks, and increased deaths follow hospitalization surges by two to five weeks.

Sixty-five of Alabama’s 67 counties reported a new case of COVID-19 on Wednesday, indicating continued widespread transmission throughout the state.

Rural counties like Dekalb, Covington and Jackson have all had pronounced outbreaks in the last two weeks.

For the last seven days, Alabama has averaged 10 deaths among people with a confirmed case of the coronavirus. The state’s total death toll from the virus is now 2,843, with another 183 that are listed as probable but not yet confirmed by ADPH.

Alabama’s new cases, hospitalizations and deaths are all down from their mid to late summer peaks.

Dr. Don Williamson, head of the Alabama Hospital Association, told WSFA this week that he does not expect Alabama to be exempt “from what looks like it’s going to be a second wave” of the coronavirus.

Williamson further surmised to the Associated Press in recent days that Alabamians were suffering from “COVID fatigue” and not observing precautions like wearing masks or socially distancing as much as citizens did earlier in the fall.

Health officials are urging every citizen to go get a flu shot, saying that a bad flu outbreak on top of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic could be disastrous for the state and nation’s health care system.

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

4 hours ago

Ainsworth stands by opposition to mandatory masks, vaccines — ‘Everybody needs personal responsibility,’ ‘Gov’t mandate is a dangerous precedent’

Late Wednesday, Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth’s office revealed he had tested positive for COVID-19, noting the diagnosis despite having followed CDC health and safety protocols.

Ainsworth had been a critic of the mask mandate and other restrictions implemented by Gov. Kay Ivey and State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris done in the name of preventing the spread of coronavirus in the past.

During an interview with Mobile radio’s FM Talk 106.5 on Thursday, Ainsworth said he still felt the mandates were a “dangerous precedent” and suggested emphasizing personal responsibility.

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“It doesn’t at all,” he said. “I think everybody needs personal responsibility. I think the government mandate is a dangerous precedent. I stand by that. Here’s what I want you to understand, Jeff — I had a mask on in Sunday school and was the only person on the row I was sitting on. Maybe I got it somewhere else. Maybe I didn’t. But I guess my point is you can still do all these things, and I exercise caution. The virus — maybe it was on a doorknob. Who knows? But I still got it. So, I don’t think the mask is the cure-all that everybody necessarily thinks it is.”

“My thing is this: I think it is smart to wear a mask,” Ainsworth continued. “It’s going to be an extra layer of protection if you’ve got health issues. You need more than a mask. You probably don’t need to be out and about. You really need to be careful. But most people — they’ll be fine. They’ll get over it. We just need to utilize common sense and, you know, I think we’ll get through this. When a vaccine gets here, it’s going to help a lot.”

Ainsworth added that he was concerned about the possibility of mandatory vaccinations, as well.

“To me, Jeff, that’s just a policy issue,” he said. “I don’t think we need to be mandating masks.  I don’t think we need to be mandating vaccines. I don’t think that’s government’s role. I think that’s each individual’s role to decide what’s best for his or her family and that government should not be involved with that. That’s been my issue with this. Jeff Poor should decide whether or not he wants to wear a mask, or whether or not he should get a vaccine, not the government.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University and the University of South Alabama, the editor of Breitbart TV, a columnist for Mobile’s Lagniappe Weekly, and host of Mobile’s “The Jeff Poor Show” from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. on FM Talk 106.5.