In a press release, ARA Program Director Mitch Reid described the state’s water pollution woes as a systemic problem. “From funding to implementation to enforcement, the failures of the current system are leaving the citizens and environment of Alabama unprotected,” Reid stated.
Under the Clean Water Act, states are required to implement the minimum standards of the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES), which requires a pollution or discharge permitting process and regulation of water pollution with fines and penalties. Numbers provided in the 77-page petition indicate that ADEM’s penalties for polluters declined 78 percent in the 2009 fiscal year, from $1,275,000 of fines in 2008 to $286,000 in 2009.
In a statement reported Saturday in the Birmingham News, ADEM spokesperson Scott Hughes said the agency takes water pollution seriously and will work with the EPA. “Our (water) program is routinely evaluated by EPA and they have never documented any issues that would support the withdrawal of our authorization to administer the NPDES program," Hughes said in the Birmingham News.
According to ARA’s press release, the petition should begin a legal process to develop solutions for Alabama’s water permitting problems. The process will involve interested environmental groups, EPA and ADEM.
In recent days, leaders of the environmental groups involved with the petition have spoken openly with media outlets around the state regarding ADEM’s enforcement issues.
“We have been very diligent in documenting the ongoing and chronic pollution sources, and ADEM has taken no effort to enforce even the most basic of regulations,” John Wathen, head of Friends of Hurricane Creek, said in a Friday Tuscaloosa News story.
Similar enforcement issues are found in the Wiregrass region, where Mike Mullen of Choctawhatchee Riverkeeper showed WTVY, a CBS affiliate in Dothan, a construction site with runoff and sediment washing into the watershed. “The petition really seeks to get ADEM to do the minimum Clean Water Act enforcement and other requirements of the Clean Water Act. Which in probably two dozen or more areas, they are not doing the minimum that they're supposed to do,” Mullen said.
The petition comes as the Alabama Environmental Management Commission prepares to choose a new director for ADEM, which it oversees. Former ADEM Director Trey Glenn stepped down late last year, and EMC is searching for a replacement. Candidates are allowed to submit applications until Jan. 29.