Monthly Archives: August 2013

Citizens Denied Audience Before Alabama Environmental Management Commission

Glynn Wilson / Southwings, August 20, 2013

Citizens from Uniontown Alabama were denied permission by the Alabama Environmental Management Commission to address environmental injustice and threats to their health and welfare last week resulting from operations of the Arrowhead Landfill just outside of Uniontown, according to a joint press release from Black Belt Citizens Fighting for Health and Justice and the Alabama Department of Environmental Management Reform Coalition.


                     A close view of the growing coal ash mountain in Perry County, Alabama 

The commission, which oversees the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, the state agency responsible for enforcing the permit for the landfill, refused to hear from environmental attorney David Ludder on the failure to properly consider civil rights issues in its permitting process that could put all federal funds it receives in jeopardy.

The Black Belt Citizens Fighting for Health and Justice, a nonprofit organization from Uniontown, was to present on August 16 the results from testing water samples taken by Samford University faculty from Arrowhead Landfill run-off and from a private well located on property adjacent to the landfill. The tests revealed elevated levels of arsenic and conductivity. Arsenic leaching from coal ash and coal ash dust is a known risk agent for cancer.

The landfill has been a site of controversy since toxic coal ash residue from the holding pond failure at TVA’s power plant in Kingston Tennessee was transported to Uniontown in 2009 and 2010 for disposal, a story we covered more in depth than any news organization in the country.

“A dozen citizens made the trip to support the planned request that the EMC instruct ADEM to take enforcement action against the Arrowhead Landfill to prevent more toxic contaminants from migrating from the residue,” the release says. “They want ADEM to exercise supervision and oversight of the landfill’s plan for remediation of the toxic discharge.”

While the EMC did not technically disapprove the Black Belt Citizens group’s request to speak, the board voted to postpone the subject until after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) concludes its investigation into charges that ADEM violated EPA requirements to protect the civil rights of citizens.

“It could be months or years before the civil rights claims are resolved by EPA,” the groups say. “The EMC’s decision effectively denied the Uniontown group the opportunity to voice their concerns regarding immediate health threats.”

The Black Belt Citizens also wanted to ask that ADEM support finding an alternative site for a spray field for the Uniontown Wastewater Treatment Plant which is currently proposed for a site off Perry County Road 53.

“This site is considered unsuitable because of its high water table and proximity to residences and streams,” they say. “Also, the soil types on the property have severe limitations for land application of wastewater because they will not percolate properly.”

The EMC also disapproved the request of environmental attorney David A. Ludder, who proposed to make a presentation on EPA’s civil rights requirements and ADEM’s failure to implement those requirements. Ludder’s planned presentation can be seen online here.

“EMC Chairman H. Lanier Brown, II, a Birmingham attorney, claimed that the planned presentation concerned a matter that is the subject of a complaint being reviewed by EPA,” Ludder said. “Anyone can look at the presentation and see that it was not about any specific site or complaint.”

The Perry County group expected to be heard because the EMC Chairman Brown had previously indicated his approval and in the past the full commission has followed the recommendation of the chair. In neither instance did the commission have a valid reason under its own rules for disapproving the presentations.

“This is a major step backward in one of the few areas where the ADEM Reform Coalition has seen progress by ADEM,” said Casi Callaway, Mobile Baykeeper and co-chair of the coalition, a statewide environmental group that has filed a petition with the EPA to remove ADEM’s permitting authority.

“ARC has worked for 12 years to establish better communication between ADEM and citizens,” Callaway said. “For the EMC to disapprove the request after citizens traveled at their own expense to make the presentation, only to be denied their voice before a public entity, is not only shocking but unacceptable.”

In response, the coalition boycotted a meeting with ADEM’s director and staff scheduled to follow the commission meeting.

© 2013, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.

Alabama needs a comprehensive water management plan now, not later


By Mitch Reid,, on August 19, 2013 at 8:15 AM, updated August 19, 2013 at 8:16 AM

The Roman orator Quintilian once said, “Whilst we deliberate how to begin a thing, it grows too late to begin it.”

A recent decision by the state of Florida to escalate the water war over Georgia’s use of water for Atlanta should ring as an alarm to the people of Alabama that time is running out for us to protect our water resources. While Florida moves ahead with action to enforce its water plan and protect its natural resources, Alabama is scrambling to put such a plan together.

Alabama is the only state in the tri-state water conflict that does not have a comprehensive water management plan, leaving us in the weakest position for negotiating the water needs of people, businesses, communities, and ecosystems. A look at the history of Supreme Court decisions dealing with interstate water conflicts shows that, when the court decides who gets the water, they tip the scales in favor of the states with the best plan for protecting and using the limited resource. If we delay much longer we will surely be left with whatever our neighbors can’t use.

A comprehensive water plan is crucial for the protection of Alabama’s water resources. Alabama shares most of our water with our neighboring states, so the future of Alabama’s water resources depends not only on making sure that water uses within our borders are fair and balanced against protecting the system future generations but also on balancing our water needs with our neighboring states’ needs as well. To do this, Alabama must implement a meaningful management plan geared to the long-term sustainability of our water resources. To safeguard our fair share of the water, our plan must ensure that we are as efficient as possible in our water use, that we account for and balance the competing needs of water users across the state, and that we have protections in place to ensure that our rivers and bay ecosystems have the water they need to sustain the system. Only then can we demonstrate that our neighbors are taking more than they deserve.

Alabama has had fair warning that this crisis was headed our way. In 1990, Governor Guy Hunt created the Alabama Water Resources Study Commission to study water shortages in the ‘80s. The Commission found that every day that the state delayed in developing a plan brought us one day closer to the worst case scenarios.

In 2008, the Legislature created the Permanent Joint Legislative Committee for Water Policy and Management to study the issue and to develop policy. Finally, in April of 2012, Gov. Robert Bentley created the Alabama Water Agencies Working Group and directed them to study the issue and provide him with a recommendation for a Comprehensive Statewide Water Management Plan by December 1st of this year. While some have suggested that the AWAWG hold off on providing recommendations for a plan and are suggesting, instead, that the AWAWG develop issue papers and study groups, Florida’s action in the Supreme Court suggests that the time for study groups has passed. The AWAWG must meet this challenge of our time and provide the Governor with a recommendation for a solid, implementable water management plan this year and our elected officials should be standing by to take up these recommendations as soon as they are presented to the Legislature.

While the recent water headlines focus on the water war with Georgia, last year our farmers were reeling from the second year of devastating drought. These situations are occurring more frequently and their effects on our water resources, environment, and economy are becoming more severe.

Everyone in the state has an interest in protecting our water resources and making sure that there is a system to ensure that everyone gets the water they need. Our current system does not do this. Alabama currently only protects those who happen to live higher up on the river or with the biggest pump in the ground. Whether you are looking to invest in irrigation for your farm or want to bring a business to your town, you must have a predictable and secure source of water. That is not possible under Alabama’s current system.

Thankfully, Bentley has taken action through his directive to the AWAWG and the Legislature stepped up with $1 million in funding for an assessment of our state’s water resources. This commitment, along with leveraging funds available for studying and protecting the fresh water needs for Mobile Bay and our Gulf Coast, will establish the scientific groundwork for a water plan. Now we must finish the job. Alabama must put the necessary laws and policies in place so that we can use this science to defend against Georgia’s water grab and protect our water resources here at home.

The stakes cannot be higher: Water, our most precious natural resource, upon which our economy, our environment, even our very existence depends, hangs in the balance. We manage our budgets, our offices, and our households; it’s passed time we managed our water.

Mitch Reid is program director for the Alabama Rivers Alliance. The mission of the Alabama Rivers Alliance is to protect and restore Alabama’s rivers.

Alabama Power, Public Service Commission give electricity users the old switcheroo

By John Archibald, on August 18, 2013 at 6:01 AM & updated August 18, 2013 at 6:07 AM

I know that trick.

Heck, I’ve done the trick.

Half a life ago, working a summer gig at the Florida theme park Circus World, I understudied the “Transported Troublemaker” role in the clown magic show. The illusion worked like this:

I’d sit in the audience and heckle the magician as he performed his first lame tricks. I’d draw attention so obnoxiously that no one would forget my face. In the dark later I’d slip through a trap door. Then, as the magic clown put his lovely assistant into a box onstage for the finale, I’d climb a ladder beneath the stage to switch places with the assistant.

When the magician opened the door– Voila! – I’d be there blinking, perplexed, bewildered, but fully believing the magic.

I know that trick. That’s why this week’s illusion by the Alabama Public Service Commission seemed so familiar.

Not just because trap doors are everywhere. Not simply because every voice is not who it seems to be. And not because everybody, in the end, secretly wants to believe the magic.

It was more. And it was PSC prestidigitator-in-chief Twinkle Cavanaugh who said the magic words Tuesday.

She declared Alabama Power’s informal rate hearings a massive success and a lesson in transparency, despite all those boos and calls for more formal hearings. Electricity rates, she said with a flourish, will drop for Alabama Power customers.


But that’s where the “transparency” bit gets a little … tricky.

The cuts come, Cavanaugh said, because of a change in the way the rate structure is built. Instead of simply setting the utility’s allowed return on equity (ROE), as it has done for years and as most American utilities do, the PSC has instead set a weighted cost of equity (WCE), which combines the ROE with the utility’s equity ratio to set allowable returns.

Does it sound confusing? Obviously. Transparent?

The three members of the Public Service Commission itself can’t even explain what it all means in a way that is clear.

Commissioner Cavanaugh said power rates will fall dramatically.

Commissioner Jeremy Oden said power rates will fall moderately.

Commissioner Terry Dunn said the new structure could actually lead to higher rates by allowing the power company more leeway to affect the formula.

The majority of the commission “is playing the people for fools, and I don’t go along with that,” Dunn said.


In the magic name of transparency, not a single member of the commission can agree what this rate change means.

But it’s not that hard. And it’s not that magic.

Under the old way of setting rates, Alabama Power was allowed an ROE of 13-14.5 percent. The national average is about 10 percent. The new plan, PSC staffers and national utility experts agree, would still give the power company the equivalent of a return on equity above 13 percent.

It is barely any cut at all. And it is still allows Alabama Power, as analyst Stephen Hill told the AP, “the highest allowed profit in the country.”


And that’s the trick, I guess. But it’s not really the grand finale. That came after the PSC decision, as Alabama Power sadly told the world it would have to go back to study what this new rate structure would mean for the company. As if it had not been in on the act from the start.

Alabama Power is “disappointed,” by the ruling, company spokesman Michael Sznajderman said.

You can see him — like magic — if you squeeze your eyes real tight. He is there in his box, blinking, perplexed and bewildered. Begging us with his eyes to simply believe in the magic.

It is spoiled for me. I’ve seen that trick before.

Why can’t we all operate casinos?

by Bob Martin, Goat Hill Gazette, in the Fairhope Courier on Friday, August 2, 2013 6:00 am & updated at 8:32 am, Sat Aug 3, 2013.
Bob Martin

Equal Justice Under Law. These words written above the main entrance to the Supreme Court Building in Washington, express the ultimate responsibility of the Supreme Court of the United States. The Court is the highest tribunal in the Nation for all cases and controversies arising under the Constitution or the laws of the United States. As the final arbiter of the law, the Court is charged with ensuring the American people the promise of equal justice under law and, thereby, also functions as guardian and interpreter of the Constitution.

If we truly have equal justice under law in our country which includes our state, then why are the Poarch Creek Indians permitted to operate casinos making millions of dollars and those of us who cannot possibly claim to be in their category of humankind forbidden from such activity? I thought the law applied equally to all.

It is clearly an issue that should be litigated on the basis of discrimination by the state.

Attorney General Luther Strange has initiated a lawsuit challenging the legality of the Poarch Creek’s electronic bingo machines in the face of the Poarch Creek expansion underway in Wetumpka. This would nearly triple the number of the number of electronic bingo machines to 2,500. The U. S. Government has filed a brief in the case asking the court to toss out Strange’s suit.

However, the state of Michigan has filed a brief supporting Alabama’s side in the case.

House Speaker’s contracts questioned

The Birmingham News reports that House Speaker Mike Hubbard has gone to the staff of the Alabama Ethics Commission twice recently to discuss contracts his company, The Auburn Network, was negotiating. This included a $144,000-a-year contract for him to be an economic development consultant.

Hubbard’s company has agreements to provide consulting work to the Southeast Alabama Gas District and also to an organization that promotes the interest of independent pharmacists.

The Speaker said his company does business development work for the Bessemer-based American Pharmacy Cooperative, Inc., a group purchasing organization which represents independent pharmacists in 23 states. Hubbard said he only works on out-of-state matters for the group.

“They are a client of Auburn Network Incorporated which means it’s not solely me doing work for them, but I do get involved in it. We help to build and market their brand and business development. We don’t do any work for them in Alabama. It’s only in states other than Alabama,” Hubbard told The News.

Please Mr. Speaker, spare us the politically required denials.

Capital City homicides skyrocket

At its current rate Montgomery will record the highest numbers of homicides ever in a single year. The 32nd homicide occurred last Friday.

Last year, the city had 32 homicides. In 1975 Montgomery recorded 58 homicides the highest number since the police department started tracking the numbers.

Montgomery Police Chief Kevin Murphy says violent crime is the most difficult number to predict, particularly when and where it will occur. He said the department has developed several initiatives this year to get illegal guns off the streets, enlisting the help of a psychologist and area pastors to help reach those living in the communities and consulting with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Authorities say they don’t know what is causing the spike in homicides this year, and they hope it is not a sign of a continuing trend.

Again, Thank God for Mississippi

Dr. Allen Perkins, Professor and Chair of Family Medicine at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine wrote last week that the Center for Disease Control provided the latest look at how long people will live after age 65 and what percent of those later years are predicted to be healthy. “Alabamians, as usual,” he wrote “are not as healthy as most Americans.” The average Alabamian who is currently 65 years old can be expected to live to age 82.5, slightly better than the average Mississippian and West Virginian. However, he/she will start feeling poorly by age 77.

For those in Alabama who feel like moving, Hawaiians live to age 86 and are healthy on average until age 81.

Bob Martin is editor and publisher of The Montgomery Independent.

Speaker’s company picks up economic development & consulting work for Alabama groups

By Kim Chandler,
on July 28, 2013 at 7:30 AM, updated July 28, 2013 at 7:31 AM

MONTGOMERY, Alabama – Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard twice in the last 18 months has gone to the staff of the Alabama Ethics Commission to discuss contracts his company planned to enter into, including a $144,000-a-year contract to be an economic development consultant.

Mike Hubbard Alabama Speaker of the House

Hubbard’s company, The Auburn Network Inc., has agreements to provide consulting work to the Southeast Alabama Gas District and also to an organization that promotes the interest of independent pharmacists.

Hubbard said his company does business development work for the Bessemer-based American Pharmacy Cooperative, Inc., a group purchasing organization which represents independent pharmacists in 23 states. Hubbard said he only works on out-of-state matters for the group.

“They are a client of Auburn Network Incorporated which means it’s not solely me doing work for them but I do get involved in it. We help to build and market their brand and business development. In that one, we don’t do any work in the state of Alabama. It’s only in states other than Alabama,” Hubbard said.

The House General Fund budget committee in April inserted language in the General Fund budget that could have benefited APCI, although that language was later stripped in conference committee after concerns were raised by state Medicaid officials.

The language in the substitute bill said that any pharmacy benefit manager eventually hired by the state Medicaid program must “operate a group purchasing function with a purchasing base for generic drugs consisting of at least 30 percent of the retail pharmacies in Alabama.”

State Health Officer Don Williamson said that he knew of only one entity, APCI, that met the criteria.

“That was APCI. That’s my understanding. Is there somebody else out there? I suppose there could be but I’m just not aware of it,” Williamson said.

Williamson said state Medicaid officials did not want to be limited to one company without knowing more about the proposal.

“That was not our language. Our concern was their proposal may be a perfectly good proposal, we had no way of knowing how much money, if any, that plan would save. We talked to the chair of the budget committees about getting that language out,” Williamson said.

Hubbard said he had nothing to do with putting that language in the budget.

Rep. Greg Wren, R-Montgomery, said he sought the language to make sure that any overhaul of Alabama’s Medicaid pharmacy program was “community-led.”

“We’re talking about keeping money in Alabama and saving money for the state,” Wren said.

Wren said he never had conversations with Hubbard about the contract.

Rep. Steve Clouse, the vice-chairman of the House General Fund committee, also said he didn’t recall having any discussion about the language with Hubbard.

Clouse said rural legislators were particularly concerned about independent pharmacists because they don’t necessarily have Big Box pharmacies in their districts.

Hubbard’s company also performs work for Southeast Alabama Gas District. Southeast Alabama Gas District is a public company owned by 14 cities to provide natural gas service in the southeastern part of the state.

According to a copy of the contract voluntarily submitted to Ethics Commission staff in early 2012, Southeast Alabama Gas  agreed to pay the Auburn Network $12,000-a-month to support marketing efforts, promote the use of natural gas and to identify and deliver economic development prospects for facilities utilizing natural gas.

Hubbard said both he and other employees of the Auburn Network perform work for Southeast Alabama Gas.

“Mainly for Southeast Alabama Gas, it’s economic development and working with them to recruit new jobs and support local industry in their district and help build and market their brand,” Hubbard said.

He said recent work has included trying to recruit a company in California that is interested in locating a facility in Alabama.

“The company burns a lot of gas. My job is to help Southeast Alabama Gas put things together and help them in locating hopefully in the Southeast Alabama Gas district but if not in the state of Alabama,” Hubbard said.

Hubbard said the $12,000-a-month goes to the Auburn Network and not to him directly. He said the amount of the contract has since been reduced since that contract was submitted to the commission.

Southeast Gas paid for Hubbard’s trip to the Paris Air Show which he attended along with the official state delegation that included Gov. Robert Bentley.

Hubbard said the work is not unprecedented pointing to his predecessor.

Former Speaker of the House Seth Hammett worked as the economic development director of the Alabama Electric Cooperative, now called PowerSouth, while he was a member of the Alabama Legislature.

“From an economic development standpoint, I’ve been involved with a lot of that over the years. It’s the same thing Seth Hammett did. He did it for PowerSouth. He did it when he was speaker,” Hubbard said.

Hubbard said in both cases he sought the guidance of Ethics Commission Director Jim Sumner and Ethics Commission General Counsel Hugh Evans to make sure there were no issues with his company taking the work.

“I sit down before I do anything or any contract, or my company has a contract, with Jim Sumner and Hugh Evans out of an abundance of caution. It’s not required but I know there are people like you out looking to see if I’m doing something wrong, and I’m not going to do it,” Hubbard said.

State law bans any state official from using their position to benefit his or her specific business.

Sumner said at Hubbard’s request, they had meetings in his office to discuss both contracts.

Sumner said he saw nothing wrong with the speaker’s contracts provided Hubbard didn’t take direct action to benefit the clients of his business.

“Don’t offer something that benefits the client, don’t try to influence the votes of the other members and don’t vote on a matter to benefit the client,” Sumner said recalling his conversation with Hubbard.

Hubbard said he has followed the guidance.

“I’m very careful to make sure we don’t ever cross that line. Of course anything you do, you can try to make an argument that it could be a conflict as long as we have a citizen-legislature. We have to be able to make a living. You just have to make sure you don’t do anything to benefit,” Hubbard said.

Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard quacks like a duck

by John Archibald,

on July 29, 2013 at 12:02 PM, updated July 29, 2013 at 2:58 PM

It was a prosecutor who said it, watching with just a slice of satisfaction as Republicans swept clean an Alabama Statehouse that had grown lazy and corrupt, comfortable in its power and its ways of preserving it.

“It’s a good thing,” he sighed. “But give them a few years and you won’t be able to tell these Republicans from those Democrats.”

It has been a few years. Boy, has it been a few years.

Rep. Mike Hubbard, Alabama Speaker of the House, self-proclaimed architect of the GOP storming of the Statehouse, the most powerful political figure in Alabama and the state’s economic development go-getter in chief, is now justifying his own eyebrow-raising actions by saying …

The Democrats did it.


Hubbard, as the Birmingham News/ reported this week, has built his company, The Auburn Network Inc., into a marketing and economic development venture that happens to dovetail sweetly into his official and public stance.

When he vows to make Alabama a business-friendly state, he can rightly claim he does the people’s work. When he flies to France for the Paris Air Show, his staff can argue that his trip is good for the state because his passage was paid by “an economic development group with whom he works, the Southeast Alabama Gas District.”

But when Hubbard’s company contracts for $12,000 a month to “deliver economic development prospects” to that same southeastern Alabama gas company, it is harder to separate what is in the public interest, and what is in Hubbard’s. It is harder to decide what is a real economic development group to Hubbard, and what is a client.

But … But…

It’s just business.

“It’s the same thing (Democratic former House Speaker) Seth Hammett did,” Hubbard told “He did it when he was speaker.”

Feel better yet?

Hubbard wants us to because he met with the Alabama Ethics Commission to discuss his company contracts. And the Ethics Commission gave him the nod. It said, as it always does, that contracts such as Hubbard’s are OK as long as he doesn’t take “direct action” to benefit his clients.

But he doesn’t have to.

Hubbard had plausible deniability when the Alabama House tacked language into a budget that appeared to benefit only a pharmaceutical company that is a client of the Auburn Network.

Rep. Greg Wren — a Republican from Montgomery who Hubbard appointed to head the Local Legislation Committee — said he, for his own reasons, sought the change in the budget that would have aided Hubbard client American Pharmacy Cooperative, Inc.

Perhaps it was more than plausible. Perhaps Hubbard had no involvement at all.

But come on. Best case scenario it just looks bad. And we’ve been through too much in this state – and Mike Hubbard knows it – to accept plausible deniability as good enough.

If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, the people of Alabama know exactly what to do:


Because this is the stuff our headaches are always made of.

The letter of Hubbard’s own ethics law is not good enough. The letter of the law is not nearly enough for the people of Alabama, who remember how Hubbard pilloried the Democrats before him, and expected much, much more.

“They’ve built a corrupt system,” he said in destroying that century-long hold on Montgomery. “And they like it.”

Mike Hubbard came into his own on that outrage. He came to power on that indignation. He came in all high and mighty. And he got high on the mighty.

Now he justifies his actions by saying…

Seth Hammett did it.

Boy, has it been a few years.

J. M. Lee retires after 40 years of service on Foley Industrial Development Board

J.M. Lee


Foley Mayor John Koniar presented Lee with a proclamation to commemorate his service. “J.M. is an excellent example of those who give back to their community through volunteerism. His service has not been limited to the City of Foley. He has been recognized by the South Baldwin Chamber as Free Enterprise Person of the Year and by the Foley Rotary Club with the Paul Harris Fellow award. We are blessed to have him as part of our community.”