Of all the freshwater in the 48 continental United States, an estimated 10 percent either flows through or comes from Alabama. The state has an astounding 77,000 miles of streams and rivers along with a half-million acres of ponds and lakes. And let’s not forget the state’s share of Gulf of Mexico shoreline, a place of amazing beauty.
Those waters are stocked with fish and other marine life; 303 species of freshwater fish call Alabama home. Likewise, the woods across the state are full of turkey, deer and other game.
Statistics from the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources confirm that state residents take full advantage of this bounty. In 2012, the state issued 169,794 hunting licenses and 145,582 for fishing in freshwater. What’s more, license records show that tens of thousands of out-of-staters come to Alabama to enjoy the hunting and fishing.
This is something worth bragging about, a little-known story of the richness of Alabama’s natural assets.
But this story doesn’t necessarily have a happy ending. The state agency that should be ensuring that those fertile fishing spots and inviting hunting grounds are free of pollution— the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) — is a watchdog missing most of its teeth and chained tightly to the porch.
In December, ADEM notified Kronospan’s Oxford plant that it had been dumping waste, including formaldehyde, in the city’s Tull C. Allen Wastewater Treatment Plant without the proper permit. This had been going on for four years, ADEM’s letter reported. Also, the wood-paneling manufacturer had neglected to file proper paperwork accounting for what it was sending to the wastewater treatment facility.
Glenda Dean, chief of ADEM’s water division, asked Kronospan to “voluntarily consider strategies to resolve these present issues and prevent potential future issues. Please be aware that as a result of the aforementioned violations, the department is considering the issuance of an order with penalty.”
In a late January article in The Star, John Connell, director of human resources at Kronospan’s Oxford location, said, “We are addressing it and are submitting a report to ADEM and waiting to get their response.”
According to Nelson Brook of the Black Warrior Riverkeeper, the entire episode is an illustration of how poorly the Alabama Department of Environmental Management is actually managing the state’s natural resources.
In truth, the states’ environmental agency is too easy a target here. The power in Montgomery is comfortable with a weak and toothless ADEM. Lawmakers and the governor have the power to create a tough and ever-watchful enforcer to protect Alabama’s environment. They choose not to because their friends doing the polluting prefer the status quo.
Yet, two interests are in conflict — Alabama, the home of low- to no-environmental regulation vs. Alabama, the home of hunters and anglers who care for their home and want to pursue their pastimes without pollution getting in the way. Our policymakers in the Legislature and governor’s office need to consider the long-term consequences. The polluters may be generous campaign contributors, but the fishermen and hunters of Alabama deserve better.
That’s the way to think about policing Alabama’s environment. It’s not about making Al Gore and his green army happy. It’s about protecting our lands so that future generations can hunt and fish in a cleaner Alabama.