October 3, 2000
Is it possible that there is some good environmental news in southwest Alabama? Maybe. Two recent news items may be harbingers (so to speak) of a more progressive attitude in the state regarding the environment, but it is too soon to be uncorking the wine for any celebrations. The first item is regarding the Alabama Commission on Environmental Initiatives, created in April by executive order of the governor. A public hearing in Mobile was scheduled for last week, but was postponed because of the weather, thanks to Hurricane Helene. The hearing has been re-scheduled for October 23, which should be enough advance notice for interested groups and individuals to get their agendas worked out to make an effective presentation to the board.
According to the official announcement from the governor's office, "the Commission is responsible for the research and development of quality options and alternatives that prove conducive to the long-term preservation of Alabama's natural environment." It's a sure bet that various chambers of commerce and big-business interests will have their input well organized and rehearsed for maximum effectiveness. The only way for citizens concerned with actually protecting the physical environment to counter the pro-business-screw-the-environment voice is to make their collective voice just as clear and just as persuasive.
The other item is the ruling by Circuit Court Judge Robert Kendall that IPSCO, the Canadian steel company, has to actually obey the law. The significant message between the lines in this ruling may not be the one it sends to IPSCO, but the message that the ruling sends to The Alabama Department of Environmental Management. At best, officials at ADEM have been careful not to appear to be zealots in their pursuit of their mission; at worst, they have shown more interest in protecting the profits of big corporations than the common environmental assets of the citizens of Alabama. In their suit against IPSCO, ADEM was joined by Mobile Bay Watch, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency stood behind them, holding a big stick. One reading of this is that ADEM can be forced to do its job if citizen groups can apply enough pressure. Both the Environmental Initiatives Commission and the IPSCO case present a challenge to citizens -- as individuals and as groups -- to make their voices heard.
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