February 22, 2000
by Edmund Tsang
Pointing to the results of a recent poll, Joe Turnham, founding director of the Alabama League of Environmental Action Voters (AlaLEAV), says Alabamians want their government to be more involved in protecting the state's environment. Turnham, a former chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party who ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Congress in 1998, told The Harbinger in a telephone interview last week that "politicians can no longer ignore the conditions of Alabama's environment. Voters are aware, and they [politicians] will suffer at the ballot box." Turnham said the results of a poll conducted last summer showed 52 percent of Alabamians believe governmental regulations for the environment are "too little," and "41 percent believe government should be involved in environmental protection, and an additional 46 percent believe government and industry should work together for protection." (See survey by Capital Survey Research Center on accompanying page.)
State officials may say Alabama is too poor to spend its limited resources on protecting the environment, but Turnham said "voters won't buy the trade-off argument." "Alabama may be a poor state, but it is blessed with many natural resources. It has more timber, water resources, bio-diversity and natural beauty than many states. In fact, it is in the top ten percent among the lower 48 states in natural resources. It's a shame that it is also among the ten worst states in environmental policies."
Turnham believes protecting Alabama's environment can be accomplished with "no additional tax" by "putting in sound policy, aggressively enforcing laws that are already on the book, and by restructuring the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM)." Turnham said Alabama needs to engage in long-term planning and to have a more realistic permitting policy, such as "a higher permitting fee for polluting industries because they are passing on environmental costs to the state." By aggressively enforcing environmental laws, the state can collect fines against polluters to support programs to enhance Alabama's environment, Turnham explained.
Turnham said he does not believe low funding is the cause for ADEM's weak track record in protecting Alabama's environment. "ADEM has enough funds. It just built a new building," Turnham said. "ADEM's budget goes up a little every year. While the state's contributions might be going down, the federal contributions are up."
Turnham said the reason James Warr, ADEM's director, sent out a S.O.S. letter about state appropriations last November to a mailing list that included environmentalists is because "ADEM is feeling the heat." Turnham said AlaLEAV, which bills itself as a political action and lobbying arm of the state's growing community of environmental-minded voters, would even "lobby for increased [state] funding for ADEM, but we need them to straighten up." Turnham added that the director of ADEM did not attend this year's budget hearing for the agency nor lobby legislators for a bigger budget. Turnham said it is probably "an accurate assessment" that ADEM is purposely kept weak by special interests so the state agency cannot protect Alabama's environment.
According to the Director of Capital Survey Research Center, Gerald W. Johnson, Ph.D., the survey was based on a randomly-selected sample of 433 Alabama Adults and was conducted over 6 days in June, 1999. The results have an uncertainly of +/- 4.5%.
Getting better 21% Getting Worse 27% Staying about the same 50% Donít Know/No Reply/Other 3%
Overall quality of the environment 3.35 Drinking Water 3.37 Air 3.48 Lakes and rivers 2.78 Forest and wildlife areas 3.51 Beaches 2.83
Statement 1: I am concerned about the environment and I try to do things that protect the environment -- 64%
Statement 2: I think the environment is fine and there are more important things than the environment such as industry and jobs -- 14%
Statement 3: I do not know enough about the environment to know how real the issues are such as acid rain, the ozone layer, and the greenhouse effect -- 20%
Can go together 79% Choice must be made 19%
Statement 1: Protection of the environment should be given priority even if it makes it more difficult for some businesses and industries and cost some jobs -- 68%
Statement 2: Development of business and industries and jobs should be given priority even if it makes it more difficult to keep a clean and safe environment -- 23%
Too much 15% Too little 52% About right 24%
Government should be involved 41% Government should not be involved 11% Government and industry should be involved 46%
Yes 81% No 19%
Yes 68% No 16% Donít Know/No Reply/Other 16%
Yes 85% No 9% Donít Know 6%
Burning coal or other fuels 27% Hydropower or water from dams 44% Atomic or nuclear power 15% Donít Know/No Reply/Other 14%
Wastewater dumped by industries 53% Garbage dumping 19% Runoff from land surfaces 21% Donít Know/No Reply/Other 7%
Save trees and areas for wildlife 52% Reduce waste going to landfills 38% Donít Know/No Reply/Other 7%
A lot 16% Some 59% Little or none 24%
Yes, need more information 92% No, do not need more information 6% Donít Know/No Reply/Other 2%
Yes 82% No 16% Donít Know/No Reply/Other 2%