Some say the problem can be seen in a critical word in its name — “management.” Not “protection” — a word found in so many state agencies and in the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Which is to say that the Alabama agency is there to “manage” the environment to the benefit of a host of interests, which it does.
For example, ADEM released a draft early this year of how small cities would be permitted to deal with water going into storm drains and from there into creeks and rivers. The permit process closely conformed to guidelines set up by the EPA.
However, business interests objected, lobbied against the permit process and got it changed.
Now the EPA has objected, and if an agreement is not reached, the EPA may take control of the oversight of all water pollution enforcement in the state.
“Just one more example of the federal government encroaching into state matters” will be the cry from some quarters. But, really, it is one more example of Alabama not following the law and making it necessary for Washington to come in and make the state do what it should be doing, but isn’t.
The fault, when you get down to it, is ours.
For example, Alabama’s system of permitting and oversight is divided and dysfunctional. ADEM splits responsibility with local agencies, making enforcement difficult and in some cases duplicate and costly.
Moreover, as this page has often pointed out, when the Legislature gets around to writing its budget, protecting (or even “managing”) the environment is a low priority. ADEM has been under-funded for years, and there is little stomach in Montgomery for doing anything about it.
The result is that ADEM does not review site plans when issuing storm-water permits for construction and has the manpower to inspect only 10 percent to 15 percent of construction sites each year. At that rate, some sites are never inspected.
Of course, that lack of oversight is what some interests want, and they will be the ones who scream the loudest if the EPA takes over and makes them obey the law — a law the state should have made sure was obeyed in the first place.