WHO CAN COMPLAIN ABOUT LACK OF ENVIRONMENTAL STEWARDSHIP?
John Wathen ends his email messages with a question: "Who has the authority to say someone else is not being a good steward of the environment?" He also provides the answer: "Anyone who notices." It appears that someone in Alabama has noticed.
Wathen is the founder of an environmental awareness effort known as Friends of Hurricane Creek. For years he has educated elected officials and the public about the historical, cultural, and environmental significance of the stream near Tuscaloosa. More than a half century ago, it had become widely apparent that Hurricane Creek was suffering abuse from industrial impacts and blatant disregard for environmental stewardship. Upstream coal mining was implicated as one source of the creek's environmental problems.
The problem on stage today is not just Hurricane Creek but all of the creeks, streams, and large rivers of Alabama. Friends of Hurricane Creek has joined a coalition of more than a dozen environmental awareness organizations in filing a petition to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the federal authority for enforcing the Clean Water Act. The petition claims that ADEM (Alabama Department of Environmental Management) has not been attentive in enforcing industrial and municipal compliance with water pollution guidelines. The recommendation is that the EPA override the state agency in regulating and enforcing water quality. (To read the petition, visit www.alabamarivers.org/epa-petition.)
How long will the process take? According to Cindy Lowry, executive director of the Alabama Rivers Alliance, the timeline is uncertain. She hopes discussions with the EPA will occur within a couple of months. Future actions, such as possible hearings, are yet to be decided. For now, the petition provides an extensive list of country clubs, residential subdivisions, landfills, wastewater treatment plants, coal mines, and so on that are said to be affecting what flows into certain streams.
Alabama is the Fort Knox of the nation's biodiversity. Because of its many stream and river systems, Alabama has the country's richest array of aquatic wildlife. Species diversity in the Mobile Basin alone rivals that of many higher profile systems, such as tropical rain forests. Explanations for the high diversity include a combination of climate, geology, and a vast range of aquatic habitats, right down to Mobile Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. With more miles of navigable stream systems than any other state, Alabama is a natural showcase for aquatic animals. Leniency by government agencies in protecting this natural heritage should not go unchallenged.
Alabama's environmental heritage has been the focus of major books and scientific articles. For example, "Fishes of Alabama" (Smithsonian Books, 2004) by Herbert T. Boschung Jr. and Rick Mayden, with illustrations by Joseph R. Tomelleri, provides an outstanding comprehensive account of the geographic region with the highest fish biodiversity--300-plus species--in North America. Another major book, "Rivers of North America" (2005, Academic Press) edited by Arthur C. Benke and Colbert E. Cushing, includes maps and color photographs of Alabama's rivers, with facts on geomorphology, hydrology, and water chemistry as well as ecology.
As long ago as 1995, Chuck Lydeard and Rick Mayden published a paper in the nationally and internationally recognized scientific journal "Conservation Biology" noting that the natural waters in the state of Alabama had more species of some groups of animals than any other state. By their count Alabama has 42 percent of the nation's fishes, 77 percent of the aquatic snails, 34 percent of the mussels, and 22 percent of the turtles. In that article the authors proclaimed the remarkable species diversity in Alabama and advised that notice be taken of the highly "endangered aquatic ecosystem."
works support the assertion that Alabama is a state where environmental
stewardship is critical. On the other hand, every state in the nation
has plants, animals, and habitats that are unique to it and that deserve
protection. Is it fair that Alabama's state regulatory agency should be
singled out for such intense scrutiny? Yes, if for no other reason (and
there are others) than to serve as a reminder for the rest of the country:
when someone is not being a good environmental steward, anyone who notices
has the authority to point it out.
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