I could go the safe route and opine about fireworks, or the conservative in me could prod the vocal environmentalists. Stoke the coals.
The Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) held a public hearing Thursday evening at the campus of Bevill State Community College in Sumiton. The majority in attendance discredited the proposed mine due to its planned proximity to a Birmingham Water Works Board intake that provides drinking water to 200,000 customers.
All but one speaker vilified the mine, many fearing that its discharges into the nearby waterway would pose health risks. Others discounted the claim that the mine would be a catalyst for economic growth. Still others, peering through rose-colored glasses, had visions of bedroom communities to Birmingham sprouting up along the tranquil riverbanks once Corridor X finally ties into I-65 in late 2014.
A representative from the Birmingham Water Works stated the water could be treated, albeit more expensively. But mining discharges are not what they were 30-plus years ago. Decades of stringent federal environmental regulations force the mining industry today to spend millions, if not billions, cleaning its wastewater.
Effluent limitations guidelines are national regulations that establish restrictions on the discharge of pollutants to surface waters or to publicly owned treatment works by specific categories of industries, including coal mining. The requirements are developed by the Environmental Protection Agency based on the application of process or treatment technologies to control pollutant discharges.
Perhaps the most significant comment made during the hearing Thursday came prior to public comments. According to Chip Crockett, chief of the storm water management branch in ADEM’s water division, the Reed No. 5 permit met all applicable federal regulations.
In all my years of covering the coal industry and its environmental challenges, I have never seen a public hearing alter the outcome of mining permits once they meet federal regulations. More times than not, public hearings are held to appease the vocal minority.
I hope such is the case with the Reed No. 5 permit. No one can argue the economic benefits to the region, including a windfall of tax revenue for the City of Cordova. It stands to earn 8 percent of every dollar generated from each ton of coal extracted from the mine. That money would go a long way in helping Cordova recover from the devastating April 2011 tornadoes.
More importantly, Walker County needs the jobs that will be created directly by the surface operation and indirectly by the ancillary companies that sprout up in support of the Reed No. 5 mine.
Jack McNeely is Publisher of the Daily Mountain Eagle and can be reach by phone at 205-221-2840 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.