Water Wars Meeting Reveals One Way Alabama Power Controls Water Policy

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Mitch Reid with the Alabama Rivers Alliance reveals one way Alabama Power controls water policy in the state.

By Glynn Wilson

The Bevill technology training center at Gadsden State Community College was the scene Friday for a collaborative effort on the part of government, industry, citizens and environmental groups to form a legal water policy framework so Alabama can compete with other states like Georgia and Florida in the ongoing water wars that pits one state’s people and resources against the other.

It was the last of a series of discussions led by the Alabama Rivers Alliance and the Alabama Sierra Club to provide input into a government report due to be submitted to Governor Robert Bentley by a deadline of Dec. 1. Once the governor’s office has a chance to digest the report, it is expected to be released to the public before the election year legislative session begins Jan. 14.

The discussions have been nothing but amiable from Mobile to Dothan to Huntsville and Gadsden. This last session was capped off by a presentation from Brad Moore from Eufaula, Alabma, who represented a group of stakeholders dealing with regional water issues from the Chattahoochee River north of metro Atlanta to the Flint River in south Georgia to Apalachicola on the Gulf Coast in Florida.

They are pioneering a model for governance that could be transplanted to Alabama.

But right near the end of the final session on the last day of a year-long discussion, the 1,000 pound elephant in the room came up in a revealing comment that shows how Southern Company’s Alabama Power will have more influence on the outcome of the policymaking process and the lawmaking process than any other entity involved, even the Corps of Engineers.

Mitch Reid of the Alabama River’s Alliance, an attorney who did a stint in the Army under Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld during the Bush years and continued in the Army reserves through 2010, revealed how Alabama Power is playing a key role.

Moore indicated that many government agency experts take part in regular meetings of the planning group from Georgia and Florida, including state reps from environmental management agencies, departments of conservation, along with federal representatives from the Geological Survey, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, EPA, even the National Park Service.

“Two of the states come to every meeting,” Reid said. “Georgia and Florida have a representative from state government at every meeting … listening, taking notes, participating and providing input. The state of Alabama does not. The state sends an attorney to every meeting.”

When asked by a member of the audience who shows up from Alabama, Reid said it was always a lawyer with the firm of Balch & Bingham, which represents Alabama Power Company as well as the state.

“It just doesn’t seem right for us to be in water war and not participate when the stakeholders are trying to work things out,” Reid said. He has called the governor’s office to try to find out why, but so far no answer has been forthcoming.

We will have much more to report on this story once the report is made public and we can reveal the details of the plan. But for now, it might be worth a call to the governor’s office on Monday to see if we can get an answer to why the state is not participating in the regional stakeholder discussions except to send a lawyer to protect its legal backside.

It has been obvious all year long that the only reason the Republicans who now control all three branches of government in Alabama care about this issue is because of the legal disadvantage in disputes with other states when conflicts erupt in a water wars battle and story that stretches back three decades now.

By filling a gap not being filled by the state government in Alabama, the Alabama Rivers Alliance has helped to put a policy discussion framework in place that could allow more citizen input into crafting future laws and policies to protect the state’s water resources for future generations — if the government would pick up the ball next year and run with it.

Chattahoochee_River7-28-13c

Canadian geese on the Chattahoochee River

Correction: While Reid said at the meeting and in the video that it was Balch & Bingham who send an attorney to the meetings representing the state, he e-mailed on Monday to correct that and say it is actually the law firm of Bradley, Arant, Boult and Cummings. They also practice energy law.

© 2013, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.

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