After watching Gov. Kay Ivey responding last week to questions about the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) sitting on information it had about 3M polluting the Tennessee River, it became more obvious why her handlers don’t often let Kay talk to reporters.
Huntsville TV reporter Chelsea Brentzel asked Ivey why it took a reporter uncovering documents showing ADEM allowed 3M to release toxic chemicals into the Tennessee for a decade in order for that to become public knowledge to citizens up and down the river. Ivey looked to be at a loss and began praising ADEM but then shifted into a rambling non-specific word salad.
“I have a lot of respect for ADEM’s authority, but I think this case, we need solutions on the table and I’m not seeing many of those solutions. And while I have respect for the ADEM and their operations are … I look forward to having some real solutions offered to address the concerns of those citizens,” Ivey said.
The most I could really take away from her answer is that she respects ADEM. It’s hard to understand why, though. In an April letter to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 3M admitted its plant in Decatur had released the chemical FBSA, and possibly the chemical FBSEE, into the Tennessee River. Those chemicals are used in making Teflon and Scotchgard. But neither the EPA nor ADEM bothered to tell people living in the area this had been happening. I guess maybe they were waiting for the first three-headed fish to show up.
Ivey was also asked if Alabama’s success in recruiting heavy industry is dependent upon lax environmental standards, and her answer there was also rather “strained.”
“Well, the state does not control ADEM, per se. It’s a state agency so everybody assumes…. But anyways I’m just encouraging them to show some positive possible solutions. And they need to get all the facts … and if there’s a fault to be found … there needs to be accountability,” she said.
You’d think such a question would be an opportunity for Ivey to definitively reject the popularly held notion Alabama is a playground for corporate polluters and promise citizens she’s a pro-jobs governor who still won’t stand for seeing our environment destroyed. Instead, we got some good, old-fashioned gibberish that wasn’t likely to pucker any body parts over at ADEM.
The reason I bring all this up is it ties in neatly with one of the more bizarre things that’s come out of Lagniappe’s recent reporting on Alabama Power’s efforts to bury 21 million tons of toxic coal ash in the Mobile-Tensaw Delta. We asked 42 different politicians to offer their thoughts on whether Alabama Power should be allowed to do this or not, and if you read it you’d see we got a lot of wishy-washy answers, several non-answers, a couple of people bold enough to say they think AP should have to move its toxic mess and a whole bunch of politicians spouting the Alabama Power line that this is the best way to handle things.
Only one elected official, though, had someone outside his or her office call us back for a response. And I don’t mean a public relations agent. I mean had an entirely different government organization call us back. That was Gov. Ivey.
We asked what the governor of our state thinks about Alabama Power burying millions of tons of toxic coal ash all over the state she currently runs — a pretty big issue right now — and got a phone call back from … ADEM. That’s right. We called Kay Ivey for an answer and she pushed it off on ADEM.
So when 3M dumps chemicals in the Tennessee River, Ivey tells us ADEM is an agency she respects very deeply, but has zero control over, but when it comes to Alabama Power, ADEM serves as her mouthpiece.
“The method that is utilized will be protective of human health and the environment and in the best interest of the citizens of the state of Alabama,” ADEM spokesperson Lynn Battle offered as the governor’s response. Pretty detailed answer, don’t you think?
It’s hard not to come away from that exchange thinking the governor is incapable of forming or explaining her own opinions when it comes to sticky situations, which just lends credence to whispers she was kept away from reporters during the election for that very reason.
Like many politicians, Ivey appears worried by the prospect of upsetting Alabama Power. Maybe she’s thinking about the millions of our monthly electric bill dollars Alabama Power sprinkles over projects across the state, which gives them a lot of clout with elected officials. Or maybe Kay is simply thinking about the $130,000 Alabama Power has poured into her campaign chest over the past few years, including $35,000 this year already.
Either way, the one thing she definitely doesn’t seem worried about is pollution or the environment. She didn’t manage to stammer either one of those words out during her efforts to address the 3M mess.
Honestly, I would be so much more impressed if Ivey appeared even the least bit interested in why ADEM let 3M pollute for so long and didn’t say anything about it. Or why they only started fining Alabama Power for polluting the groundwater with their coal ash ponds after testing reports became public record two years ago. It would be fantastic if she were the least bit curious as to how Alabama Power intends to handle the continued leeching of toxic materials into the groundwater at Gadsden, a pond they’ve already capped-in-place.
But that doesn’t seem to be Ivey’s style. Frankly, she’s been governor for more than two years now and I’m still trying to figure out if she even has a style. Mostly she seems good for rubber stamping bills from Goat Hill, cutting ribbons at new economic developments and ignoring the I-10 bridge toll issue.
At least her response when being asked about 3M’s and Alabama Power’s pollution offers a bit more clarity as to who Kay Ivey really is. I think we know for sure now that when big businesses pollute, Ivey is going to hide behind ADEM, regardless of their putrid record of protecting Alabama’s environment. We know she’s satisfied with ADEM’s weak enforcement of anti-pollution regulations and thinks highly enough of the agency to let them speak for her on vital issues.
In short, I think it’s now fair to say Kay Ivey is an empty suit when it comes to big business polluting Alabama’s environment.
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