Alabama politicians are dumping on us

 

 

By Jeff Martin

Superfund is the common name given to a trust fund that provides the budget for the EPA to evaluate and cleanup the most polluted sites in the country. In Northern Birmingham such a site exists, caused by decades of pollution from industrial facilities some who have been named the responsible parties, including Drummond Company.

    Drummond didn’t want to pay for the cleanup, so they enlisted a who’s who of elected officials to send letters asking the EPA to back off. They also bribed a state legislator to help with their dirty deeds. They even convinced an Elementary school not to test for contamination.

     Forget, for a moment, the three men on trial and the countless others who probably should be. This conspiracy paints a much larger picture and an ugly one at that. One that depicts Alabama as a dump, because the large polluters of our state often don’t have to take responsibility for their mess because they are lining politicians’ pockets with bribes and hefty campaign contributions.

     If this trial has proven anything it’s that many of our elected officials and ADEM serve at the pleasure of the ‘Big Mules’ and not the citizens.

    Raw sewage, unsafe water, uneatable fish, coal ash and superfund sites. It’s all becoming too common an occurrence here in a state that is home to some of the most unique river basins in the world. 

    Who is protecting us? Apparently not the politicians elected to do so. If it wasn’t for the hard working, underpaid, non-profits playing the role of consumer watchdogs we’d all be clueless and dying from cancer, instead of just the poor black citizens.

     Last year, a visiting United Nations official who tours the globe investigating extreme poverty said that areas of Alabama’s Black Belt are suffering the most dire sewage disposal crisis of any place he has visited in a developed country.

     In neighboring Lowndes County almost half the residents have been exposed to raw sewage and more than 34 percent tested positive for hookworm, a parasite so rare in the US that doctors no longer test for it.  Sounds serious, but what’s being done about it?

    Hunting, fishing and other outdoor activities are tremendous assets for Alabama’s economy, but needs clean air, water and land to thrive. In Alabama outdoor recreation is an $8 billion industry and creates the need for 86,000 direct jobs.

    Nowadays few waterways exist in Alabama where a fish can be caught for consumption and nearly every river has fish consumption advisories. To make matters worse, 85 percent of fishermen are unaware of the fish consumption advisories in the water they fish.   

     The Alabama Department of Public Health constantly issues updates where the fish are dangerous for people to eat. When excess levels of a contaminant are found in multiple fish species from a specific body of water, a ‘Do Not Eat Any’ advisory is issued, consumption of any fish may place the consumer at risk for harm from the contaminant.

    Some Alabama waterways include high enough levels of mercury, PCBs, chlordane and DDTs it isn’t even safe to swim.

     In the last decade a small, poor, black Alabama town has become a dumping ground for out-of-state coal ash, amounting to more than 4 million tons of the hazardous coal ash that contains toxins such as mercury and arsenic that can affect the nervous and reproductive systems and cause other health problems. According to the EPA, people living within a mile of unlined coal ash storage ponds have a one in 50 risk of developing cancer.

     Nelson Brooke with Alabama’s Black Warrior Riverkeeper recently said that despite the recent release of groundwater monitoring data, which demonstrates that toxic pollutants in coal ash are contaminating groundwater at power plants throughout Alabama, recent regulations drafted by ADEM would significantly undermine rules currently providing some protection to the citizens of Alabama from coal ash pollution.

     These are the reasons everyone should pay close attention to witness testimony in the federal trial currently taking place in a Birmingham courtroom.

     After four weeks, testimony has painted a clear picture as to who is really is in charge of the state and how often elected officials turn a blind eye. We now know the regular fella has never stood a chance in the fight for the right to clean air and water.

Dissecting the underbelly of Alabama corruption

 

 

By Jeff Martin

Last week I wrote about the federal bribery and conspiracy trial in Birmingham and made mention of one of the witnesses who took the stand last week. That person is Trey Glenn, who isn’t on trial, but by all appearances, was an active participant in the bribery scheme. I’ve taken to calling Glenn ‘Squid’ because for the last two decades his tentacles have touched everything environmental to the detriment of Alabama citizens.   

     ‘Squid’ served as Director of the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) for four years before resigning over some ethical lapses nine years ago. Prior to ADEM he was division director for the Alabama Office of Water Resources from 2001- 2005, responsible for the management of Alabama’s water resources. He had some ethical lapses at that job too.

     ‘Squid’s’ 4-year tenure at ADEM was riddled with controversy. In 2007 the Alabama Ethics Commission found probable cause that Glenn may have violated the state ethics law in obtaining his job as director of ADEM and receiving personal trips and gifts.

    A few months after ethics charges were filed against him, ‘Squid’ accepted $310 in tickets, food and drink from Alabama Power Co. for his family to attend a Montgomery Biscuits baseball game in the company’s skybox.

      I was actually in attendance at that same Biscuits game 11-years ago and snapped the picture of Glenn enjoying the game from the suite owned by a company he was in charge of regulating.

     Two years later a grand jury voted not to indict ‘Squid’, however he resigned as director of ADEM soon after.

      So, what is ‘Squid’ up to nowadays? Still prospering. After 8-years of consulting and lobbying for clients including those currently on trial, ‘Squid’ was rewarded for his loyalty and appointed EPA Region 4 administrator, by the scandal ridden former EPA chief Scott Pruitt. This powerful position placed him in charge of environmental protection efforts in eight southeastern states. In this role ‘Squid’ is supposed to be the environmental protector for the people, but similar to his time as ADEM director, he has been nothing but a lackey for the Big Mules he is supposed to regulate.

     Trial testimony is proving to show many elected officials have been involved in working against the interest of the public and in favor of large campaign donors.  Former Governor Robert Bentley and former US Senator ‘Big Luther’ Strange, during his tenure as AG sent official letters to the EPA, written verbatim by the very Balch & Bingham lawyers currently on trial, opposing the EPA cleanup efforts in north Birmingham. It shouldn’t surprise you to learn that ‘Big Luther’ saw his campaign account grow by $75,000 thanks to Drummond Coal.  

      And the corruption and cover-up continues to this day in the Attorney General’s office. The current AG Steve Marshall recently did not comply with an open records request from al.com. We know this because some of the documents requested, but reported by the AG’s office not to exist, were presented in trial this week. Where does it end?

     There has also been ample testimony provided to call for the resignations of current ADEM director Lance LeFluer and Environmental Management Commission Chairman Lanier Brown for neglect, corruption and incompetency. These men and several others, including former EMC Commissioner Scott Phillips, should probably also be on trial. There own words have proven they don’t have the public’s best interest at heart.

      This trial touches me personally. David Roberson, vice president of the Drummond Company and one of the three defendants on trial, has been a friend for longer than I can remember. More often than not David and I found ourselves working on opposite sides of an issue, but that’s how it is in the lobbying business, seldom is anything taken personally. I assisted David in 2003 when he was instrumental in passing legislation that provided a funding mechanism for scrap tire management. We continue to serve together on the commission created by the legislation.

    It appears that most everyone connected to this bribary trial are corrupt; at least to the extent they are protecting corporate interests over public interests. And that should never be acceptable.

     The sleaze that has oozed to the surface in this trial doesn’t know political party boundaries, anyone can catch the fever and I can smell the stench from here. 

Trial reveals the underbelly of Alabama politics

 

 

By Jeff Martin

There’s a lot going on in the world this week. After a relaxing trip to the beach you would think I’d be all on top of it, but we welcomed our new chocolate lab puppy Sebastian “Sebby” into the family this weekend and he has been the cause of much joy, as well as, sleep deprivation.

      I’d like to make mention and remembrance for the five journalists killed last week in the horrible shooting at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland. I can’t help but to wonder if the shooter would have acted had President Donald Trump not made repeated calls for a war on journalists and denouncing the press as “the enemy of the American people.” It saddens me that we have a President who will carelessly use such rhetoric.  Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone affected by this tragic event. 

       Have you been paying attention to the most recent political corruption trial taking place in Birmingham? If not, I recommend that you do.  It is playing out to be the Alabama political trial of the decade, in the sense it is revealing the underbelly of Alabama politics and the corruption that comes with.  Political theatre at it’s worst, demonstrating the evil of politics, the role money plays, and how deep the corruption goes.

      The witness list alone is a who’s who of notorious politicos including, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, U.S. Senator Richard Shelby, Congressman Gary Palmer, State Senator Jabo Waggoner, Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon, Alabama Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, Alabama Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed, Former Birmingham Mayor William Bell and others.

     Some are lucky they aren’t on trial themselves, like short-lived U.S. Senator Luther Strange and Trey Glenn, who currently heads the EPA’s environmental protection efforts in the southeastern states. While serving as Director of ADEM ten years ago, Glenn was charged, but never indicted, for violating ethics laws. Both Strange and Glenn appear to be neck deep in this current matter.

     I don’t have the space here to adequately explain the trial that is expected to last over a month and just concluded a second week of testimony. But, may I suggest reading al.com columnists John Archibald and Kyle Whitmore, who are covering the trial extensively.

     Balch & Bingham attorneys Joel Gilbert and Steven McKinney along with Drummond Coal executive and lobbyist David Roberson are the defendants.  The three men were indicted on charges related to the bribery of former Rep. Oliver Robinson (D-Birmingham). Robinson pled guilty last year and will be a witness for the prosecution.

     In 2014, the EPA designated an area of North Birmingham a Super Fund Site. Companies responsible for the damage, including Drummond Coal, were facing fines and cleanup costs in the tens of millions of dollars. Prosecutors claim the men bribed Robinson to help prevent cleanup of the site.

     Alabama appears to be riddled with political corruption nowadays. Last year we endured the resignation of Governor Robert Bentley after pleading guilty to two misdemeanors.

    Former GOP House Majority Leader Micky Hammon (R-Decatur) was released last Wednesday from a federal prison in Indiana after completing a 3-month sentence. He pled guilty earlier this year to mail fraud involving converting campaign funds for personal use.

     Rep. Jack Williams (R-Birmingham), along with former ALGOP Chairman Marty Connors both are currently facing federal charges to commit bribery and wire fraud. Williams had announced a year ago he was retiring from the legislature to run for a seat on the Jefferson County Commission. Williams lost, but remains in the legislature until the November elections.

     Meanwhile, another Decatur lawmaker, Rep. Ed Henry (R-Decatur) has multiple federal felony indictments against him involving a kickback scheme involving health care fraud. Henry’s trial is scheduled to begin October 1.

    And, let’s not forget former House Speaker Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn) who remains free two years after his conviction of 12 felony ethics violations. Hubbard, who was sentenced to serve four years in prison, has yet to spend a night behind bars because the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals has refused to act on his appeal.

     It is high-time the Alabama electorate starts paying attention and voting for ‘the peoples’ best interests at the ballot box and not those candidates for office who are bought and paid for by dark money and large corporate interests.