Rules on environmental comments may change

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 13, 2003

The Alabama Department of Environmental Management is holding a public hearing next month to consider revisions to the administrative code that could have significant impact on the way the public contributes input on Alabama's environmental laws.

The meeting, which will be at ADEM's headquarters in Montgomery on March 25, will be open to the public and those wishing to comment on the proposed revisions, which establish criteria for public comment before the Environmental Management Commission, are invited to attend.

James Warr, Director of ADEM, said the revised rules would create a more equitable appeals process.

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"What the board is doing is they are trying to balance public access and participation with their ministerial duties to adjudicate contested cases," he said. "These cases take some time to wind their way through the system and they were trying to balance those duties."

According to the ADEM rules, people who want to appeal rulings

and regulations issued by the department must do so within 45 days of the adoption of the rule. The proposed rules state that members of the public wishing to speak at a meeting will have to "submit to the commission office a written request to be included on the agenda along with a description of the matter they wish to raise before the commission."

"This doesn't affect whether or not you can get a hearing," Warr said. "They were trying to figure out how to structure this so we can accommodate what people want to say and, at the same time, if somebody wants to appeal, it would be inappropriate for us to hear about it before a complete record is produced."

The text of the proposed rule changes addresses this concern specifically.

"While the commission encourages public participation at its public meetings, for reasons of fairness and due process to the parties in administrative and legal proceedings involving the commission, it specifically discourages members of the commission from engaging in the non-deliberative discussion of any case or legal proceeding pending before the commission, or of any decision by the commission in a case or legal proceeding pending appeal before the courts of this state," the text reads.

"That's an important point because they're trying to be fair to everybody and not be unduly restrictive," Warr said. "All the rules are placed on public notice and are posted on our Website and are available in our offices."

Those citizens interested in environmentalism and the ADEM can view the proposed changes at

Stephen Stetson can be reached at