County celebrates Earth Day

Published 12:00 am Monday, April 21, 2003

With the national economy continuing to sag, wars wrapping up in two nations and one threatening to break out in a third, it may seem as if Americans have more to worry about than often-invisible problems like water and air pollution or global warming.

However, those concerned about the environment and the health of future generations claim that Earth Day still matters, perhaps more than ever, in the year 2003.

&uot;Earth Day should be celebrated every day,&uot; said Troy Mayor Jimmy Lunsford. &uot;This time of year makes me very appreciative of our beautiful community, but too many members of our community take our earth for granted.&uot;

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Lunsford doesn't just talk the talk. He's putting his concerns into action and will show up today at area schools with costumed environmentalist Litterman.

At 9:00, the mayor will show up at Pike Liberal Arts to promote an anti-pollution message and will also stop off at Troy Elementary, Covenant Christian and New Life Christian Academy.

&uot;Keeping litter off of our streets, conserving water and energy and becoming more educated about our Earth are some positive steps we should all take to make our earth more beautiful. I am very excited about visiting all of our elementary schools in the Troy area to promote Earth Day,&uot; Lunsford said.

The city has also designed some litter bags that will be distributed to the children and also around the community.

&uot;Litterman will be passing out our litter bags and encouraging students to either place these bags on their bicycles or in their parent's vehicles so they will have a place to throw their litter,&uot; Lunsford said.

Such outreach can be very effective in getting people to think about the consequences of their actions, said Theresa Thames, Director for Outreach and New Initiatives for The Earth Day Network, which supports more than 5,700 organizations.

&uot;Getting people involved is much more effective than just giving out flyers and pamphlets,&uot; she said.

Thames said even rural communities with no traditional environmental movements can take part in Earth Day.

&uot;Planting trees is one of our big initiatives,&uot; she said. &uot;It's a great idea for rural communities. People should focus on local environmental issues and have an event on that issue, whether it's forestry or health. People could have a panel of professionals speak on issues.&uot;

The network was founded by the organizers of Earth Day 1970 and attempts to promote environmental awareness and sustainable living by encouraging grassroots organizations worldwide in citizen action and organizing.

Thames said schools and churches were great places to organize pro-environment actions, especially if small towns lack traditional social movements.

&uot;Jesus was something of an environmentalist,&uot; she said.

However, she also said politics and the policies of leaders would determine the future health of the planet.

&uot;If you could do one thing for Earth Day, register to vote. Our campaign is geared towards making elected representatives aware of the problems in our communities. If a waterway is dirty, bring it to the attention of elected officials,&uot; she said. &uot;People think of trees, animals and rain forests when they think of the environment, but it really affects communities.&uot;

In Alabama, one organization devoted to dealing with the political side of environmentalism and the battles against the businesses and industries that pollute is the Alabama Department of Environmental Management.

Scott Hughes, a spokesman for ADEM, said concerned citizens can contact the organization and participate in the political struggle to keep the planet in good shape.

&uot;If people wanted to get involved, we have what we call an office of education and outreach,&uot; he said. &uot;It deals with a lot of local groups. They assist local groups in establishing clean water partnerships for a specific river or stream.&uot;

Hughes said ADEM's outreach office deals mostly with grassroots organizations.

&uot;Local citizens can provide input into the best mechanisms and best manner to protect water bodies in their area,&uot; he said.

According to Hughes, ADEM takes public comments on proposed permits and regulations and rule-making proposals.

&uot;People can give input on all of those issues,&uot; he said.

Alabama's environment drew some national attention recently when a conservation group called American Rivers singled out the Tallapoosa River as one of the most endangered rivers in the country for 2003. The group said the river and aquatic ecosystems are in grave peril due to water shortages caused by manipulation of water flows.

&uot;One thing I'd like to emphasize on that issue is that the report is very misleading,&uot; Hughes said. &uot;A lot of people think it's about chemicals and pollutants, but that listing had to do with one issue: the amount of water flowing through Harris Dam.&uot;

Hughes said the quality of the water in the Tallapoosa was up to federal regulations.

&uot;It's a quantity issue, nothing to do with chemicals. We have a reservoir water quality monitoring program above and below the dam. There are no water quality problems,&uot; he said.

As for the shut off of water flow that environmentalists say is killing plant and animal life, Hughes said dam discharges are controlled by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and complaints about the dam and Alabama Power's hydropower practices should be directed to that agency.

On the whole, Hughes said Alabama's environmental movements are in good shape.

&uot;Environmental movements are doing very well in Alabama. They have a strong presence in our permitting and rule making procedures and their membership has grown tremendously in the last five to 10 years. More citizens are becoming involved.&uot;

One such meeting at which citizens could become involved is at the ADEM meeting today at 1:30 in Montgomery. The meeting, which is open to the public, will take place in the main hearing room of the ADEM building at 1400 Coliseum Boulevard.

Among other items, the Commission will consider the adoption of proposed amendments to the ADEM Division 7 - Drinking Water Regulations. These amendments have been proposed to ensure the ADEM drinking water regulations conform to recent changes made in the Federal drinking water regulations. The proposed amendments include the modification of radionuclide monitoring requirements, the modification of the maximum contaminant level for arsenic and the addition of filter recycling requirements for certain water treatment plants

The Commission will also consider an administrative law judge's recommendation concerning the appeal of a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit and an air permit, which were issued to a quarry facility in Lee County.

Whether immersed in the inner workings of state environmental regulatory commissions, planting trees in back yards and beautifying urban areas or participating in grassroots environmental and environmental justice movements, Lunsford summed up the transformative potential of Earth Day 2003.

&uot;Earth Day is a wonderful time for our whole community to become more involved in taking care of our community and our earth,&uot; he said.