Study: Alabama spends less on environment than any other state

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( — Alabama ranks among the top 10 states in terms of biodiversity, but the entire yearly budget of its environmental agency adds up to less than a fancy hamburger for every person in the state.

The Alabama Department of Environmental Management ranked dead last in per capita funding among state environmental agencies in a recent study published by the Environmental Council of States.

The survey found ADEM received an average of just $10.85 per person, per year from 2013 to 2015.

State environmental agencies usually administer the federal environmental laws like the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act in their state, on behalf of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The state agencies issue permits for industries seeking to discharge pollution into the air or water, enforce those permits and ensure spills are cleaned up.

The ongoing budget crisis at ADEM could lead to fewer inspections of polluting facilities, longer wait times for permits and decreased ability by the department to respond to an environmental disaster.

Alabama's per capita funding was last among the 46 states, plus Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, that participated in the survey.

ADEM Director Lance LeFleur said the four states that did not respond to the survey questions "historically are well funded," meaning Alabama very likely spends less per person on its environmental agency than any other state.

"The department is no longer 49th," LeFleur said during prepared remarks at last week's Alabama Environmental Management Commission meeting. "As of 2014 and continuing in 2015, Alabama is dead last in funding."

And, as LeFleur detailed in his director's report to the Commission, ADEM's budgetary picture is probably more bleak than the survey shows.

The survey ended at the 2015 budget year, before the state legislature required ADEM to transfer $1.2 million into the general fund in 2016, essentially giving the department a negative appropriation from the state. In 2017, ADEM got $280,000 in funding from the state, down from about $800,000 in 2014 and 2015.

LeFleur said the department would have to increase its total funding by $7.9 million just to climb out of last place. That seems unlikely to happen soon.

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