For far too long, debates over energy and environmental policy in Alabama have lacked a consistent, historically-accurate, baseline describing the condition of the environment. With this in mind, the Alabama Policy Institute (API) created Alabama’s Environment 2014: Six Critical Indicators. The purpose of the Indicators is to provide policy makers, the media and interested citizens with a checkup on environmental trends.
The economist Julian Simon rightly called energy “the master resource” because it allows humanity to make possible all of its activities and endeavors. In terms of natural deposits and production, both Alabama and the nation as a whole possess immense storehouses of energy. Despite headlines, the world is far from running out of energy. Proved global reserves of crude oil and natural gas are increasing at a faster rate than demand, ensuring a steady supply of energy for decades to come.
By most standards, Alabama’s air is cleaner than it was 30 years ago. Since 1980, total emissions of the six major air pollutants measured by the EPA have decreased 50%. This positive environmental change has occurred even while America’s GDP increased 467% (140% when adjusted for inflation), vehicle miles traveled increased 94%, energy consumption increased 22%, and the nation’s population increased 38%.
As part of the EPA’s 2008 Report on the Environment, 18 environmental indicators were examined to help evaluate the quality of the nation’s water resources. The goal of the EPA’s report was to assess both the extent of water resources (their amount and distribution) and their condition (physical, chemical, and biological). Few of these indicators have been updated at the federal level since 2008; new data has been included where it has been available.
Less than 6% (170,000 square miles) of the surface area of the contiguous 48 states is classified by the federal government as “developed.” Most of this (59%; 101,000 square miles) includes “green” spaces such as such as residential lawns, golf courses, and parks, while commercial and industrial areas comprise only about 3.5% of all developed area, an area slightly smaller than the state of Hawaii. Forest cover about 25% of the lower 48 states and almost 53% of the state of Alabama. If federal land is excluded, Alabama ranks second in the nation (behind Georgia) in forestland.
In 1986, the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act was enacted to provide the public with information on the presence and release of toxic and hazardous chemicals. In addition, this Act is a supplementary means for measuring the success of regulatory programs. The principle source of trend data for toxic chemicals is the EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory (TRI), a reporting system for more than 650 chemicals (up from 300 when the TRI began in 1988) used in most major industries, mining operations, and electricity-generating facilities.
Man-made CO2 contributions to the atmosphere account for only about 3.4% of all annual CO2 emissions. However, small increases in annual CO2 emissions, whether from humans or any other source, can lead to CO2 accumulation over time because CO2 molecules can remain in the atmosphere for more than a century.