PESTLE: Group Policy Direction_Round 3

The PESTLE Paper (let’s not forget the guiding question: How can Birmingham alleviate current Air Quality Problems and stimulate economic development?)

Air Quality in Greater Metropolitan Birmingham Area (Morgan)
Over the years Birmingham has seen many businesses and industries come in and out of town; but what was left behind from these great endeavors is pollution. In May of 2009, the American Lung Association named Birmingham, Alabama the fifth most polluted city in the nation for short-term Particle Pollution and the fifth most polluted city in the nation for year-round Particle Pollution. Birmingham currently suffers from rampant pollution from fine particulate pollution (PM 2.5). As a way to hinder the advancing of the pollution in Birmingham, the Environmental protection Agency (EPA) has set a daily standard of PM 2.5 particles of 35 µg/m3 and a yearly standard of 15 µg/m3.

Socio-Economic History (Usama, Amiya)
Like many other small cities in the nation, the Greater Metropolitan Area of Birmingham is split into the city proper (downtown Birmingham) and surrounding suburbs (Hoover, Vestavia Hills, Homewood, etc). In total, the Greater Metropolitan Area of Birmingham (composed of the city proper and the surrounding suburbs) houses approximately 1.2 million people, slightly greater than one-fourth of Alabama’s 4.6 million residents (US Census Bureau 2007 estimates), making it the most populous region in the state. Since World War II, the prevalent social trend has involved the affluent moving away from the city proper to the many surrounding suburbs, leaving the poor to occupy much of downtown Birmingham. This has led to a concentration of wealth outside of the city and a concentration of poverty in the city, both of which continue to increase (due to greater stability, prosperity and access to education, affluent suburbanites continue to outcompete poor urbanites for employment opportunities). As a result, Birmingham’s growth remains stagnant and slow. Today, approximately 24.7% of the city population live under the poverty line, whereas only 3.4% of the population live under the poverty line in Hoover and only 3.1% of the population live under the poverty line in Vestavia (US Census Bureau 1999 estimates). This may also be traced back to Birmingham’s deep history of racial tensions. During the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s, wealth was concentrated among whites (blacks did not have equal education and employment opportunities). As white families moved away from downtown, the wealth too spread to suburbs. As a result today, approximately 73.5% of the city proper’s population is black, whereas only 6.8% of Hoover’s population is black and only 1.9% of Vestavia Hills’ population is black (The US Census Bureau 2000 estimates).

Constitution/Politics (Kate, Naveed)
In attempting to overcome current air quality problems in Birmingham, politics and legislation on a state level stand in the way. The Alabama constitution prevents any county or municipality from levying taxes without a majority vote in the legislature and state. Taxes could be used for enacting smart-growth, bringing business into Birmingham, and creating a mass-transit system for the area—an area with almost 300,000 commuters. The state is pro-highway system instead of pro-mass transit. Amendment 93, passed in 1956, requires all fuel taxes be put toward highway construction and repair, and not toward anything else.
Problems also arise when addressing how to formulate regulation. Some of these problems include policy structure, lack of resources for regulation and the complexities of experimentation. Particularly in Birmingham, overlapping power creates confusion among regulating bodies, mostly due to state deficiencies. Alabama’s State Implementation Policy is sub par at best; it fails to control the areas three major sources of pollution: particulate matter, mercury, and ozone. The state tends to rely on Federal regulations instead. Even Federal regulations have problems. The Clean Air Act lacks concrete incentives for emissions reductions.

Current Economic Situation (Greg, Amiya)
Currently, Birmingham has a larger and more diversified industrial sector than ever before. The decline in the traditional materials industries has complemented the rise in new economic engines such as the biomedical, banking, retail, insurance, and energy industries. The heavier of concentration of industry, abundance of small businesses and companies, and significant increases in population as a result of the growing job market in the metro Birmingham area have widened the gap between the economic and residential sectors in metro Birmingham. Inevitably, transportation has become a major source of particle pollution, as both the amount of commuters and distance to commute to Birmingham soar. The lack of a mass transit system in the area as well as Birmingham’s unique geographical setting in a valley exacerbate the situation. The particle pollution from the leftover traditional manufacturing industries as well as the pollution from the plethora of current industries, though much less, have also contributed greatly to Birmingham’s air quality.

Birmingham was founded in 1871 at the crossing of two railroad lines. Throughout the 19th and 20th century, Birmingham grew into a center of industry due to its abundant supply of coal, iron ore, and limestone, the key ingredients in making steel. Traditionally a one-industry city, Birmingham’s prime industries were iron and steel production. Initially, the iron industry rose with the founding of Tannehill Furnances in 1830. During the early 19th century, the high phosphorus content of the iron supply made it ideal for pig iron production. It was not until late in the 19th century when purification processes for the raw materials became available to reduce the phosphorus content, allowing the steel industry to bloom. Birmingham also benefited from two important factors: 1) cheap African-American labor and 2) excellent transportation facilities including canalized waterways and railroads. As the availability of raw materials declined, electric arc furnace technology began to replace basic oxygen furnaces allowing for further expansion of the steel industry.
However, Birmingham’s traditional industrial activities did not come without a price. Studies have shown that its industrial activities have led to an unhealthy level of air pollution in the Metro Birmingham area. According to Robison et al.’s experimental studies, Birmingham’s industrial activities proved to be the greatest major source of particulate emissions in Jefferson County, which is reasonable considering the unthinkable amount of soot and particulates produced over decades of iron and steel production.

Environmental and Human Health Link (Zac)
Decreased air quality is a prevalent problem in Metro Birmingham, and it is negatively impacting both human and environmental health. Increased particulate pollution can amplify lung and cardiovascular diseases such as asthma, and bronchitis, and it can lead to phenomena such as acid rain which can lead to the degradation of soils and vegetation, and decreased biodiversity in surface waters. Birmingham is currently ranked number 5 on the American Lung Association’s list of most polluted cities with respect to year-round particle pollution. Human health and environmental health are linked, and as the ecology of Birmingham is degraded, so will the living conditions of the humans within the area.
Due to the causes highlighted previously, there is sufficient evidence to state that there is poor air quality in Birmingham, having a negative effect on the Greater Birmingham Metropolitan Area. This decreased air quality affects not only the health of residents of the area, but also the economic situation, social structure, and overall perception of Birmingham to others. Barriers to immediately solving this issue come from many sources, including the state constitution, the socioeconomic history, and political instability between counties in the Birmingham area.
The first step towards mending this problem of air quality is creating awareness among the public. Currently, there are groups such as Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform. This group rallies to change the Constitution into more applicable and efficient terms for modern day Alabama. Also, non-profit, public education groups, such as The Cahaba River Society promote awareness and support the preservation of Alabama’s environmental gems and natural wonders. …
Promoting the core values that these groups represent is important. Methods to increase the public awareness of current air quality among the youth is also important, some ways for this include outreach and altering educational standards in science classes. For example, changing the core curriculum to include more studies on pollution and environmentalism in science classes, local politics and the Alabama Constitution in social studies.
Incentives for alternative energy include obtaining government tax breaks for individual production of clean energy. Some of these incentives include solar panels that produce energy for a specific building. If the solar panels produce more energy than is consumed, the building or business may have the option to sell back the energy to an energy-providing company, such as Alabama Power. Once alternative energy is produced in mass amounts, the prices for these alternatives will decrease. The government will give a tax break to those who need help financially with buying alternative energy sources such as solar panels and wind turbines. The Federal government gives tax incentives for purchasing specific fuel efficient vehicles. For a complete list see
Smart Growth has been implemented all over the United States in cities like Birmingham to help prevent and stagnate urban sprawl and increase sustainability. Currently, other post-industrial cities like Pittsburg have implemented Smart Growth policies. Birmingham has also begun small Smart Growth projects in the Greater Area. The Railroad Park downtown provides green space and recreational area, which will hopefully stimulate revenue in the downtown area and make Birmingham city a more inviting and livable place. Also, Park Place exemplifies Birmingham’s attempt to create mixed-use development within the city. The idea of mixed-use development is to bring all economic backgrounds into one, centralized area to stimulate economic circulation in the inner city. Other programs, such as CAP and Jones Valley Urban Farm, promote ideas of Smart Growth in the Birmingham area.
Current plans for the future include expanding the bus and DART systems so that they may serve a wider group of people. There is also the plan to create hubs outside of Birmingham proper, from which people can get around the metropolitan area, without having to return to the central hub within Birmingham proper. This will also include the creation of bike routes, completing Corridor X and a goal of increasing public transit by 2035.
Smart Growth, like that of Chattanooga, could promote industry and tourism within the Greater Area. The Tennessee Aquarium and the Art Museum brought the city tourism and revenue, which was used to enhance the standard of living of the inhabitants. A similar course of action could be implemented for downtown Birmingham, but rather than tourism, the focus would be business and industry. Bringing jobs into the city would result in more people commuting in to the city, and finally, living in the city. Decreased commuter miles would then help to increase the air quality. This would help stimulate and create mixed-use development within Birmingham. Tiered-economic housing would bring shopping and more parks into the Birmingham area.

8 Responses to “PESTLE: Group Policy Direction_Round 3”

  1. Ronald Sherrod Says:

    The beginning might need to be reorganized for cohesive-ness. it seems to jump around, but the wording is very good. From the proposed solutions we might need to add more data. This is pretty much what I see is needed.

  2. Amiya Ahmed Says:

    Well, I don’t know if you have gotten a chance to read the word document I sent, but I tried to make the “Statement of Problem” more cohesive by changing the order of the paragraphs and adding a couple transitions. I don’t know how successful I was in doing so, but I think we can work with that.

  3. Ella Sorscher Says:

    I think a more all encompassing first paragraph/ introductory paragraph might work to our advantage as well. I think it would help clear up the cohesiveness. I agree that the beginning jumps around a bit. It would help set up the whole paper. Just a couple sentences maybe?

  4. Aditi J Says:

    Since we emphasize smart growth so much in our policy recommendation, I wonder if we can include some raw data about other cities and their pre-/post- smart growth income per capita or air pollution rates, etc. Also, we could see the amount of $ taken in every year in Alabama for gas/vehicle taxes, and how we can use that money (legally-it’s backed by the Constitution) to build an HOV lane or something. Let me give this some more thought though…

  5. Naveed Farurkh Says:

    I definitely agree with all the comments above, but the paper still sounds like we just put a bunch of paragraphs together (which I know we did and there are different people’s voices) but it really harms the cohesiveness. I think if we insert transition sentences at the beginning of each paragraph it will not only sound much smoother, but it’ll help us link back to the thesis.

  6. Kate Scarbrough Says:

    This is probably just me being dumb, but it seems like this isn’t divided up the way we intended for it to be. It seemed like the divisions were a lot clearer.

    Steps I see:
    1) make clear division between intro and rest of paper
    2) really refine intro, and really elaborate on our ideas to help fix the problem. I know there was a lot more data in those papers, and it should be quick and easy to pull tomorrow. I mean, we need to data in the intro, but the our ideas should definitely be a bigger deal.
    3) for the conclusion, maybe we could start with why we’re optimistic about fixing things, but also really reiterate the facts that would make people realize why taking steps is necessary (just a thought, since we haven’t attempted a conclusion yet)

  7. Coe Walker Says:

    I agree that we need to work on the cohesiveness of the paper. I also think that we need to add some of our own solutions to the ones that are already in place. In class we came up with so many good ideas on how to improve the air quality but only a small few seem to have made it into the paper. I think that we should add some of those ideas.

  8. Greg Says:

    I think we should consider adding something which may not belong in any of our sections but is still important, about what may be the primary source of soot pollution in Birmingham – old power plants. A study by Southern Environmental Law Center show three old coal-based power plants – “Gorgas (1951), Gaston (1960), and Miller (1978) are the primary sources of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, which form soot pollution.”
    “Even with pollution controls currently planned for these plants, they will still account for 89 percent of sulfur dioxides and 50 percent of nitrogen oxides in metro Birmingham in 2012.”

    Just these three power plants contribute more to air pollution than vehicles.
    “The three plants are also the primary source of the nitrogen oxides that make ozone; motor vehicles are responsible for a third of the other ingredient, volatile organic compounds.”

    And corresponding with water quality,
    “And they are the leading source of mercury emissions in the region. Miller ranked #1 in the country, emitting as much as 2,000 pounds a year. (About one gram of airborne mercury falling into a 20-acre lake can make the fish unsafe to eat.)”
    The Alabama Department of Public Health has placed restrictions on eating fish from 36 water bodies in the Birmingham metro region –

    I think the problem of old factories and buildings, as well as power plants still existing in Birmingham, need to be addressed with solutions such as maybe increasing the efficiency of these plants, curbing emissions even further, etc

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