Going Green against the Shepherd Bend Mine
Posted on Nov 02, 2011 in Opinion
Last Thursday, affiliates of the Black Warrior Riverkeeper, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the river’s ecology and water quality, partnered with UAB’s Green Initiative to organize petition signings outside of the Hill University Center. They stood on the Bartow side of the building, mingling with the busy lunch crowd.
As I walked towards the junk food nirvana, one of the organizers asked, “Would you like to support our efforts to prevent the construction of Shepherd Bend Mine?” My curiosity overrode my cravings for junk food as I trudged through my memory, wondering why that mine seemed so familiar.
“Oh yeah,” I remembered, “that’s the mine threatening the water supply or something.” Soon all thoughts of chicken sandwiches were forgotten as we launched into a conversation about the mine’s impact on the local environment.
Although I had heard that the mine would have negative consequences on the local wildlife, the extent of its impact on the drinking water caught me off guard. Located on the Black Warrior’s Mulberry fork, the coal-mining project is expected to impact the drinking water of the 200,000 residents of Birmingham. The impact of the mine is problematic because within its proximity, only 800 ft to be exact, is one of the major sources of freshwater for our city.
According to the Birmingham Water Works Board, this comes out to ten dollars extra per household per month to pay for the additional purification of our drinking supply. If you multiply the number of households in Birmingham by ten dollars a month, one gets the staggering figure of $772,000, an extra cost that this cash-strapped county will simply bill its residents.
The Shepherd Bend Mining project will be a huge win for its organizers at the expense of Birmingham pocketbooks. The cost of purifying the local water, however, pales in comparison to the ecological impact the mine will have.
According to the Black Warrior Riverkeeper organization, the mine is expected to dump ten times the level of iron and forty times the level of manganese deemed acceptable by the Safe Drinking Water Act. Although such high levels of metal are hazardous to human health, our capacity to filter and purify mitigate against the health risks.
Such an option is unavailable to the wildlife in and around the river. In addition, the waste generated by the mine will likely upset the delicate balance of the present freshwater ecosystem, resulting in ecological damage that takes years to undo.
As a UAB student, the most troubling aspect of the mining project to me is neither the economical nor ecological harms. It lies in my institution’s compliance in the project. As a major landowner of the mining property, the UA system could have sided with Birmingham residents’ ecological interest and blocked the project by refusing to lease the land to the future mine owners. Instead of rejecting a project with serious environmental impacts, UA system’s quiet acquiescence is disheartening.
I encourage UAB to embody the “Going Green” mantra plastered across campus by acting in a manner that reflects our university’s institutional mission statement. Speaking against the Shepherd Bend Mine would embody our school’s goal of being a research university that “applies knowledge for the intellectual, cultural, social, and economic benefit of Birmingham, the state and beyond.”