Meet Yahn Olson, Summer Legal Intern

Meet Yahn Olson, Summer Legal Intern

Meet Yahn Olson, Summer Legal Intern

What is your major at Samford and why did you choose it? I majored in History at Pacific Lutheran University in Seattle and went to Samford for law school. I have always wanted to be an attorney.

What do you hope to do after you graduate? Once I graduate I plan on going to Officer Candidate School and joining the Navy as a JAG.

What is your dream job? US Navy JAG.

What do you hope to learn while interning with Gasp?  I hope to learn everything I can about working in a legal environment, and learn how to put things I’ve studied in school into practice.

Why is our mission to reduce air pollution important to you? I think environmental issues in general affect everybody greatly, but are easily overlooked because the effects of pollution are not always visible. I’ve always been an outdoorsy person (fishing, backpacking, snowboarding) and want to help out in a field that I have a passion for. I’d like generations after me to be able to experience the outdoors in the way I did.

What is your favorite food?  I’ll eat just about anything but seafood and Mexican food top the list. I also love pizza. 

What are your hobbies?  I like to do almost anything outdoors, especially on the water. I played lacrosse growing up and in college, so I still like to toss the ball around from time to time as well.

Who or what are your influences?  My biggest influence in life is my dad. He grew up in rural Idaho and went on to be a Navy officer for over 20 years. 

What are some other fun facts about yourself?  I worked at a beach resort on Pensacola Beach before law school and was a jet ski tour guide for awhile. I also have a Great Pyrenees mix named Aspen that weighs about 35lbs and is only 4 months old.

Public Service Commission Approves Alabama Power’s $1+ Billion Gas Expansion

Public Service Commission Approves Alabama Power’s $1+ Billion Gas Expansion

Public Service Commission Approves Alabama Power’s $1+ Billion Gas Expansion

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Today the Alabama Public Service Commission voted to approve the single largest capacity increase ever proposed by Alabama Power. The Commission approved the projects, which will cost customers over $1.1 billion, despite significant flaws in the utility’s proposal.

Following the PSC staff’s recommendations filed last Friday to approve the majority of projects that Alabama Power is seeking to build, buy or contract, Commission President Twinkle Cavanaugh and Commissioners Jeremy Oden and Chip Beeker unanimously voted to adopt the staff recommendations in their entirety.

The only resource in the petition the Commission failed to approve is the proposal for solar plus battery storage—by far the most economic option according to Alabama Power’s own analysis.  Instead, the Commissioners signed off on the staff’s recommendation to evaluate the solar and battery proposals in another existing docket.

“Unbelievably, the Public Service Commission did not approve the most cost-effective and most environmentally beneficial options proposed by Alabama Power,” said Daniel Tait, Chief Operating Officer of Energy Alabama. “In spite of the fact that more and more of its customers and businesses are demanding renewable energy options, this is yet another example of the Commission holding Alabama back from a clean energy future and the jobs that go along with it.”

The Commission’s decision follows a significant decline in overall electricity demand due to the global pandemic and resulting economic recession.

“This is the wrong decision by the Commission, and it is the wrong time to approve this excessive and costly natural gas expansion,” said Michael Hansen, Executive Director of Gasp. “The Commission is giving the greenlight for Alabama Power and its shareholders to put the financial risks of this massive investment on customers, many of whom have lost employment as a result of the current public health and economic crisis. This approval will exacerbate those hardships for Alabamians in the form of higher bills for decades to come.”

“Alabama Power has substantially overstated its need for these gas plants given the glaring problems with its analysis—its projected need is even less reliable now due to the pandemic and its economic impacts,” said SELC staff attorney Christina Andreen Tidwell. “It’s disappointing that the Commission did not require updated information from Alabama Power in order to fully assess these impacts on the utility’s request.”

According to the Administrative Law Judge, the Commission is expected to issue a final order on the petition at an undetermined date.


In early March the Alabama Public Service Commission heard testimony from 15 witnesses concerning Alabama Power’s request to increase its total power-producing capabilities by almost 20%, despite previous assertions it wouldn’t need new generation sources until 2035.

On behalf of Energy Alabama and Gasp, the Southern Environmental Law Center intervened in the docket to advocate for responsible, cost-effective investments, to the extent there was any need for additional capacity on Alabama Power’s system.

Energy Alabama and Gasp’s experts exposed significant flaws in the planning and forecasting methods Alabama Power used to justify its need. In written and oral testimony, the experts pointed to the utility’s long-standing efforts to build rate base and revenue requirements through excessive, unnecessary, and expensive new generation, all of which will increase costs for customers for decades.

The groups also made the case that Alabama Power’s plan lacks significant detail about the cheapest, least cost resources, such as solar and energy efficiency.  Alabama Power’s own analysis shows that solar plus battery storage are the least cost resources in its proposal and provide more value to customers.

The Commission granted an extension for post-hearing briefs in the form of proposed orders to be filed on May 1. The proposed order filed on behalf of Energy Alabama and Gasp details their position based on the record developed during the hearing.

The groups, along with Sierra Club, also filed a motion for permission to file supplemental briefing regarding how the Covid-19 pandemic may impact the need for and timing of the resources proposed in Alabama Power’s petition.

These issues were not addressed during the March hearings, which was limited to cross-examination of written testimony filed long before the pandemic took hold. Nevertheless, Alabama Power included discussion of Covid-19 in its proposed order, claiming that the pandemic does not affect its claimed capacity needs.

The Administrative Law Judge allowed limited supplemental briefing to be filed last Thursday. Energy Alabama and Gasp filed a brief arguing that the Commission should not rush forward with a decision without fully assessing the pandemic’s impacts and resulting economic fallout on the utility’s petition.


Gasp is a nonprofit health advocacy organization based in Birmingham, Ala. Our mission is to advance healthy air and environmental justice in the greater-Birmingham area through education, advocacy, and collaboration. We strive to reduce exposure to air pollution, educate the public on the health risks associated with poor air quality, and encourage community leaders to serve as role models by advocating for clean air and clean energy.

Meet Sidni Smith, Gasp Legal and MPH Summer Intern

Meet Sidni Smith, Gasp Legal and MPH Summer Intern

Meet Sidni Smith, Gasp Legal and MPH Summer Intern


Sidni E. Smith

What is your major and why did you choose it?

I am a dual-degree JD/MPH student at Cumberland School of Law and the University of Alabama at Birmingham. I pursued this pathway to learn how the legal world works so that I can effectively implement policies that positively impact people’s health and our environment. I see law as a great tool to advance public health initiatives!

What do you hope to do after you graduate?

Go on vacation! Between present-day quarantine and the 90-day Bar exam preparation that awaits post-graduation, I want to spend two weeks out of the country (maybe in Australia) to relax, rest, and reset myself. To answer the real question, I have no idea and I am fine with that. I am a planner at heart funny enough, but I find myself allowing everything to fall into place these days. 

What is your dream job?

I wouldn’t call it a job. Whatever I do will be ministry for whoever I am supposed to reach. I want a platform that allows me to share the love of Jesus and speak up for those who are unable to speak for themselves. I want to ensure that vulnerable populations obtain justice, especially as it concerns public health and environmental issues. Ministry, social justice and policy work, and advocacy pretty much sums up what I envision!

What do you hope to learn while interning with Gasp?

I enjoy non-profit work! Seeing how another organization effectuates change in the community provides me with tons of insight and inspiration. I want to learn how to help my community from this angle, so as an intern I am able to obtain a different perspective on how to connect with communities and serve them well. Most importantly, I want to see how law and public health work together at the non-profit level while I gain essential research, writing, service, and advocacy skills in the process.

Why is our mission to reduce air pollution important to you?

There is something about knowing that the very communities affected by toxic air and polluted environments are my very own. As an African American female in Birmingham, I understand adversity on several levels. I am totally empathetic to individuals who feel like systems do not consider them and society makes them targets. Everyone deserves access to clean air to ensure a more quality, healthier life. While I am heavily grieved by what communities like North Birmingham are facing, I am also grieved that it only represents a snapshot of what many communities around the world experience. Our leaders, community members, and each of us individually… WE must do better and be better about caring for one another! Gasp’s mission to reduce air pollution is one of the many ways to help, serve, and protect our communities and the people in them.

What is your favorite food?

Starch! Meals that incorporate potatoes, rice, and pastas are always a go-to.

What are your hobbies?

Fitness, hiking, fishing, sleeping, cooking, organizing, volunteering, writing poetry, and shopping (yes, even online shopping)!

Who or what are your influences?

My faith in God and my family. Knowing that God has a calling on my life and also having a loving and supportive family are reminders enough to keep going, to love hard, to be grateful, to serve, and to be a blessing to others at all times!

What are some other fun facts about yourself?

  • I am five feet tall.
  • I love heavy lifting and weight training.
  • I enjoy fishing. 
  • I love candles and scents that smell really good.
  • I do not watch much TV, but when I finally do, I end up binge-watching shows for way too long. Haha!

Black Lives Matter: A Statement from Gasp

Black Lives Matter: A Statement from Gasp

Black Lives Matter: A Statement from Gasp

In the United States of America, we are taught from a very early age that “all men are created equal.” We are told that this is the core of what it means to be an American. It’s not until years later that many of us learn that our Founders (many of whom owned slaves) never intended to include black people in the “all” that they wrote about in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, or any of our other founding documents. And that is still the case today. 

Some of us never learn these lessons, while others do but pretend otherwise for the sake of their own comfort. But the harsh reality is that this nation has never lived up to the ideals for which it purports to stand. And until it does, we cannot rest. We must be proactively anti-racist in all walks of life. Anti-racism is not a belief system, but rather a deliberate practice. And it begins by telling the truth.

Black Americans are grieving after the callous murder of a handcuffed, submissive George Floyd at the hands of four police officers on the streets of Minneapolis. Councilor Andrea Jenkins, the first black, trans woman elected to public office in the United States, described Floyd’s murder as “a symbol for a knee on the neck of Black America.” She says that she will work to take that knee off the necks of her community. This is a call to action for all of us, though. It is not the responsibility of oppressed people to end oppression. Everyone must play a role. And in particular, white people, who have so much privilege in this society, must step up and help.

We must tell the truth, and the truth for the majority of black, indigenous, and people of color in this nation is what the poet and activist Langston Hughes said: “America has never been America to me.” What we are seeing in cities across our nation right now is an expression of deep pain and sorrow. 

We must tell the truth, and the truth is that it is not just the Founding Fathers who did not include people of color in their vision for “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” In Alabama, the President of the Constitutional Convention of 1901, John B. Knox, said it plainly: “If we would have white supremacy, we must establish it by law — not by force or fraud.” That racist document still governs our state’s laws to this day.

We must tell the truth, and the truth is that our systems are not failing; they are broken by design, having never been intended to protect, care for, and uplift poor people and people of color. At every level of government in this nation — federal, state, county, and municipal — black, indigenous, and people of color have never had the same natural right to freedom, safety and equal justice under the law. Not truly. Not even today. 

We must tell the truth, and the truth is that for decades upon decades, this nation has upheld itself around the globe as a beacon of liberty and justice for all. Yet we have time and again failed to atone for our original sin. This moment calls us to hold a mirror up to our own faces and see the ugly truth staring back at us: America is exceptional all right. We are exceptionally hypocritical. We are exceptionally violent, racist, and cruel. We are exceptionally short-sighted.

George Floyd’s dying words, as he called out for his mother, were “I can’t breathe.” George Floyd should be alive today. That’s the truth. 

We, the staff and board of Gasp, stand in unequivocal solidarity with those who are demanding swift and clear justice for George Floyd, as well as Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and for the countless other victims of hate and violence in this nation. 

We, the staff and board of Gasp, echo the call that Black Lives Matter, and in so doing we affirm our support for policies that will make that sentiment meaningfully true not just in word but in deed. To that end, we have heard the calls for “unity” in recent days. And we agree that unity is necessary. We must be united against white supremacy, racism, police brutality, and all systems of oppression. 

This moment calls for action. We need to perform emergency surgery to cut out the cancer of racism that is destroying our body. We join other activists in calling for systemic policy change to stop the racist and inhumane killings of people of color in our communities, and especially of black people at the hands of law enforcement officers.

We must tell the truth, and the truth is we must do more than talk. We must act as if lives depend on it — because they do.


Michael Hansen
Executive Director

Kirsten Bryant
Deputy Director

Haley Lewis
Staff Attorney
Nina Morgan
Community Organizer
Charline Whyte
Dr. Shauntice Allen
Richard Rice
Nelson Brooke
The Rev. Mark Johnston
Dr. Bertha Hidalgo
William Blackerby
Karen Shepard

Why We Need Stronger PM2.5 Standards, Especially Because of COVID-19

Why We Need Stronger PM2.5 Standards, Especially Because of COVID-19

Why We Need Stronger PM2.5 Standards, Especially Because of COVID-19

By: Sidni Smith (Summer 2020 Legal Intern and Summer 2020 MPH Intern)

Living means breathing. Gasp takes action to ensure that all Alabamians are accessing clean, healthy air to breathe that will result in better health outcomes and increased quality of life. On an annual basis, Gasp comments on the Ambient Air Monitoring Network Plans provided by JCDH and ADEM regarding any intended changes for the upcoming year. After the public comment period, EPA must approve the final Plans.

For 2020 in particular, COVID-19 has posed a greater threat to communities already in crisis—communities plagued by toxic air and predisposed to health conditions as a result of environmental issues, geographical bounds, socioeconomic disparities, and genetics. According to the CDC, “the most at-risk groups for severe illness from COVID-19 are people 65 years and older, people who live in a nursing home or long-term care facility, and people of all ages with underlying medical conditions… [such as] people with chronic lung disease or moderate to severe asthma… people who are immunocompromised, people with severe obesity… [and] people with diabetes…” Simply put, communities trapped in toxic pits are also one of the most at-risk groups.

The greatest issue thriving at the intersection of legacy pollution and the current pandemic is that communities already dying, are dying at increased rates. Articles have pointed to the parallel between increased rates of death due to COVID-19 and the disparate impact on African-American communities. An ongoing Harvard study also shows a correlation between PM2.5 exposure and higher COVID-19 death rates. This same study revealed that “an increase of only 1 μg/m3 in long-term average PM2.5 is associated with a statistically significant 8% increase in the COVID-19 death rate.” Unfortunately, if a person dies, there is no certainty as to the cause of death due either to the pandemic or the pollution. Perhaps, it’s safe to say both, so stricter regulations on PM2.5 are of greater necessity during this time.

As a solution to current circumstances and in hopes of effectuating a lasting regulatory change, it is imperative to strengthen the PM2.5 standard. Why? PM 2.5 poses the greatest risk to health. PM2.5 are fine particles only viewable at microscopic level that are linked to severe respiratory illnesses and many other health issues. EPA has proposed and maintained the current annual standard level of 12.0 μg/m3 (micrograms per cubic meter) for PM2.5. In the EPA’s January 2020 Review for PM standards, the data that accounted for alternative standards revealed “…long-term PM2.5 exposures are estimated to be associated with as many as 45,000 total deaths and 14,600 IHD [ischemic heart disease] deaths annually… [and] [t]he majority of this estimated risk is associated with annual average PM2.5 concentrations from 10 to 12 μg/m3 (Figure 3-12).” The data also captured that “air quality adjusted to meet alternative annual standards with lower levels is associated with reductions in estimated IHD mortality risk across the 30 study areas (i.e., 7 to 9% reduction for a level of 11.0 μg/m3; 14 to 18% reduction for a level of 10.0 μg/m3; 21 to 27% reduction for a level of 9.0 μg/m3) (Table 3-8 and Figure 3-12).”

So, let’s break this down and recap. The Harvard study mentioned earlier in this article showed that for every 1 μg/m3 PM2.5 increase there is also an 8% increase in COVID-19 deaths. The EPA’s Review showed that a reduction to a level of 9 μg/m3 for PM2.5 would yield a 21 to 27% death reduction. For easy math, let’s average “21 to 27%” to 24% (21+27=48, and 48/2 =24). The data is consistent:

If there is an associated 8% increase in COVID-19 deaths for every 1 μg/m3 increase in PM2.5, is there an 8% decrease in COVID-19 deaths for every 1 μg/m3 in PM2.5?

Let’s predict so.

The current PM2.5 standard level is 12 μg/m3.

If we reduce the current 12 μg/m3 standard to 9 μg/m3, that is a reduction of 3 μg/m3.

3 μg/m3 times 8% decrease in COVID-19 deaths is 24%.

By reducing the standard level of PM2.5 to 9 μg/m3, I propose a 24% reduction in COVID-19 deaths.

Don’t forget that the EPA’s Review also revealed that a reduction to a level of 9 μg/m3 would lead to an average of a 24% death reduction.

 In conclusion, it is clear that EPA must reduce the current standard level of 12 μg/m3 to 9 μg/m3, not only due to the current COVID-19 circumstances, but because it is the right thing to do for the health of the public.



JCDH Releases 2020 Ambient Air Monitoring Plan for Public Comment

JCDH Releases 2020 Ambient Air Monitoring Plan for Public Comment

JCDH Releases 2020 Ambient Air Monitoring Plan for Public Comment

It’s that time of year again: the Jefferson County Department of Health has posted for public comment its 2020 Ambient Air Monitoring Plan. Comments are due June 17th at 4:30 PM.

Like we have done for the past several years, Gasp will comment on the Ambient Air Monitoring Plans put out by ADEM (still waiting on ADEM’s to be posted, but we will alert you once it is) and JCDH. These plans contain any changes that either ADEM or JCDH plan to make to their ambient air monitoring network in that year. The plans are subject to public comment and EPA must approve the Plans.

I’ll remind you again that where ambient air monitors are placed and for what pollutant they monitor is crucial to the regulators’ and public’s ability to understand their air quality. For example, when Birmingham has “ozone days,” this information is being collected from the various ozone monitors throughout JCDH’s ambient air monitoring network. Gasp has been commenting on these plans the past several years not only because of the crucial role ambient air monitors play in informing us about air quality, but also because a more robust, intentionally strategic ambient air monitoring network is a critical component of establishing everyone’s right to breathe healthy air.

As usual, we will push for more monitoring and argue against the closure of existing monitors in our comments. We remain especially concerned about pollution in overburdened areas, especially given that small particle pollution has been found to be associated with an 8% increase in the COVID-19 death rate. Monitoring can and does lead to emissions reductions. This is why Gasp fights for a robust monitoring network (and performs community science alongside community members and leaders). Especially during an unprecedented global pandemic, where the risk for death is higher when exposed to more pollution, the fight for environmental justice requires more, not less, air monitoring.

Gasp, Environmental Defense Alliance Allege Alabama Officials Violated Open Records Act

Gasp, Environmental Defense Alliance Allege Alabama Officials Violated Open Records Act

Gasp, Environmental Defense Alliance Allege Alabama Officials Violated Open Records Act

Complaints stem from federal corruption case related to the North Birmingham Superfund Site

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Gasp and the Environmental Defense Alliance today filed joint complaints against Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) Director Lance LeFleur, Environmental Management Commissioner (EMC) Lanier Brown, and Attorney General (AG) Steve Marshall.

The complaints allege that LeFleur, Brown, and Marshall violated the Alabama Open Records Act by knowingly and without authority withholding public records lawfully requested by the organizations pertaining to the 35th Avenue Superfund Site in the North Birmingham community (35th Avenue Site).

The two organizations requested various records from LeFleur, Brown, and Marshall before, during, and after the 2018 federal trial of former Drummond Company executive David Roberson and former Balch & Bingham partner Joel Gilbert, both of whom were found guilty of multiple corruption charges.

In 2013, Drummond was identified as a “potentially responsible party” by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for contamination in the 35th Avenue Site. In 2014, the EPA proposed adding the 35th Avenue Site to the National Priorities List and began investigating potential contamination in the Tarrant and Inglenook communities. Together with Balch & Bingham, Drummond sought to influence public officials — including LeFleur, Brown, and then-AG Luther Strange — to oppose the EPA’s cleanup activities.

“LeFleur, Brown, and Marshall declined to disclose many governmental records that EDA and Gasp believe should be made public,” said EDA attorney David Ludder.  “These records may reveal new evidence of collusion between State government officials and Drummond or its agents to protect Drummond’s wealth at the expense of the community’s health,” Ludder said.

“Gasp has for years been working to ensure that air pollution in the area is reduced and that any cleanup includes long-term remediation that benefits the residents of the impacted neighborhoods,” said Gasp Executive Director Michael Hansen. “To that end, we have tried to use every tool in the toolbelt, including the Open Records Act, to make sure residents get a fair shake. Alabamians deserve a government that works to protect them and not wealthy special interests.”

For more information, contact Michael Hansen, ([email protected]) or David Ludder ([email protected]).


Gasp’s mission is to advance healthy air and environmental justice in the Greater-Birmingham area through education, advocacy and collaboration.

The Environmental Defense Alliance strategically uses law and policy to protect human health and the environment.

Alabama PSC’s Unconstitutional Media Policy Must Be Changed

Alabama PSC’s Unconstitutional Media Policy Must Be Changed

Alabama PSC’s Unconstitutional Media Policy Must Be Changed

Alabamians have the right to know what is going on at their Public Service Commission

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — On Friday, May 15, a broad group of advocates filed joint comments challenging the legality — including the constitutionality — of the Alabama Public Service Commission’s proposed Media Coverage Plan, which would grant Alabama Power enormous power to control what the public knows about its operations in the state. The coalition, led by Gasp, Sierra Club, and Energy Alabama, was joined by the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama, Alabama Arise, Greater Birmingham Ministries, and Faith in Action Alabama, among others.

The PSC’s media policy would create severe limitations for public access to hearings and other proceedings before the PSC. It requires five days’ prior consent for any recording of hearings, but also grants the PSC the power to rescind consent for recording at any time, and for any reason. Additionally, the policy mandates that the PSC revoke licenses provided to persons or media outlets upon the request of any party, attorney or witness, giving broad power to special interests. Such restrictions contravene the state’s Open Meetings Act and the U.S. Constitution’s protections for free speech, and are wildly out of step with neighboring states like Georgia and Mississippi, where similar proceedings are open to public recordings and live streamed.

Michael Hansen, executive Director of Gasp, issued the following statement:

“The Alabama Public Service Commission’s mission is right in the name: they serve the people of Alabama, not corporations. Open, transparent, and accessible government is not an option, but a requirement for the Commission to operate in the best interest of all Alabamians. Utility bills are a kitchen table issue, and Alabama’s families deserve to see how the decisions that impact them are made.”

Daniel Tait, Chief Operating Officer at Energy Alabama, issued the following statement:

“Sunshine is good, both for transparency and power production. Alabamians deserve to know how their utility bills will be affected by their elected officials. There’s simply no common sense reason to limit public access to decisions worth billions of dollars.”

Stephen Stetson, senior campaign representative with the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign, issued the following statement: 

“Everyone’s got utility bills and everyone should be able to easily observe PSC proceedings. It’s the public’s right to know what decisions are being made that will affect their lives. This policy erects a barrier to entry for information that should be freely available, and topples the scales in favor of powerful entities like Alabama Power at the expense of regular folks.”

For more information, contact Michael Hansen ([email protected]), Emily Bosch ([email protected]), or Daniel Tait ([email protected]).


Now Is Not the Time for Petty Political Grievances

Now Is Not the Time for Petty Political Grievances

Now Is Not the Time for Petty Political Grievances

Wake. Coffee. Email. Zoom. Email. Zoom. Email. Dinner. TV. Bed. Sleep.


That’s more or less a typical workday during this pandemic. And I have to admit that I’m fortunate to still have a job in a time when 1-in-5 Americans have filed for unemployment over the past several weeks. I’m also lucky that I love my job. I don’t have to go to work, I get to go to work. Even if “going to work” just entails sitting at my dining room table for the time being.

Anyhow, this past Wednesday morning started normal enough. That is, until I got an email alerting me to a statement from Secretary of State John Merrill attacking Gasp and the Sierra Club. Merrill was “shar[ing] support for Plant Barry of Mobile County.” This was allegedly prompted by a lawsuit we filed last month over expired air and water permits at Alabama Power’s Plant Barry, a dirty coal-fired power plant near Mobile.

In his screed, Merrill made several inaccurate, inflammatory statements before finally concluding, “This is a time to work together to address issues and solve problems, not to promote extreme political issues.” Project much?

I won’t give his false statements more exposure here, but the hypocrisy was loud enough to get my attention. It also made me realize that we hadn’t put out a press release or any kind of public announcement. Merrill’s misguided rant is an opportunity to do just that.

As mentioned above, Gasp and Sierra Club on April 2 filed a writ of mandamus petition with the Circuit Court in Montgomery regarding expired permits for Plant Barry. Alabama Power, to its credit, has fulfilled its duty to submit renewal applications for these permits. The Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM), the state agency responsible for air and water permits for facilities like Plant Barry, has failed to act on those applications. In other words, the state — by way of ADEM — is the subject of the lawsuit. The kind of permits in question are a Title V air pollution permit that expired in 2015 and an NPDES water pollution permit that expired in 2013.

In asking ADEM to officially renew these outdated permits, we argue that ADEM must ensure they comply with current pollution limitations, which have been updated since the permits were last issued and since the plant’s emissions were last evaluated. And, of course, we requested that the court compel ADEM to issue public notice and public comment periods for the permit renewals as required by law.

We’ve asked for this to happen by September 1, 2020. That is by all accounts a very reasonable timeframe. ADEM has said that it hopes to have a new air permit in place by July 1 and a new water permit by September 1.

Are you bored yet? Have your eyes glazed over? Are you not entertained?

Well, that’s kind of the point. This is pretty boring stuff. But it’s very necessary stuff. You see, Plant Barry is one of the state’s largest point sources of air and water pollution and the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act provide for citizen enforcement. Groups like Gasp and Sierra Club play a crucial role in making sure the agencies charged with implementing those laws are doing their jobs.

What is out of the ordinary, however, is for the Secretary of State to weigh in on a rote lawsuit over air permits, especially one involving the very executive branch of government he works for. His job, as a reminder, is to oversee free and fair elections in Alabama. We would all be better served if Merrill focused on protecting voting rights and ensuring safe and secure access to the ballot box.

The point is this: Don’t be fooled by John Merrill. He has no business inserting himself into lawsuits over environmental permits. His infamous online behavior may get him the attention he craves, but it is a distraction.

Gasp and Sierra Club are simply daring to defend every Alabamians’ right to healthy air to breathe and clean water to drink. There’s nothing radical about that.

If you agree that everyone deserves clean, healthy air to breathe, now would be a great time to support our work with a tax-deductible financial contribution. Click here to donate online.

The Science Behind Satellite-Based Air Quality Monitoring

The Science Behind Satellite-Based Air Quality Monitoring

The Science Behind Satellite-Based Air Quality Monitoring

By Ben Moose, Gasp Spring Intern

In my last blog post, I provided an overview of the concept, methods, advantages, and disadvantages of remote atmospheric monitoring. In this post, I will describe, in more detail, the techniques satellites use to detect air quality – how instruments can measure the concentration of gases and pollutants remotely. I will focus specifically on the TROPOMI device to illustrate the capabilities and recent advancements in the field, as it is one of the newest and most effective devices for air quality measurements.

How does TROPOMI measure pollutants?

As noted in my last post, TROPOMI allows beams of light reflected off of the atmosphere to enter the device. Instruments in the device then determine the wavelength of the measured light using wavelength detectors. As different gases in the atmosphere absorb light at different wavelengths, TROPOMI can determine the concentration of different gases in the atmosphere by comparing the wavelengths of reflected light to sunlight. For example, ozone absorbs light energy at wavelengths of approximately 500 – 700 nanometers. TROPOMI compares a sample of light directly from the sun to a sample of light reflected through the atmosphere, and the difference in light energy at wavelengths of 500 – 700 nanometers illustrates the concentration of ozone in the atmosphere. This process is called spectrometry, and the instrument used in TROPOMI is a multispectral imaging spectrometer, as it can detect a variety of wavelengths of light across different spectrums.

Why is TROPOMI so useful compared to other satellites?

Range of measurement: TROPOMI, unlike other satellites used to detect air quality, can measure wavelengths in multiple different spectrums. Specifically, the device can detect wavelengths in the ultraviolet, visible, near-infrared, and short-wave infrared spectrums. TROPOMI’s access to a variety of different wavelengths allows it to simultaneously detect multiple gases that absorb different wavelengths of light, allowing the device to measure a wide range of pollutants and indicators of air quality that other devices cannot measure. The image on the right illustrates TROPOMI’s measurement capabilities.

The bands of wavelengths at which different gases or pollutants absorb light energy are visualized with white bands on the chart, and the measurement abilities of different satellites are included at the top and bottom of the image. As shown in the chart, TROPOMI can detect substances in the atmosphere that absorb light at wavelengths of approximately 250-500 nm, 700-800 nm, and in a narrow band above 2000 nm.

Accuracy and resolution:  As the above visualization of the satellite ranges illustrates, other devices such as SCIAMACHY and GOME have very large ranges of wavelength detection, allowing these satellites to measure more indicators than TROPOMI. However, the main factor setting these devices apart is the resolution. While TROPOMI can measure pollutants and gases at a 7.0 km x 3 km resolution for most scans, SCIAMACHY’s resolution, for example, is about 200 km x 30 km. This huge difference in resolution allows the newer TROPOMI device to more accurately measure air quality with local measurements, despite its lack of ability to measure some air quality indicators. The visualization below illustrates the  resolution of the four satellites included in the above chart, centered around the Amsterdam area.


Useful additional resources

This World Meteorological Organization site provides information about the different measurement capabilities of the TROPOMI device, as well as other satellite devices. It includes a list of different air quality and atmospheric indicators (gases, pollutants) and the satellite’s  effectiveness at measuring each one, along with the measurement method. 

This page of the Delft University of Technology’s website outlines the benefits of TROPOMI when compared to other satellites, and is the source of the images used in this post.