Incentivizing Clean Industry

Birmingham, Alabama

Featured image for the project, Incentivizing Clean Industry


The City of Birmingham, once coined the “Pittsburgh of the South” saw an industrial boom after the Civil War in the late 19th century into the early 20th century as Birmingham’s iron and steel industries developed − thanks to plentiful deposits of coal, iron ore and limestone found around the area. Also similar to Pittsburgh, Birmingham experienced marked decline as industry shrank across America in the mid to late 1900s. The City faced economic downturn and increasing blight in the neighborhoods these booming industries once anchored. While the iron and steel industry sector was a significant economic driver for the region, the challenges associated with industry’s environmental impact is arguably even more significant. Although significant progress has been made to date, the City continues to face the challenge of remediating the air, soil, and water quality  the iron and steel industries left behind. Moreover, as a result of national policy trends, the City anticipates a resurgence of industrial activity in the coming years due to rising demand for domestic iron and steel. To avoid duplicating the mistakes of the past while capitalizing on the potential economic benefits of this resurgence, the City of Birmingham seeks to incentivize investment and the use of green and cleaner technologies by heavy industry.

The City is several years into this effort. A new comprehensive plan approved in 2013 called for the rezoning of unused/vacant industrial-zoned properties in Birmingham with a look toward cleaner, community-friendly land use. Consequently, in the North Birmingham community alone, over 860 acres of heavy industrial property were downzoned to light manufacturing use. Building upon the City’s downzoning efforts, this current effort is focused on implementing ways to mitigate adverse environmental impacts to air, water, and land from remaining and anticipated future heavy industry activity.

The City is nearing completion of a two-phase review of 1) the history and contributions of heavy industry to the City of Birmingham as it is today and 2) assessing the City’s primary heavy industries (iron and steel): who are key players, what clean technology/practices do they apply, and what is their market growth potential. This assessment will be complete in the coming weeks and will factor into efforts to develop incentives for these industries to adopt and implement cleaner technologies and more environmentally friendly practices.

Birmingham seeks a scientific partner to collaborate with City staff to provide scientific input and review to the development and implementation of robust and effective green or clean technology-based incentives for heavy industry that are both practical and sound. While the City seeks to mitigate impacts to air, water and land, this project will focus primarily on minimizing air pollution (CO2, PM, etc.). 

This project launches in coordination with Birmingham’s engagement with the 2018 National League of Cities Leadership in Community Resilience program. The City plans to host a workshop in early Fall to engage potential community stakeholders for the funding and implementation of the City’s Sustainability Plan. Support from this program will provide the City of Birmingham with technical assistance and resources to communicate the message of resiliency to the stakeholders.

About the Community

The scientist will work primarily with Katrina Thomas, Zoning Administrator, Donald Wilborn, Senior Planner, and Kim Speorl, Senior Planner, all with the City of Birmingham.

As Zoning Administrator, Katrina Thomas examines the impacts new regulations would have on property owners and nearby residents to determine the suitability of rezoning potential development sites that can be positively impacted by new cleaner industry standards.  In addition, Katrina, in coordination with other staff from the Planning Division, is developing a white paper with the focus on developing a Clean Technology Initiative for the City.

Donald Wilborn, Senior Planner, is involved with long-range planning efforts (land use plans, community meetings, proposed rezonings) and can provide information about ongoing efforts as well as provide community profiles that can identify targeted locations in which these new initiatives can be applied. In addition, Donald is currently reviewing proposals received in response to an RFP for a Citywide Sustainability Plan that would seek to incorporate strategies developed from the Clean Technology Incentive Program.

This is a multi-stakeholder initiative including Birmingham’s Departments of Planning, Innovation and Economic Opportunity, and Jefferson County’s Department of Public Health, as well as stakeholders including manufacturers, utility companies, and local residents.

Project Team

Coming soon!

Collaborating Organization(s)