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Incentivizing Clean Industry

Birmingham, Alabama

Featured image for the project, Incentivizing Clean Industry

Results

Project Title: Incentivizing Clean Industry

Location: Birmingham, AL

The Team:

  • Ann Marie Carlton – Associate Professor of Chemistry, University of California – Irvine
  • Kim Speorl – Senior Planner, City of Birmingham
  • Katrina Thomas – Zoning Administrator, City of Birmingham
  • Donald Wilborn – Senior Planner, City of Birmingham

 

The Initial Challenge:

The purpose of this project was to identify opportunities to incentivize green or clean-technology incentives for the iron and steel industry in Birmingham. The city to sought insight into best practices for mitigating impacts to air from industry emissions, as well as clarity regarding benchmarking of airborne pollutants and regional trends.

 

The Methods

The project team typically met bi-weekly via conference call to share updates, ask questions and brainstorm next steps. In between meetings, individuals reviewed and provided inputs on draft documents, consulted within their networks, and researched existing data and records relating to the community’s questions.

Air quality data for fine particle mass (PM2.5) was retrieved from EPA’s public data base (https://aqs.epa.gov/aqsweb/airdata/download_files.html#Raw). Daily value files were used (i.e., file name format = “daily_88101_2007.csv”). Data for Jefferson County was processed.

Community leaders were able to retrieve data on facility-specific emissions from the Birmingham Department of Health.

 

The Results

This collaboration focused on three primary pursuits:

Review of a draft white paper on “Developing a Clean Technology Incentive Program for the Iron and Steel Industry in Birmingham, Alabama.”

This document was developed by the city to promote discussion about opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions for the iron and steel industry locally. Early in the project, Ann Marie reviewed the document and provided comments and suggestions as an external subject matter expert.

 

Assessment of industry process and best practices.

 In between calls with Ann Marie, the community leaders had regular meetings with Nucor, ACIPCO, and other industry players to identify current best practices, areas for improvement or collaboration, and their motivations and priorities.

 

Visualization of Existing Data.

The project team collected existing air quality data (NOx, PM10, PM2.5, SO2, and VOCs) from 2012-2018 four local industry sources: Nucor, American Cast Iron Pipe Company (ACIPCO), and ERP Coke. They used this data to construct a visualization of decadal temporal trends in fine particulate matter (PM2.5) mass emissions from steel producing facilities in Jefferson County, Alabama.

Note: different y-axis values.

The key takeaway from this data is that it appears that overall emission trends are decreasing. Emission reductions could arise from reduced steel production, improved control technology or other ’best practices’. In the absence of production numbers it is difficult to quantitatively estimate the driving factor(s). (The team identified securing these production numbers as a priority to shed additional light on the data. At the time this summary was prepared, that information had not been secured.)

The above figure shows decadal trends in ambient PM2.5 mass concentrations Jefferson County, indicating dramatic improvement.

The data analyzed through these efforts was extremely reassuring regarding local air quality and trends. As a result of this analysis, the community felt that industry incentives focusing on soil and water quality may be a higher priority than air.

 

Reflections

The team felt that frequent communication, even when it was short, and not skipping calls were helpful for success.

If they could do the project over again, they would expand the scope to include looking for water or soil quality data.

Finally, a piece of advice for people pursuing similar community science projects:

  • Ensure access to proprietary data to help determine the controlling factor in air quality trends. For example, if economic forces have more of an impact than control technologies – would incentives work? It is hard to tell. Some context for that a priori would be helpful to more efficiently design a project.

Description

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.

This project will 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

Community Leads

L-R: Katrina Thomas, Donald WIlborn, Kim Speorl

Kim Speorl – Senior Planner, City of Birmingham

Katrina Thomas. Zoning Administrator, 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.

 

Scientific Partner

Ann Marie Carlton is an Associate Professor of Chemistry, University of California -Irvine. She studies anthropogenic emissions and  how their chemical transformation during atmospheric transport drives critical issues surrounding air quality and climate change. She conducts atmospheric modeling, organize and conduct field and laboratory studies to investigate these topics with the ultimate goal of informing policymakers so society can develop effective strategies that protect human health, ecosystems, agricultural economies and security.

Dr. Carlton is the scientific leader of the SOAS campaign, member of the ACCORD Science Committee at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, member of the National Research Committee tasked with identifying priorities and strategic steps forward for atmospheric chemistry research over the coming decades. Dr. Carlton is an associate Editor of the AGU publication Reviews of Geophysics.

Collaborating Organization(s)