Alabama environmental group concerned over proposed drone bill

Local News

BIRMINGHAM, Ala (WIAT) — A bill in the Alabama House of Representatives has a local environmental group concerned.

The bill, HB36, would criminalize unmanned aircraft systems, or drones, to fly over a “critical infrastructure.” A critical infrastructure includes a chemical manufacturing facility, a pipeline, a refinery, electric power generating facility, water treatment facility and more.

Members of the Black Warrior Riverkeeper said they’re against HB36 because they use legal drone photography to discover polluted areas.

In 2019, the Black Warrior Riverkeeper won a major case against Drummond Co. when they discovered the company was continuously discharging acid mine drainage into the Black Warrior River’s Locust Fork from the Maxine Mine site. Their evidence was based off photography and video captured with a drone.

“The Black Warrior Riverkeeper has legally used drone photography in a number of ways, not just Drummond’s Maxine Mine, but to get a bird’s-eye view of a lot of major pollution sources and we’re using those drones for the sake of protecting public health, wildlife habitat, and recreation so this bill is seeking to criminalize our use of drones as a public service,” said Charles Scribner, executive director of Black Warrior Riverkeeper.

The bill is in the Alabama House of Representatives committee and has gone through the first substitute.

Scribner said the bill is complete government overreach and is trying to fix a problem that doesn’t exist.

“It unnecessarily seeks to criminalize activity that really shouldn’t be criminal and is already regulated by the FAA,” he said. “However we’re not surprised because at Black Warrior Riverkeeper, with our partners at Southern Environmental Law Center, we had a big win last year against Drummond Coal for pollution at Maxine Mine and part of the way we were able to win that was by gathering evidence legally through drone photography, so I’m not surprised the Alabama Coal Association is now trying to push a bill to make that tactic less possible.”

CBS 42 has reached out to bill sponsor Rep. Chip Brown, R-Mobile, for comment. We will update this story when we receive a statement.


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