Following the deadly tornadoes that ripped through Lee County just over two weeks ago, U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers held a town hall meeting in Opelika Tuesday night where environmental concerns were top priority among residents.
“I want to let you know how proud I was to see the way this community rallied after the tornado,” Rogers said. “When I was down here on Tuesday, I was struck by the huge number of volunteers, not just from the community but all around the Southeast.”
Rogers noted how the first responders reacted “flawlessly” to the incident, and said it would have been a different case 20 years ago.
“Over the last 15 years, this country has gotten much better prepared,” Rogers said. “We saw the same thing at Jacksonville State University 12 months ago, and they had the exact same experience.”
Rogers expressed his gratitude toward all the first responders and the work they have done to handle the tornadoes quickly and efficiently.
During the Q&A section of the town hall meeting, several residents of Lee County brought issues forward in order to hear Rogers response. Many focused on environmental concerns.
Among the residents to bring up climate change was David Newton, a charter member of Common Cause, a nonpartisan advocacy group. One of his biggest focuses is environmental awareness.
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“I put on my first program on climate change 10 years ago through the University, in fact,” Newton said. “I’ve been putting on courses on the environment for years, and most of them of late have been dealing with climate change.”
Newton was just one of several citizens that wanted environmental issues to be addressed.
“The deadly EF4 tornado of March 3 killed 23 of your constituents, as you know,” Newton said, “[It] caused millions of dollars of damage in Lee County, along with the 39 other tornadoes in the Southeast that day.”
The residents concerned with environmental issues asked that Rogers consider different federal actions, such as the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act of 2019, which would enact a carbon tax. Rogers said he does not agree with the act and will not support it.
“We have supported the EPA’s budget and our country is doing more than any other country on the planet on that front,” Rogers said. “In fact, if other countries were doing a fraction of what we were doing, we wouldn’t have the concerns that are happening around the world.”
Several other residents also had concerns about rural hospitals in Alabama that are losing funding and slowly disappearing.
Lloyd Bryant, a Dadeville resident, said he was concerned that rural hospitals are closing, which takes away from the economy and workforce in small counties. It also puts people in life-threatening positions.
Bryant went on to list some hospitals that are at risk of closing.
“Lakeshore and Russell hospitals are now threatened,” Bryant said. “If we lose Lakeshore or even Russell, that’s life or death for people in Tallapoosa County.”
Rogers agreed with Bryant and voiced his own concern about the issues along with his plan to tackle the problem.
“It’s just a nightmare for us,” Rogers said. “Particularly in rural counties, and most of my district is poor and rural.”
One of the main problems rural hospitals face is the difference in the wage index between rural hospitals and urban ones. Rogers said he is working on legislation that will provide higher reimbursements to rural hospitals, so they can better compete with the larger hospitals in more urban areas.
“What we have been doing is try to force CMS (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) to redistribute that money,” Rogers said. “What we may have to do is if they don’t yield to our pressure, we’re going to try and push legislation that makes them do it.”
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