Martineau: Not Backtracking on Environmental Protection

By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A leadership shakeup at the state Department of Environment and Conservation doesn’t indicate the agency is downgrading pollution enforcement efforts, Commissioner Robert Martineau said Monday.
House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner of Nashville in a meeting of the Joint Government Operations Committee questioned Martineau about the recent staff shakeup that included the firing of the department’s top solid waste management and water pollution control officials. The director of state parks also announced his retirement.
“With the recent firings and forced retirements, I hope we’re not changing direction here and becoming friendly to the polluters of this state,” Turner said.
Martineau did not specifically address the staffing changes, but said Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration will continue to enforce federal and state pollution control standards.
“I will assure the committee that our decisions are not in any way to backtrack on environmental protection,” he said. “I think the governor’s committed to maintaining strong environmental protection, and doing so in a way that also fosters economic development.”

Martineau said he would meet privately with Turner to discuss the reasoning behind personnel changes that the Democratic lawmaker described as “fiasco.”
The department said in a statement announcing the changes that the move was “designed to streamline our structure and build management efficiencies.” Changes are to include the creation of a single water resources division encompassing the department’s pollution control, water supply and groundwater management programs.
Haslam is also proposing to merge six panels with significant environmental duties into three, affecting one with regulatory power over gas stations, including the family’s Pilot Travel Centers. The governor has rejected suggestions that the changes could diminish conservation efforts in Tennessee or present a conflict of interest for him.
The board mergers are among a series of proposals the governor wants to make to the state’s 200 boards and commissions that would include doing away with legal language requiring board members to be chosen from lists provided by various interest groups.
A governor would instead take those candidates into consideration, but could choose anybody else to serve.
Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, in the committee meeting on Monday noted that a recent audit shows that some of the same interest groups most opposed to the changes have demonstrated a poor attendance record on state boards.
For example, the appointee of the Tennessee Automotive Association missed all 11 meetings of the solid waste disposal panel over a two-year period, while the designee of the state Farm Bureau made it to only three of the meetings.
“I’m just pointing this out,” Bell said. “If this was so important to them, I would have thought they would be attending all of the meetings.”
Turner, the Democratic caucus chairman, said there’s no guarantee that the governor’s appointees will have a better attendance record. But he said there should be consequences for absenteeism.
“If somebody doesn’t come there should be a mechanism to replace those people from the boards,” he said.

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