On Turmoil at TDEC

The Haslam administration’s firings of two top leaders and proposal to cut dozens of positions at the state’s environmental agency have raised questions about whether the goal is efficiency or erosion of its powers, reports Anne Paine.
Environmental advocates say the department already is stretched thin and paring down the staff further could bode poorly for the quality of the state’s waterways, air and land. Department of Environment and Conservation Commissioner Bob Martineau has said that the moves are designed to streamline and improve operations, not undermine environmental protection.
Much remains to be seen, including who will make up the department’s full management team and what the eventual structure will be. Martineau declined to be interviewed for this report but has said before that regulations must and will be enforced.
The TDEC reworking is coming at a time of ramped-up passions and polarization nationally over regulations as the economy lags, the population grows and advocacy for a clean and healthy environment is strong.
One effect of inadequate rules and enforcement could be the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency taking over day-to-day oversight in some divisions, resulting in hassle for businesses and environmentalists alike.
…Sandra Goss, executive director of Tennessee Citizens for Wilderness Planning, finds it “worrisome” to have heard the Haslam administration’s references to making the state friendlier for businesses regulation-wise.
“TDEC staff wasn’t large enough to handle the duties they’ve got when this reorganization took place,” she said.
…The staff allotted to inspect and enforce oil and natural gas rules, for instance, is 3.5 people, she said. That’s with thousands of active and old wells.
One sensitive area is parks. The TDEC budget Haslam has recommended would abolish eight positions and eliminate 63 vacant posts in Tennessee state parks. An additional 21 positions would be cut next year. More money, however, would go to parks maintenance.
Also, 78 jobs that have been vacant will be scratched elsewhere in TDEC, including in air pollution control, radiological health and solid waste management.
These aren’t the first cuts administrations have made. Over the past 10 years, the number of budgeted positions will have dropped almost 13 percent — from 3,214 to the 2,797 proposed for next year.

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