Category Archives: environment

TDEC fines Bluff City $25K for discharging sewage into lake

Bluff City has been fined $25,760 by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation for discharging 15,000 gallons of sewage into Boone Lake, reports the Kingsport Times-News.

The city will pay at least $3,864 of that fine, and it must be paid by Oct. 24. But Bluff City can avoid a large majority of the fine by following certain orders handed down by the state, according to a TDEC order issued on Sept. 23.

Those include fully implementing a corrective action plan before Jan. 16, 2017; submitting a capacity, management, operation and maintenance plan that must be approved by the state for a period of two years; submitting a written sewer overflow response plan to the state; and submit annual summary reports of all overflows and corrective action taken for three years starting in 2018.

…The fine stems from incidents that took place between Feb. 18, 2015, and Aug. 21, 2016. A total of 18 overflows occurred during that time period, and 10 of those occurred because of a faulty pump at the town’s Igloo pump station. At one point, 15,000 gallons of sewage reached Boone Lake.

The sewage overflow violated Tennessee Annotated Code 69-3-108(b) and 69-3-114(a), which basically say it is unlawful for sewage to be discharged into waters and the city caused a condition of pollution.

The faulty pump stations are in the process of being replaced with an expected completion date still 15 months away. The faulty pumps have given Bluff City headaches for the past year and spurred the filing of two separate lawsuits by families who say they have experienced hardships because of the raw sewage overflows.

A grant by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and higher water prices are combining to pay for the replacement of the pumps.

Mayor calls letter to TDEC ‘an embarassment’

The Bradley County Commission Tuesday backed off plans to send the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation a letter urging the TDEC commissioner to fire three of his lawyers, cut salaries of other employees and spend the money instead on speeding up septic tank inspections.

So reports The Chattanoogan, adding that the decision came after County Mayor D. Gary Davis called the letter to Commissioner Robert Martineau “an embarrassment to Bradley County.”

The county mayor said, “We have to deal with the state on everything we do. It affects a lot of things we do. I sincerely ask you do not send this letter.”

Bradley Commission Decides Not To Send Letter To TDEC That County Mayor Called “Embarrassing To Bradley County”

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Bradley County Commissioners on Tuesday night decided not to send a letter to Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) Commissioner Bob Martineau, asking him to cut top staff positions and shift the funds to aid local septic permit offices after County Mayor D. Gary Davis called the letter “an embarrassment to Bradley County.”

The county mayor said, “We have to deal with the state on everything we do. It affects a lot of things we do. I sincerely ask you do not send this letter.”

The letter said, “We, the Bradley County Commission, respectfully suggest that you consider eliminating three staff attorney positions, general counsel, director of legal services and deputy commissioner 1. We, the Bradley County Commission, also respectfully suggest that you reduce the compensation of the commissioner, commissioner 1 and deputy commissioner by $30,000 annually.”

Commissioner Charlotte Peak said, “I don’t like it when they tell us what to do so I don’t feel like we should tell them what to do.”

Commissioner Terry Caywood said if state officials got such a letter “they could get vindictive. They have the means to punish you when you touch an area they don’t want to be touched.”

Commissioner Thomas Crye said some of the TDEC attorneys mentioned are spread across the state, including one in Chattanooga. He said the state budget is already set. He said, “I am not in the business of micro-managing Governor Haslam’s budget.”

Vice Chairman Jeff Yarber, who drafted the letter, said the state continually under-funded the office that issues septic permits for Bradley and Polk counties. He said the letter was “a statement to a top-heavy government.”

He said the employees trying to keep up with the calls for septic permits “are not paid even a fourth of what they (top TDEC commissioners and lawyers) are paid.”

Mark Hall, who supported sending the letter, said, “I find it hard to believe that 14 county commissioners fear retribution.”

He said, “We’ve got a loose cannon down here with a poor attitude.” He said if Bradley County did not speak up, “We will continue to be the sacrificial lamb.”

Realtor Jim Davis spoke in support of the septic permit manager, Hank Thompson, saying he had always gotten excellent service from him. (Note: Some commissioners contend Thompson hasn’t approved permits fast enough; TDEC has defended him.)

…The original motion went down 11-3… The commission proceeded to put an ad hoc committee headed by Commissioner Caywood in place to study taking over the septic permit operation from the state.

Megasite wastewater going to Mississippi River

By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee on Monday gave the green light to economic development officials to start buying up property rights to build a 35-mile wastewater line to the Mississippi River from the Memphis Regional Megasite, an industrial park still in search of major tenants.

The move follows an earlier decision amid a public outcry to abandon plans to dump treated wastewater form the site into the nearby Hatchie River, which runs 23 miles through the Hatchie National Wildlife Refuge in Haywood County.

“At one time we were thinking of putting it in the Hatchie River, but we determined it was far better to take it to the Mississippi,” Randy Boyd, the commissioner of economic and community development, said after the meeting.

The executive subcommittee of the State Building Commission voted 3-0 to approve the plans for buying the easements for the $41 million wastewater main project. The Department of Economic and Community Development said it would begin negotiating with about 210 property owners between the site and the Mississippi River. Continue reading

TVA agrees to reduce coal plants’ water pollution

Press release from Southern Alliance for Clean Energy
Knoxville, Tenn. (July 27, 2016) – The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, Earthjustice, Tennessee Clean Water Network, Environmental Integrity Project and the Sierra Club recently reached a settlement agreement with the Tennessee Department of Environmental Conservation (TDEC) and the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) to better protect Tennesseans from toxic metals and other pollutants in water discharges from TVA’s Gallatin, Bull Run and Kingston coal plants.

After fighting the issue for more than six years, TDEC and TVA finally agreed to reduce the pollutants in water discharged under the three plants’ Clean Water Act operating permits issued by TDEC. Under the settlement agreement, TVA must incorporate new federal guidelines for the discharge of toxic pollutants like arsenic and selenium and submit updated permit applications for Gallatin, Bull Run and Kingston to TDEC by November 2, 2016. By including these updated public health requirements in the operating permits for these three coal plants, TVA will reduce the amount of toxic pollution it dumps in our waterways by over 90 percent for most significant pollutants.

TVA’s practice, like many other major utilities in the Southeast, has been to adopt the minimum requirements for wastewater discharge for their coal plants. TVA has largely failed to update its operating permits despite industry innovation that has made it cheaper for coal plants to reduce the amount of toxins it discharges into our rivers and streams.

The settlement agreement is a critical piece in protecting our health and our environment in Tennessee, especially because all three of the coal plants will be operating into the foreseeable future. TVA does not maintain good water monitoring records, but based on the most recent information we could find, these three coal plants discharged over 1,300 pounds of selenium, which is highly toxic to fish, and over 1,700 pounds of arsenic, a potent carcinogen and neurotoxin, in 2015. Under the new permits required by the agreement, the selenium discharges will fall by 97 percent, and the arsenic discharges will fall by 94 percent.

“SACE has a long history of engaging with TVA and believes TVA has dragged its feet on this issue, to the detriment of our health and our rivers,” said Dr. Stephen A. Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. “By ensuring that both TVA and TDEC move quickly to incorporate the most protective pollution standards, our communities and waterways will be healthier and TVA will be held accountable for the impacts its coal plants have on our lives.”

“This is a good result for every Tennessean; all of whom deserve clean, safe water to drink and recreate in,” said Jonathan Levenshus, senior campaign representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign in Tennessee. “TVA’s new water discharge permits at coal plants will have to include EPA’s new Effluent Limitation Guidelines —which provide strong, efficient protections for our water, environment and public health—and our state’s regulator will no longer be able to delay action, letting the old permits continue without a fair review.”

“We took on this fight over six years ago, and it has been an uphill battle all the way,” said Abel Russ, attorney for Environmental Integrity Project. “But we hung in there, and the things we have been asking for are now required by law, so TVA must – finally – start to take environmental stewardship seriously.”

“It is past time for these three dinosaur coal plants to modernize,” said Earthjustice attorney Mary Whittle. “These new, stronger permit requirements are critical to protecting the Cumberland, Clinch, and Emory Rivers and to protecting the people of Tennessee who depend on these rivers for drinking water and recreation.”

“After years of negotiations with TVA, these new discharge standards will improve water quality in Tennessee,” said Renee Hoyos, executive director of the Tennessee Clean Water Network. “As these waters are the source of drinking water for millions of citizens in the Volunteer state, meeting these new standards can’t come soon enough.”

These conservation groups will continue to track this issue and ensure that the final permits approved by TDEC have the most protective pollution limits in order to keep our waters and our communities safe and healthy.

Volkswagen paying $15B to settle lawsuits; TN gets millions

By Tom Krisher and Dee-Ann Durbin, AP Auto Writers
DETROIT (AP) — Volkswagen will spend more than $15 billion to settle consumer lawsuits and government allegations that it cheated on emissions tests in what lawyers are calling the largest auto-related class-action settlement in U.S. history.

Under the settlement revealed Tuesday by a U.S. District Court in San Francisco, VW will pay just over $10 billion to either buy back or repair about 475,000 vehicles with cheating 2-liter diesel engines. The company also will compensate owners with payments of $5,100 to $10,000, depending on the age of their vehicles.

Although the company has been working on a repair for the vehicles for months, it appears that VW may not be able to fix the cars and will have to buy them all back, according to the documents.

The German automaker also has to pay governments $2.7 billion for environmental mitigation and spend another $2 billion for research on zero-emissions vehicles.

Volkswagen also settled with 44 states, Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico, which also sued the company, agreeing to pay about $603 million. That brings the total settlements announced Tuesday to $15.3 billion. (Note: Tennessee was one of the states. Attorney General Herbert Slatery’s news release on the settlement is at the end of this AP story. Among other things, Tennessee is eligible for $42 million in environmental mitigation money and $12.6 million for violations of state consumer protection laws ) Continue reading

Environmentalist lawsuit says chemicals polluting TN River

A nonprofit environmental organization has filed a federal lawsuit against two companies, along with three governmental entities, over the dumping of chemicals, reports the Decatur Daily.

Tennessee Riverkeeper Inc. filed the suit against 3M, BFI Waste Systems, the city of Decatur, Decatur Utilities and Morgan County because of perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) being dumped in the Tennessee River and landfills, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit, filed Thursday, alleges the dumping has contaminated groundwater, private water supplies, the river and its tributaries and wildlife, and public drinking water supplies.

The organization claims the dumping has created an “imminent and substantial endangerment to health and the environment,” Executive Director David Whiteside said in a statement.

The chemicals were used at 3M to make nonstick coatings until 2000, when the company voluntarily announced it would phase them out. Before then, 3M believed the chemicals were not hazardous, said the company’s attorney, Travis Carter, of Dallas.

The company no longer produces PFOS or PFOA in Decatur, so any presence of the chemicals is from prior manufacturing, Carter said.

3M said it has worked with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Alabama Department of Environmental Management to reduce or eliminate the presence of the chemicals at the plant and in the Decatur area. Remediation began in 2006 and will continue through 2019, the company said.

However, the EPA and ADEM have not established regulations that prohibit the discharge of the chemicals, so 3M always has operated “legally and in compliance with regulations,” Carter said.

The attorney for the city and county, which jointly own the Morgan County Regional Landfill, said the entities also are working to reduce the amount of chemicals released into the environment through the landfill and the DU Wastewater Treatment Plant.

Attorney Barney Lovelace said the city and county also haven’t violated any regulations in the discharge of the chemicals.

Lovelace said his clients believe the cost of removing the chemicals from the environment should be placed on the companies that dumped the waste in the landfill and through DU’s wastewater plant.

3M said it has studied the effects of the chemicals in its own employees and found no adverse health effects from exposure.

Supremes reverse appeals court, defer to TDEC in pollution lawsuit

News release from Administrative Office of the Courts
Nashville, Tenn. ­– The Tennessee Supreme Court has reversed a Court of Appeals decision concerning the cleanup of a landfill that has been discharging pollutants into a Maury County lake.

From 1981 to 1993, ACC, LLC operated a landfill in Maury County, Tennessee, where it disposed of aluminum recycling wastes from a local aluminum smelting plant. Within a few years of becoming operational, the landfill began to discharge chlorides and ammonia into water that drained into a local lake. This discharge was in violation of the Water Quality Control Act and the Tennessee Solid Waste Disposal Act.

Over several years, ACC worked with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) in an attempt to remedy the problem. After a number of efforts proved unsuccessful, ACC and TDEC agreed that the best solution would be to remove the waste causing the pollution from the landfill site. In 2011, ACC and TDEC entered into an administrative consent order requiring ACC to divert water from entering the landfill and, over a four-year period, remove the landfill waste. The order was filed in the Davidson County Chancery Court for approval.
Continue reading

With TDEC approval (?), chicken farmers dodge pollution regulations

With apparent approval of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, WTVF-TV reports a Macon County husband and wife split their chicken production property in half to avoid the need for a permit and the stricter regulations that go with it.

The farm’s owner Ryan Russell applied for a permit to house up to 70 thousand chickens, but a farm that size required annual inspections and regular oversight. So Russell divided his property between the barns — putting two barns in his wife’s name — and two in his name.
Suddenly both were small enough to avoid the stricter regulations.

(The four chicken barns provide chickens for a Cobb-Vantress, a subsidiary of Tyson Chicken.)

… Sierra Club Attorney Brian Paddock was shocked when we showed him how the husband and wife operations were able to get around regulations… “They’re doing everything they can to avoid regulation and they probably know that the cop waves them through,” Paddock said.

The cop in this case is the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation — which is supposed to make sure tons of manure from the barns doesn’t pollute surrounding streams.

Our investigation uncovered e-mails in which an executive with Cobb – Vantress laid out plans to split the farm to the state.

The executive writes “just wanting to make sure we are on the same page before Ryan spends the money to have his two farms split up. If he has two farms split up to where one is in his name and one is in his wife’s name will that make it so that he doesn’t have to apply for a CAFO permit.”

After the state gave the split their approval, the Cobb – Vantress executive forwards the e-mail to farmer Ryan Russell… with an FYI and an explanation point.

TDEC would not do an interview about the situation. But their spokesperson said the land owners may have taken advantage of the situation, but insisted the state never advised them to split their property.

…Cobb-Vantress said in a statement… “The email you have referred to is a communication to clarify a request about information regarding the farms’ operation status. Our complex manager asked TDEC a question and TDEC responded. Our manager then provided the information to the farmer.”

Company to pay $50.8M to clean up Ocoee River contamination

News release from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
ATLANTA — The Department of Justice and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today announced that OXY USA Inc., a subsidiary of Occidental Petroleum Company, has agreed to clean up contaminated water and sediments in the Ocoee River and one of its watersheds at the Copper Basin Mining District Superfund Site in Polk County, Tennessee.

The settlement requires the company to spend an estimated $40 million to maintain and operate a water treatment system, prevent access by the public to contaminated water, and monitor contamination in the Ocoee River.

In addition, OXY USA Inc. will reimburse EPA approximately $10.8 million toward costs incurred in its past cleanup actions at the site. The company will also reimburse EPA and the State of Tennessee for costs incurred by those agencies in overseeing the work required by the settlement.

“This settlement is the product of excellent cooperation between private parties, and the state and federal government to find a long term solution to cleaning up the contamination at the Copper Basin site,” said Assistant Attorney General John Cruden of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “This agreement will yield lasting benefits for water quality in this Ocoee River watershed.”
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Haslam lets ‘cumbersome’ and ‘confusing’ bill become law

Gov. Bill Haslam has refused to sign a bill revising the state’s storm water drainage rules because of environmental concerns, but will let it become law anyway.

Here’s text of his letter on the matter to Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and House Speaker Beth Harwell, as provided by the governor’s office:

Lieutenant Governor Ramsey:

I am letting Senate Bill 1830/House Bill 1892 become law without my signature.

I have concerns about the potential impacts of this legislation and the limits it places on the State’s ability to protect our water resources adequately. In addition, the bill imposes on local governments a cumbersome procedural mechanism that will cause confusion for those communities as they seek to implement required storm water pollutant removal programs. I am concerned that some of the ambiguous and confusing language of the bill could lead to costly litigation. As Governor, I am a strong proponent of economic growth and development, but I am equally committed to ensuring that we protect Tennessee’s air, land and water resources for today and for future generations of Tennesseans.


Bill Haslam

Note: Previous post on the bill HERE.