Category Archives: environment

No bids received for TN state parks outsourcing

By Eric Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s effort to outsource hospitality operations at 11 state parks has failed to draw any interest from private vendors.

Haslam has long said park services like restaurants, golf courses, inns and marinas are prime examples of areas where private vendors could do a better and cheaper job than state government.

The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation earlier this month requested $55 million to upgrade facilities at parks before operations could be handed over to private vendors. But at least one of the three companies that had expressed interest in a bid dropped out over uncertainty about whether lawmakers would approve the money.

Brock Hill, a deputy commissioner of the Environment and Conservation Department, told reporters after budget hearings earlier this month that vendors who toured the parks were “shocked, to some degree, that they were in as bad shape as they were.”

“They hadn’t been reinvested in to the degree they should have been over the last few decades,” he said.

Haslam spokeswoman Jennifer Donnals said Monday that the administration “is evaluating potential next steps at this time.”
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Feds move to ban mountaintop removal in part of TN

The federal government is moving closer to granting Tennessee’s request to ban mountaintop mining in parts of the Cumberland Mountains, which was filed years ago under former Gov. Phil Bredesen’s administration.

Further from the News Sentinel:

The federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement released draft documents on Thursday that would designate portions of East Tennessee’s mountain ridges as unsuitable for surface coal mining.

Specifically, the draft proposal and draft Environmental Impact Statement would place 67,000 acres in the North Cumberland Wildlife Management Area and the Emory River Tract Conservation Easement off-limits to surface mining.

Re-mining would be allowed in certain areas once mining companies obtain all the necessary permits and authorizations.

“We took Tennessee’s request to act on this matter very seriously,” said Glenda Owens, the agency’s deputy director. “Our staff rigorously evaluated Tennessee’s petition and the impacts of mining in the requested area.”

A final decision won’t be made until after a 45-day public comment period that will end next Jan. 25, the agency said in a news release.

Mountaintop removal is a form of surface mining in which the top of a mountain is blasted away so workers can access coal seams. The rubble is then dumped into adjacent valleys. The process allows coal companies to economically access seams otherwise too small to mine near the tops of ridges.

In 2010, then-Gov. Phil Bredesen petitioned the federal government to ban mountaintop mining in the North Cumberland Plateau. The affected land is in Scott, Morgan, Anderson and Campbell counties, all of which is included in wildlife management areas that make up the North Cumberland Wildlife Management Area.

Note: A news release is below.
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TDEC proposes giving private contractors $55M to fix state parks

At a budget hearing Thursday, state Department of Environment and Conservation officials proposed to give private contractors $55 million they can use to make needed improvements before taking over management of “hospitality” functions at 11 of the largest Tennessee state parks.

The money would go toward what the officials say is a $120 million backlog of deferred maintenance needed at parks, according to the News Sentinel.

The agency is also asking for another $15 million toward the remaining $65 million in deferred maintenance at the 43 other state parks and the parts of the 11 parks not included in the outsourcing plan.

That plan includes what the department calls the hospitality functions — inns, conference centers, cabins, restaurants, golf courses, marinas and gift shops — at Cumberland Mountain, David Crockett, Fall Creek Falls, Harrison Bay, Henry Horton, Montgomery Bell, Natchez Trace, Paris Landing, Pickwick Landing, Tims Ford and Warrior’s Path state parks.

The $55 million is considered crucial enough to any outsourcing deal for the parks that procurement documents on the state’s website say the plan would likely be scrapped if the Legislature doesn’t approve the allocation. In the question-and-answer phase of the bid process, at least one potential contractor indicated it might be reluctant to bid without the certainty that the taxpayer funding will be approved.

Environment and Conservation Commissioner Robert Martineau and Deputy Commissioner Brock Hill said Thursday they won’t know how many vendors will file bids until after the Dec. 11 deadline. When the state first issued requests for bids, it proposed a single contract for hospitality functions at all 11 parks, but revised it later so that a contractor must agree to take on those functions at least three parks.

After next week’s bid opening, the department’s timeline calls for months of review and possible negotiations with contractors before contracts are to be signed next July 15.

…The proposed contract gives the contractor authority to set rates at the inns, marinas, golf courses and other facilities they would manage, up to “market rates in the area,” and must only give the department notice of the rates.

“They’re going to want to get a payback on their investment,” Hill told reporters after the hearing. “The other side to (the state’s $55 million grant) is there’s $19 million in fixtures, furniture and equipment that we’re asking the private-sector partner to invest. If we invested $55 million, we’re looking for them to invest $19 million and the $19 million is savings to the taxpaying public of Tennessee.”

TDEC questioning plan for new nuclear landfill at Oak Ridge

OAK RIDGE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee officials are raising concerns about the U.S. Department of Energy’s plans for a new nuclear landfill at Oak Ridge.

The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation is pushing DOE to consider other Oak Ridge sites beyond the agency’s preferred one, the Knoxville News Sentinel (http://bit.ly/1Sbgejm) reported.

The federal agency’s preferred site is adjacent to an existing landfill on the government reservation and only 650 yards from the city boundary.

“We are continuing to work with the DOE and EPA on this issue and taking the matter very seriously,” Kelly Brockman, communications chief for TDEC, said in an email response to questions.

The Department of Energy’s current landfill for cleanup wastes is approaching capacity. That’s largely due to the mountains of hazardous and radioactive debris generated by the demolition of K-25 and other former uranium-processing facilities in Oak Ridge.

DOE has said that opening a new landfill at Oak Ridge — rather than shipping the wastes to commercial disposal sites in other states — would save taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars and minimize transportation risks.
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Judge blocks city’s lawsuit against environmental group

By Travis Loller, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A federal judge has blocked the city of Franklin’s efforts to countersue an environmental group that is suing the wealthy municipality over pollution from its wastewater treatment plant.

Franklin claims in court papers that a lawsuit by the Harpeth River Watershed Association constitutes a form of extortion. U.S. District Judge Kevin Sharp on Wednesday dismissed the city’s claim and encouraged the parties to have some “adult conversation” to resolve their differences.

The wastewater treatment plant has a permit issued by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation that allows it to discharge pollutants into the Harpeth River within certain limits. The permitting process is a component of the federal Clean Water Act. The act also allows citizens to file lawsuits to enforce its provisions when they believe regulators are not doing so.

The original lawsuit filed by the Harpeth River Watershed Association claims, among other things, that the city is polluting the river with overflows from its sewage system, in violation of the Clean Water Act.

In court on Wednesday, attorney Gary Cohen argued that Franklin’s permit has provisions that go beyond the scope of the Clean Water Act and cannot be enforced with a citizen suit in federal court. Those claims can only be enforced in state court, he said.
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TN legislators want to reduce auto emission testing

By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee lawmakers are set to vote on loosening vehicle emissions testing requirements as soon as they return in January, undeterred by Volkswagen’s recent admission that it had been gaming the tests already in place.

The bill is the latest in a series of efforts by Republican lawmakers to dial back the state’s emissions testing program, which currently applies only in six of the state’s 95 counties.

It speaks to the lack of political will in much of the country, even in the aftermath of the Volkswagen scandal, to require the kind of rigorous testing that would catch widespread cheating by automakers. Experts say technology is capable of catching more violators, but with the cost of making repairs largely borne by vehicle owners, elected officials who already have an aversion to government regulation are wary of programs likely to impose new costs on their constituents.

In Tennessee and elsewhere, some still push for more lenient testing programs.
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New state natural area planned in Putnam County

The state plans to purchase 100 acres near the existing Burgess Falls State Park in Putnam County, reports the Cookeville Herald-Citizen. Burgess Falls Park Manager Bill Summers announced the plan for new Window Cliffs State Natural Area at a county commission meeting. It’s expected to open in about two years.

The area is known for several waterfalls and natural rock formations known as window cliffs, which are limestones with archs created by erosion, making them resemble a window or bridge. There are apparently only a few areas in Tennessee with these natural formations.

Summers also detailed a four-mile walking trail that is planned for the area, as well as bridges and a parking lot.

Though Burgess Falls and the new park are close in proximity to each other, Summers noted they are not physically connected. There could be potential to connect them, however, if property owners are willing to sell land between the two.

County Executive Randy Porter praised the creation of the new park.

“I’m glad to see we’re preserving some of our great natural resources to be enjoyed by generations to come,” he said. “We’re excited that this park is being created in Putnam County. We always want to do things that increase the quality of life and give more recreational outlets.

He also noted how the park will have an impact on area tourism, saying, “We think it’s going to be a big attraction to our county and bring in more tourists and tourism dollars.”

Note:

VW troubles escalate; TN legislature to investigate

As Volkswagen’s troubles escalated internationally on Tuesday, state Sen. Bo Watson called for a legislative committee hearing “at the earliest possible date” to consider possible impact within Tennessee, where lawmakers honored Gov. Bill Haslam’s request for $165 million in incentive payments to Volkswagen earlier this year.

“While all of the relevant facts may remain unreported at this time, I am very concerned as to the financial impact these violatons could present to the State of Tennessee,” Watson wrote Senate Finance Committee Chairman Randy McNally in a letter distributed to media Tuesday.

“It therefore seems prudent and responsible that the Finance, Ways and Means Committee of the Tennessee Senate consider a public meeting to hear testimony from Volkswagen and state officials as to the impact upon Tennessee’s investment in Volkswagen,” Watson said.

McNally said later, according to a Senate Republican Caucus spokeswoman, that he “will schedule a hearing as soon as we coordinate with committee members and the other parties involved.”

Watson, R-Hixson, represents a portion of Hamilton County, where Volkswagen has built a major facility and received huge payments for doing so from the state.

Here’s an AP story on Volkswagen’s troubles, filed about the same time Watson’s letter was sent:

BERLIN (AP) — Volkswagen AG’s smog-test scandal escalated Tuesday as the company issued a profit warning, set aside billions to cover the fallout and lost billions more in market value. VW’s CEO said he is “endlessly sorry” that the world’s top-selling carmaker has squandered worldwide trust in its brand.

The rapid-fire developments came as Volkwagen stunningly admitted that some 11 million of the German carmaker’s diesel vehicles worldwide contain software that evades emissions controls, not just the half a million cars that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said violate the Clean Air Act.

Volkswagen also warned that future profits could be affected, and set aside an initial 6.5 billion euros ($7.3 billion) to cover the fallout.
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Holt says he’s unfairly targeted by EPA

(Note: This is a response from Rep. Andy Holt (R-Dresden) to the Environmental Protection Agency proposing penalties totaling $177,000 for pollution by his hog farming operation in Weakley County. Previous post HERE.)
News release from Rep. Andy Holt/em>
DRESDEN, Tenn., August 31, 2015– Tennessee State Representative Andy Holt (R-Dresden) says he is the leading voice against the EPA in the State House. Because of his opposition, the EPA now has him and his family farm in their cross-hairs.

“It’s clear what’s going on here,” said Holt. “In an attempt to stand for Tennessee’s farmers and small businesses, I have sponsored multiple pieces of legislation and led many requests to the State Attorney General to fight back against President Obama’s EPA. We saw President Obama’s IRS being used to target conservative groups, and now the EPA is being used in the same manner. This is one of the main reasons why I wanted to come to Nashville and serve in the state legislature. I wanted to keep farm families in Tennessee from having to endure the financially & emotionally crushing experience of dealing with an out of control regulatory agency; little did I know that this fight would become so personal.”
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Holt laughs off Democrat’s call for resignation

By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — State Democratic Party Chairwoman Mary Mancini on Friday called on Republican state Rep. Andy Holt to resign over alleged environmental violations at his northwestern Tennessee hog farm.

The Environmental Protection Agency is seeking up to $177,500 in fines against Holt for discharging a total of more than 860,000 gallons of waste water from lagoons on the farm without the proper permits.

“This kind of blatant disregard for the rules disqualify him for being an effective legislator and he needs to step aside so that his constituents can have an effective and accountable voice at the Capitol,” Mancini said. (Note: The full statement is posted HERE.)

In a telephone interview, Holt laughed off Mancini’s suggestion, saying that he plans to keep his seat in the Legislature and remain an outspoken critic of the EPA and President Barack Obama.

“I imagine they would like me to quit,” said Holt, dismissing the Mancini’s press release as “propaganda.”
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