The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation demoted the official who told a group of Mount Pleasant residents that unfounded complaints about water quality could be considered terrorism, reports The Tennessean. Sherwin Smith, who was deputy director of TDEC’s Division of Water Resources, was demoted effective June 26, the agency said Tuesday. He returns to his prior position with the state’s Revolving Fund Program, which helps fund water projects in the state with low-interest loans.
“This is a lower-ranking position,” said Meg Lockhart, spokeswoman for TDEC. “It is my understanding the salary will be less than what he would be making had he not been removed from that position.”
(Previous post HERE)
A Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation deputy director warned a group of Maury County residents that unfounded complaints about water quality could be considered an “act of terrorism,” reports The Tennessean. “We take water quality very seriously. Very, very seriously,” said Sherwin Smith, deputy director of TDEC’s Division of Water Resources, according to audio recorded by attendees.
“But you need to make sure that when you make water quality complaints you have a basis, because federally, if there’s no water quality issues, that can be considered under Homeland Security an act of terrorism.”
“Can you say that again, please?” an audience member can be heard asking on the audio. Smith went on in the recording to repeat the claim almost verbatim.
The audio was recorded May 29 by Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment, a Smyrna-based civic action group that had been working with Maury County residents to tackle water quality complaints in Mount Pleasant.
Residents there have complained to the state for months, saying some children had become ill drinking the water. The meeting was organized by State Rep. Sheila Butt, R-Columbia, and attended by residents, TDEC and local officials.
UPDATE: TDEC says the comment was “inappropriate.”
— Note: News release from enviornmental groups is below.
In new ratings of state legislators on environmental issues for the 107th General Assembly, Tennessee Conservation Voters has given its highest score to Democratic Sen. Beverly Marrero of Memphis while three Republican senators tied for the lowest ranking. They are Sens. Mike Bell of Riceville, Mike Faulk of Church Hill and Jim Summerville of Dickson.
The ratings are based on action by legislators on 16 different bills in the 2012 session – in some cases on votes, in some cases on sponsorship of legislation the group either supported or opposed – a positive point for each action approved, a negative point for each action it opposed. There was a similar system for 2011.
Top score, a plus 13, for the two-year life of the 107th General Assembly went to Marrero followed by two other Democrats at plus 10, Sens. Andy Berke of Chattanooga and Eric Stewart of Belvidere.
The highest-ranking House members were Reps. Brenda Gilmore, D-Nashville, and Mike McDonald, D-Gallatin, with a plus 7. One point back were fellow Democratic Reps. Jeanne Richardson of Memphis and Mike Stewart of Nashville.
The lowest scores went to Bell, Faulk and Summerville at a minus 4 for the two years of the 107th. Next in line was Rep. Andy Holt, R-Dresden, the lowest rated House member at minus 3.
The best ranking for a Republican lawmaker was plus 4, a score shared by Reps. Bill Dunn of Knoxville, Jimmy Eldridge of Jackson and Judd Matheny of Tullahoma.
The lowest ranking for a Democrat was an even zero for Rep. Harry Tindell, D-Knoxville. Five other Democrats had a plus 1 (one), including Rep. Joe Armstrong, also from Knoxville.
The full scorecard is HERE.
The TVC news release is below.
News release from TBI:
Knoxville, Tenn. – The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation today arrested a former employee of the Morgan County Soil Conservation District for theft after she was indicted by the Morgan County Grand Jury on Monday, May 21, 2012.
Sharlene Justice, 49, was charged with one count of theft over $10,000 for taking funds from the Morgan County Soil Conservation District while working as the district’s secretary. TBI opened the investigation at the request of the 10th Judicial District Attorney General in December of 2011 after an audit revealed discrepancies regarding payments, checks and bank statements related to Justice’s employment. The state comptroller’s office of Division of County Audit conducted an audit and discovered more than $44,000 missing as part of the investigation.
Justice was booked into the Morgan County Jail on $6,000 bond.
Sen. Lamar Alexander took in the Tennessee River Gorge on Saturday behind the wheel of the Blue Moon, a 70-foot Chattanooga charter boat, reports the Chattanooga TFP. As Alexander looked out over the river, the captain pointed out an osprey nest on a river day marker — the waterway equivalent of a highway mile-marker post. For Alexander, a Tennessee Republican long a supporter of conservation, it was a way to bring added attention to the accomplishments of the Tennessee River Gorge Trust.
The trust has worked for 31 years to conserve the ridges and views of the 27,000-acre Tennessee River Gorge in Hamilton and Marion counties. In that time, the Trust has come to own land or land easements on 17,000 of those acres. The ownership and easements don’t stop progress, but they help ensure progress doesn’t mar the beauty of the canyon where the Tennessee River cuts through a portion of the Cumberland Plateau in an area American Indians once characterized as “mountains looking at each other.
“Egypt has its pyramids, England has its history, Italy has its art, the United States has its great American outdoors, and Chattanooga and Southeast Tennessee and Marion County have the Tennessee River Gorge,” Alexander told about 30 people on the boat.
The outing was part of this year’s main fundraising event for the Gorge Trust. Alexander was the special guest, the draw for a $150-a-ticket dinner later in the evening to support the Gorge Trust.
Conservationists try varied tactics to ban practice Conservationists supporting a bill to prohibit mountaintop removal in Tennessee are launching a second round of television ads, but this time photos of ridges in Tennessee that have been blown off are included.
More from Anne Paine’s report: The first ad that the Tennessee Conservation Voters launched showed pictures from other states. Opponents of the bill, called the Tennessee Scenic Vistas Act, had slammed the campaign as deceptive, saying that mountaintop removal doesn’t happen in the Volunteer State. Any ridges sheared off are replaced as much as possible to the original contours, they countered.
Relatively little coal mining is done in Tennessee compared with other states, including Kentucky and West Virginia. The legislation, House Bill 0291, is on today’s agenda of the House Conservation Subcommittee.
…. The companion bill in the Senate was amended in a way that supporters said gutted it, so that little if any change would occur in current mountaintop mining practices. That one, Senate Bill 0577, is on the agenda to be heard by the full Senate on Monday. The issue is the focus of a wide coalition of conservation, environmental and church groups. Note: TCV’s news release on the ads is below.
News release from House Speaker Beth Harwell:
Speaker Beth Harwell made the following statement today regarding Representative David Hawk: “I have spoken with Representative David Hawk and he has informed me that he will relinquish the chairmanship of the House Conservation and Environment Committee.”
Representative David Hawk made the following statement today: “My dedication continues to be caring for my family and serving my constituents. Proving my innocence will take much of my focus, so I feel relinquishing my chairmanship will best serve these goals.”
News release from Tennessee Conservation Voters:
Nashville, TN – Tennessee Conservation Voters (TCV), a non-partisan conservation organization committed to voter education, advocacy and holding elected officials accountable for safeguarding Tennessee’s environment, announced today the launch of a statewide television ad campaign focused on the destructive practice of mountaintop removal coal mining.
The ad supports a broad-based effort to pass the Tennessee Scenic Vistas Protection Act, a bill that would only ban the process of mountaintop removal mining on peaks above 2000 feet in Tennessee.
The 30-second ad opens by describing the connection Tennesseans have with the mountains – hunting, fishing, hiking and embracing God’s creation. This reflects the broad range of support that exists statewide for the Tennessee Scenic Vistas Protection Act and speaks to the non-partisan nature of the issue. The ad also describes how more than 500 mountains, 2000 miles of streams and tens of thousands of mining jobs have already been destroyed across Appalachia by mountaintop removal mining. The ad closes by asking viewers to support the Tennessee Scenic Vistas Protection Act and encourages them to call Governor Bill Haslam. The ad is designed to be modified to direct contacts to various TN policy makers throughout the campaign.
By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Gov. Bill Haslam’s first effort to reduce state boards will 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 Republican insists the proposal won’t diminish conservation efforts in Tennessee or present a conflict of interest for him.
Haslam is proposing to combine the Solid Waste Disposal and the Petroleum Underground Storage Tank boards; the Water Quality Control and Oil and Gas boards; and the Conservation Commission and Tennessee Heritage Conservation Trust Fund board.
John McFadden, executive director of the Tennessee Environmental Council, said he doesn’t expect a noticeable change if the mergers happen because conservation interests are already sparsely represented.
“These boards are so heavily weighted to the industry side, and the reality is clean water and clean air don’t have much representation on them,” McFadden said in a phone interview.
“The flip side of that is you had six boards making really bad decisions, and now you’re only going to have three boards making really bad decisions,” he said.
Haslam, a former president of the Knoxville-based Pilot chain of truck stops, has pledged to recuse himself from matters that could the family business in which he still holds an undisclosed stake.
But the governor said he cleared the legislation on combining the boards that could affect Pilot before the measure was introduced.
“I actually talked with legal counsel and others to say that obviously that’s a place that does intersect with Pilot, but really that wasn’t changing the authority, it was just combining two boards,” Haslam said in a recent interview.
“In this case, I think any ramifications toward me — or increased or decreased decision-making from the governor — didn’t really impact that,” he said.
News release from the governor’s office:
NASHVILLE – Tennessee is expected to receive more than $26 million to fund energy conservation, alternative energy and/or pollution reduction projects, which will also reduce air pollution as the result of an agreement approved today by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) Board of Directors.
The Tennessee Attorney General’s Office, on behalf of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, will join Alabama, Kentucky and North Carolina in filing an agreement today in the form of a consent decree, resolving years of allegations that the utility violated the Clean Air Act. A coalition of citizen groups filed their own complaint, which will be consolidated with the states’ complaint, allowing the citizen groups to join in the agreement with the states.
Tennessee’s agreement coincides with an agreement being filed today between TVA and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). TVA will pay the states and the EPA a combined total of $350 million to fund environmental projects, as well as $10 million in civil penalties. The $350 million is payable over the next five years, and the civil penalties are payable 30 days after the date the agreement is entered by the court. Tennessee will receive the largest state’s share, $26.4 million for environmental projects and $1 million in civil penalties.