A coalition of environmental groups have filed a lawsuit claiming federal agencies, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, unlawfully approved surface mining on Tennessee mountains, according to The Tennessean. The Defenders of Wildlife, the Sierra Club and others sued the agencies in U.S. District Court in Nashville for not considering how pollution from the mining would impact endangered fish — in particular, the blackside dace and Cumberland darter.
“Extinction of endangered species is too high a price to pay for surface mining,” said the Sierra Club’s Mary Anne Hitt. “Mining pollution from these sites clearly poses a risk to the dace and darter; these permits should have never been allowed to go forward.”
The fish use the creeks downstream of Zeb Mountain and David Creek, both outside of Knoxville (Note: They’re in in Campbell County.). The fish have been dwindling in numbers for years.
Extinction of the fish, the lawsuit says, could harm the area’s entire ecosystem. Citing violations of the Endangered Species Act, the groups contend federal officials have leaned on outdated safety research when approving mining permits.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — An environmental group is launching a statewide television ad campaign in Tennessee to thank Republican U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander for his opposition to an effort to block the Environmental Protection Agency from setting the first federal standards to reduce toxic air pollution from power plants.
The Environmental Defense Fund said Tuesday it is spending about $200,000 to air the ad in Chattanooga, Knoxville, Nashville, Jackson and Memphis this week. The groups said the ads are meant to applaud Alexander for what it calls taking “a courageous stand for the people of his home state.”
Alexander was among five Republicans who voted against the measure sponsored by Republican Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma that sought to scrap an Obama administration rule aimed at curbing air pollution from primarily coal-fired power plants.
“I learned as governor that cleaner air not only means better health for Tennesseans, it means better jobs,” Alexander said in an emailed statement. “It’s been a top priority of mine in the Senate. So far as I can tell, most Tennesseans agree with me.”
Alexander spokesman Jim Jeffries said the clean air issue isn’t a partisan one.
“Which is why people from across the political spectrum have been thanking Sen. Alexander for his vote,” he said in an email. “Just in the last few days a conservative group has run radio ads in Tennessee supporting him, too.”
News release from Department of Transportation:
Nashville, Tenn. – Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) Commissioner John Schroer announces the formation of a new Environmental Advisory Council for the department. The group will focus on enhancing TDOT’s commitment to protecting Tennessee’s natural resources while building, operating and maintaining the state’s transportation system.
“We want to continue to build on the progress TDOT has made in its efforts to protect the environment, particularly in the area of large construction projects,” said Commissioner Schroer. “The Environmental Advisory Council will work closely with TDOT in the development of transportation solutions that protect and enhance Tennessee’s environment.”
Various environmental groups from across the state nominated the members of the Environmental Advisory Council. The members were selected based on several factors including experience in environmental leadership, statewide perspective on environmental policies, and interest in working toward environmentally-sensitive transportation approaches.
“TDOT has made great strides in the area of environmental protection over the last several years,” added Toks Omishakin, TDOT’s Chief of Environment and Planning. “This council will help the department expand our efforts and achieve our goal of sustaining a multimodal transportation system in a manner that enhances communities, protects the environment, and saves energy.”
Council members include:
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.
Nearly 400 animal and plant species in the southeastern United States, from the Tennessee forestfly to the Texas trillium, are part of a national push by the Obama administration to settle whether hundreds of varieties are endangered, reports The Tennessean.
As part of a settlement with environmental groups, the administration has agreed to consider whether more than 700 freshwater species nationally — most in the Southeast — deserve protection under the Endangered Species Act.
More than 80 of the species are found in Tennessee, ranging from the state’s official amphibian, the Tennessee cave salamander, to the Cumberland Gap cave beetle and the Smokies snowfly, according to the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the environmental groups that sued the federal government to spur reviews of the species.
Sixteen of the species live only in Tennessee.
“It’s a lot of species that people have never heard of … but they’re very striking,” said Noah Greenwald, the center’s endangered species director.
Patrick Rakes, co-director of the nonprofit Conservation Fisheries Inc. in Knoxville, described the freshwater fishes on the list as “very, very rare.”
“Some of these fish, you’re looking at fewer than a thousand in the world,” Rakes said. “These fish truly warrant consideration for listing.”