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Environmentalist, Governor Agree: Consolidation Won’t Change Things

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.

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