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TDEC Commissioner’s Link to Lawsuit Questioned

Tennessee regulators have taken a West Tennessee plastics manufacturer to court over violations of the state’s clean water act, reports The Tennessean..
But an environmental group is raising questions about the action because Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation Commissioner Robert Martineau once represented the company.
The Tennessee Clean Water Network, a Knoxville-based environmental group, said it notified regulators of the pollution problems at Teknor Apex in Brownsville. The group was set to file its own lawsuit in federal court when the state acted.
“Commissioner Martineau has a clear conflict of interest in this case, and we can only hope the filing of this lawsuit is not just a brazen attempt to insulate a former client from effective enforcement,” RenĂ©e Victoria Hoyos, the water network’s executive director, said in a statement.
Fines in state court are $10,000 a day per violation, while under federal law they are $37,500 per day.
Hoyos said TDEC could have avoided the conflict by allowing the water network to move forward with its lawsuit.
“We are already doing the enforcement action,” Hoyos said in an interview. “They don’t need to go after this guy.”
Martineau is a named plaintiff in the lawsuit. Before Gov. Bill Haslam appointed him to the post in January 2011, Martineau was an attorney with the law firm Waller. He represented Teknor Apex while at the firm
TDEC spokeswoman Meg Lockhart said Martineau had no part in deciding to file the lawsuit. When Martineau became commissioner, he filed a list of all potential conflicts with TDEC’s general counsel, she said. Teknor Apex is on the list.
Martineau did receive a letter sent directly to him from the water network about the problems at the company, Lockhart said. But she said the letter was then directed to the department’s attorneys.
“It is simply irresponsible for (Tennessee Clean Water Network) to make allegations of impropriety that have absolutely no basis in fact,” Lockhart said by email.
James Weaver, an attorney at Waller who represents Teknor Apex, said the firm goes to extreme measures to avoid conflicts with clients Martineau once represented.