News release from state comptroller’s office:
It will soon be possible to report suspected cases of fraud, waste and abuse of public funds in Tennessee over the Internet. Beginning today, you may electronically alert the state Comptroller’s office about suspected government misuse of public funds by visiting: http://www.comptroller.tn.gov/shared/safwa.asp
The Comptroller’s office has provided a toll-free telephone hotline for reporting fraud, waste and abuse of government funds and property since 1983. During that time, the hotline has received more than 17,000 calls.
In the 2012 legislative session, the Tennessee General Assembly expanded the Advocacy for Honest and Appropriate Government Spending Act so government employees and citizens can report allegations of fraud, waste and abuse online as well.
“In this day and age, it makes sense to give people the option to send us fraud reports online,” Comptroller Wilson said. “This is another tool to help ensure that public money is being spent properly in Tennessee. I encourage people to take advantage of this new service if they have reason to suspect fraud, waste or abuse has occurred.”
Similar to the telephone hotline, the online reporting form will allow individuals to make reports anonymously if they wish. The information will be transmitted to the Comptroller’s office over a secure connection.
Individuals who make reports are asked to provide as much detail as possible about their allegations. They may also attach files with supporting documentation that may help those who review the allegations.
Information received over the Internet will be reviewed by the Comptroller’s staff and investigated or referred to the appropriate agencies or departments when warranted.
Along with a $266,000 rooftop sign and $500,000 for a museum in Virginia, a self-proclaimed government watchdog group Tuesday included “corporate welfare” to businesses in a listing of Tennessee pork barrel spending.
This year’s “Tennessee pork report” includes $40 million in “headquarters relocation assistance” to companies moving their main offices to Tennessee, a $1.5 million grant to General Motors and $2 million to “incentivize production of TV shows and movies” within the state as examples of wasteful spending of tax dollars.
Gov. Bill Haslam, perhaps not unexpectedly, disagreed with the categorization when questioned by reporters.
“The truth is, in economic development, we live in a very competitive world. We’re not going to just unilaterally disarm” by ending state financial support to new or expanding businesses, Haslam said.
He added that “government waste has our full attention,” though “government waste is obviously defined differently by different people.”
The Beacon Center of Tennessee definition in this year’s “pork report” includes:
-$266,000 given by the state to Volkswagen to put a sign atop its Chattanooga plant that is visible only from the air, also characterized as “corporate welfare.” It’s near the Chattanooga airport, but Beacon Center said that only about 500 people per day fly in or out of the airport.
-The $500,000 grant included in the coming year’s state budget at the urging of Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey for a “Birthplace of Country Music” museum in Bristol, Va., just across the Tennessee state line. “That just goes to show state government waste doesn’t stop at the state line,” said Justin Owen, president of Beacon Center.
-$1.5 million spend on “a mansion and lavish furnishings” by the Upper Cumberland Development District, which was designated “pork of the year.” According to television news reports, the organization’s executive director, Whitney Askins, moved into the mansion, though it was designated to serve as housing for needy seniors. She has since been placed on administrative leave.
-$1.3 million in deficit spending at state-owned golf courses.
Beacon Center said it had listed $468 million in “pork,” up from $371 million in last year’s “pork report.: Most involves state government – ranging from such large items as $25 million for building a West Tennessee “megasite” for industry recruitment to a $50,000 grant to the National Folk Festival, held in Nashville.
But it also includes local government projects, ranging from a collective $22 million in deficit annual spending by various city and county government entities to a $5.8 million property tax break Nashville Metro government gave Dollywood Co. and Gaylord Entertainment for development of a water park in Nashville.
By Eric Schelzig, Associated Press
FRANKLIN, Tenn. — Gov. Bill Haslam said Monday that his administration is trying to speed up the time it takes for poultry farms to get environmental permits.
The Republican governor said after a speech to the Farm Bureau that his goal is for the state to strike the “right balance between our stewardship responsibilities and making certain we’re providing product and providing jobs.”
Agriculture Commissioner Julius Johnson said neighboring states are quicker to grant permits for chicken farms and noted that Tennessee’s rules are slightly stricter than federal standards.
“And that’s one of the problems,” he said.
Animal waste-handling permits are issued by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, and Johnson said he’s been holding discussions with that agency to try to streamline the process.
“We’re competing with Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia and Kentucky, who are doing it faster than we are,” Johnson said. “Industry is expressing concerns.”
In a recent deposition, state lawyers refused to allow state geologist James Clark to answer questions about what happened in a closed-door meeting between officials of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation and officials of Waste Management Inc.l, reports Anne Paine. Now a judge has ordered that the questions be answered.
The decision opens the way for the geologist to speak about topics that include who pressured him to find ways to allow the expansion of an almost-full landfill in Marshall County into an area with a sinkhole and creek to move forward.
…Clark was being quizzed as part of a lawsuit filed against Waste Management and its Cedar Ridge Landfill in Lewisburg by four neighbors and one local environmental group. They say pollution, including chlorides, ammonia, nitrates and silt, has harmed properties and continues to taint creeks and springs. Waste Management has denied that this is so. The state was pulled into the case as a third party.
….Clark “is ordered to attend his deposition scheduled on August 8, 2011,” wrote Joe B. Brown, U.S. magistrate judge for the Middle District Court of Tennessee. Clark may testify about discussions and meetings with representatives of Waste Management and state staff but not discussions where the state’s environment department general counsel or staff from the attorney general’s office were present, Brown wrote.
Questions to which state attorneys allowed no answers this summer included just who had been pressuring Clark to find a way to approve the permit. He had testified he had been pressed to do so.
He also was not allowed to say how the state, in the private meetings, decided that boring two holes into the proposed expansion site at the landfill “fully resolves the long-standing concerns of a collapse” there, according to a filing by attorney Elizabeth Murphy, representing the neighbors and the environmental group.
Waste Management Inc., told it could not expand a landfill near Lewisburg by state regulators under Gov. Phil Bredesen’s administration, has been told that it can expand under a plan approved by Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration, reports Anne Paine.
The Department of Environment and Conservation said in April, 2010, that the company should not expand its almost-full Cedar Ridge Landfill into an area with a sinkhole and creek.
Contamination from the landfill 55 miles south of Nashville had showed up repeatedly in local waters, regulators said. Also, limestone riddled with cracks and open cavities lies beneath much of the property, making the area unstable.
This year under a new governor, state regulators held private negotiations with landfill officials who had appealed the denial. The meetings led to a signed agreement that is serving as a how-to-expand-the-landfill guide.
State environmental officials say the document has nothing to do with politics and doesn’t guarantee approval for extending the life of the landfill in Lewisburg, where Middle Tennessee waste — including some of Nashville’s sewage sludge — has gone over the years.
“We said, ‘Here are our objections,’ and they said, ‘Well, we think we can give you information to overcome those objections,’ ” said Bob Martineau, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.
We said, ‘OK, we’ll give you a shot to do that.’ ”
Local resident Kathy Fox said she is worried and perplexed. Engineering to try to fix the site’s many shortcomings could bring problems later.
“We’d like to know why the state has changed its mind,” said Fox, with the nonprofit Tri-County Environmental Association.
“We felt like it’s not a matter of if the sinkhole will collapse, but when. You would have such a disaster — the pollution that would cause would be beyond our imagination.”
The group is one of five parties — the others being neighbors of the landfill — that filed a lawsuit against Waste Management last year over pollution from the more than 20-year-old landfill, which they say continues to taint creeks and springs.
Waste Management has denied the accusations, saying it has no ongoing state or federal violations at its Cedar Ridge Landfill in Marshall County.
OAK RIDGE – The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has approved the licenses necessary for EnergySolutions to bring up to 1,000 tons of Germany’s low-level radioactive waste to Oak Ridge for incineration.
A further excerpt from the News Sentinel story:
The ashes and any leftover products following incineration at EnergySolutions’ Bear Creek processing plant would be returned to Germany, according to information contained in the NRC “memorandum and order” that was issued Monday. An NRC spokesman said the licenses will likely be issued late this week or early next week.
Mark Walker, a spokesman for EnergySolutions, said the company would not discuss the schedule for waste shipments until after the licenses have been issued.
“We appreciate the rigorous and thorough analysis by the NRC,” Walker said. “As always, we will comply with state and federal regulations.”
The NRC rejected multiple requests for a public hearing on EnergySolutions’ applications, ruling that a hearing would not be in the public’s interest or help the commissioners in making a decision. Among those filing requests for a hearing were the Citizens’ Advisory Panel of the Local Oversight Committee in Oak Ridge; the Tennessee Environmental Council; the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance; and Citizens to End Nuclear Dumping in Tennessee.
A state Senate committee has killed a bill by a Sen. Beverly Marrero of Memphis that sought to halt or curtail the amount of low-level radioactive waste being dumped into Tennessee landfills, reports Richard Locker.
Marrero, D-Memphis, told her colleagues on the Senate Environment, Conservation & Tourism Committee that she’s concerned about the volume of the waste flowing into the state for processing.
Some of the waste is dumped into the South and North Shelby landfills, two state-licensed, privately operated landfills authorized to accept the waste under a state regulatory program that exists only in Tennessee.
The committee discussed the bill for about 50 minutes Wednesday before amending it so that its provisions would not interfere with any current private waste-processing contracts until they are renewed. The committee then killed the entire bill, with only two Democrats’ votes for passage and five Republicans’ votes against.