Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Senator Southerland Making Water Pollution Easier, Legal

I hope you'll join myself and other telling our state legislators that their consideration of new laws regarding Tennessee streams and waterways is just plain wrong. Sen. Southerland has submitted SB0634, which prevents the public from helping to identify violations in the existing law. That's a bad idea, and one of many which are being considered by the legislature.

30,000 miles of waterways in Tennessee are in danger of losing protection, thanks to one bill, and the overall approach appears to be that no effort will be given to cleaning up pollution, but adding to it.

The Tennessee Clean Water Network has details on the 14 bills now filed:

These Bills:

  • Don't do anything to clarify existing laws or processes – they change the law.
  • Blatantly strip protection away from our waters.
  • Grant permission to pollute our waters without justification.

SB0631/HB1616 Prevents polluted waters from being classified as Exceptional Tennessee waters and removes the burden of proving an economic and social need for projects which impact Exceptional waters when the project is publicly funded.

  • Don't give up on our waters. Just because they're dirty now doesn't mean we stop protecting them.
  • The bill is in violation of the Clean Water Act. 40 CFR 131.12 clearly places the burden on the applicant to show social and economic necessity. The legislature can not shift the burden and stay consistent with federal law.
  • Denies the public its right to participation in the process: Spending our money, polluting our water and we have no voice in the matter.

SB0632/HB1615 - 1) States "support" as used in the definition of wet weather conveyance means meeting the classification of fish and aquatic life even during low flow, 2) Excludes wet weather conveyances from "waters," 3) Requires TDEC to develop a waters determination training, 4) Allows for stream determinations to be made by an expert outside of TDEC.

  • First half is an attempt to narrow the types of waterbodies protected under our laws. Since the changes are based upon water flow this would specifically lift protection from smaller streams during times of drought, when water protection is of the utmost importance.
  • Developing a stream determination process is a good idea and one TDEC is currently working on.
  • TDEC, as the public agency, should be the final decision maker on stream determinations.

SB0633/HB1617 Creates definition of "limited resource waters" as those not attaining their designated uses due to natural occurrences or modifications and exempts them and wet weather conveyances from the definition of "waters."

  • Strips protection away from our waters – could destroy approximately 30,000 miles of streams in Tennessee.
  • Gives up on protecting those impaired from previous activities.
  • Critical threat to smaller waterbodies.

SB0634/HB0973 Prevents the prompting of enforcement inspections from anonymous communication and requires stream determination when a complaint is based upon discharging without a permit into an unnamed stream .

  • Takes protection away from whistle blowers.
  • Prevents the public from voicing their concerns and being protected at the same time.
  • Increases burden on TDEC.

SB0198/HB0425 Requires legislature to approve all rules and prevents the creation of emergency or public necessity rules.

  • Create serious delays in the rule-making process.
  • Grants too much power to the Legislative Branch – infringes on separation of powers.
  • Neglects protection of state health and environment if emergency and public need actions can not be taken during times the Legislature is not meeting.

SB1738 - Provides those with permits allowing for a water withdrawal do not have to re-apply when there is a modification to their hours of withdrawal in their permit, but only request the modification form TDEC with an explanation of why the revision is necessary.

  • More hours for them, less water for us.
  • Provides private companies the opportunity to remove more water from our streams without public involvement. Often that withdrawal is a permanent water loss to our state.

SB1331/HB1204 - 1) Eliminates selenate when including selenium in those permits with a toxic effluent limitation 2) requires selenite to be the basis should water quality criterion be developed for selenium 3) Prevents impaired waters from being ETWs 4) For the purpose of anti-deg any alteration in waters which improves the condition or complies with naturally occurring conditions is de minimis.

  • First half is an attempt by the coal industry to pollute our waters with selenium (selenate is the selenium by-product of coal mining).
  • Gives up on protecting our waters.
  • No project can be assumed to have a minimal impact unless fully evaluated. Example: Applicants have claimed they are improving the condition of a stream by culverting it, which is never an improvement.
  • This allows anyone to impact our waters without justification.

SB1112/HB1622 Requires air and water quality rules be consistent with and not exceed the requirements of federal statutes. Provides if there are no federal statutes the state can create those regulations if necessary to protect health, welfare, or the environment. Prevents any permit from having requirements which are not the direct basis of existing rule.

  • Prevents Tennessee from protecting its unique resources when the federal government doesn't.
  • States' rights: Why let the federal government determine what is best for our state?
  • Limits Tennesseans from making its own choices.

SB1207/HB1205 - 1) Requires WQCB to hear and decide on permit appeal hearings within 90 days of receipt of petition; 2) provides the WQCB can deem an appeal frivolous and award fees and expenses incurred as a result of the appeal to the applicant; 3) states if a declaratory order is not heard by the WQCB within 90 days it is a refusal to hear the case.

  • Denies the opportunity for hearings to be held in front of the WQCB if delayed.
  • Bias towards permit applicants as the only partly eligible for incurring costs.
  • Worded to assume applicant is not also appellant.

SB1312/HB1619 - Defines “CAFO” in accordance with federal law for the purpose of NPDES.

  • Locks Tennessee into federal definition.
  • States' rights: Why let the federal government determine what is best for our state?

Sen. Steve Southerland of Morristown is chair of the Senate Environment, Conservation and Tourism Committee, and Sen. Mike Faulk represents Claiborne, Grainger, Hancock, Hawkins and Jefferson County and sits on that committee.

You can contact Sen. Southerland via this page, Sen. Faulk here.

Far more immediate and important right now, the state needs to create new and better rules regarding coal waste ash ponds like the catastrophe in Kingston, where TVA's failure has devastated hundreds of acres and unknown miles of Tennessee rivers, streams and waterways.

R. Neal at KnoxViews has contact info on all related committees and their members.

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