Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam is on a mission to improve water quality in his state. Currently, his administration is under the microscope, as federal officials and environmental activists have recently questioned the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation’s (TDEC) methods for controlling pollution.
During the TDEC’s annual budget hearing, Haslam emphasized his desire to prove the state is working to clean up its rivers and streams. In a recent report, TDEC fell under fire from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
EPA Accuses TDEC of Lax Pollution Regulation
Regulators called out major problems with their enforcement of the Clean Water Act and other federal pollution laws. Specifically, the report focused on TDEC’s failure to punish violators with months of documented pollution incidents, leverage appropriate fines, properly report sewage overflows from major facilities, and other violations.
State agencies are tasked with enforcing major environmental laws on behalf of the federal government. Regulators from each state — including TDEC — take on this responsibility by inspecting a specific number of facilities annually, recording violations, and doling out necessary punishments to violators. However, TDEC is accused of not doing their job.
For example, results of a 2012 oversight audit revealed one facility garnered five warning letters during a seven-month period for major violations, but it never actually received a formal penalty. Additionally, another facility surpassed its limit for polluting a state waterway during a 10-month period, but was not reprimanded by the state.
Haslam Accused of Business-Friendly Administration
When Gov. Haslam took office in 2011, he took specific measures to make the TDEC more customer-focused. This included helping many companies comply with laws, rather than instantly issuing fines. However, this approach has since spiraled into accusations the administration is reluctant to reprimand businesses.
Prior to TDEC Commissioner Robert Martineau’s appointment in 2011, the agency averaged 182 formal water pollution enforcement orders annually. In 2015, just 19 orders were issued. At the TDEC annual budget meeting in November, Haslam reaffirmed his commitment to leave the environment in a better state than it was when his administration took over. His term ends in 2019, so only time will tell if he can honor this pledge.
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