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Conservative Group Backs Effort to Ban Mountaintop Mining

Legislation to protect Tennessee’s mountains has new, if somewhat unexpected, support: the Tennessee Conservative Union.

Citing the involvement of the “Red Chinese” in mountaintop removal mining, the conservative organization has launched a statewide media effort to ban the harvesting of coal by blowing the tops off Tennessee’s mountains.

“Tennessee has become the first state in our great nation to permit the Red Chinese to destroy our mountains and take our coal,” a gravelly, male voice warns in the ad released by the TCU, alluding to a Chinese company reportedly indicating an intention last year to invest in the Tennessee-based Triple H Coal Company.

According to the company’s website, Triple H is “one of the fastest growing coal mining operations in the Tennessee Coal Mining Reserve. We supply the increasing demand for clean coal energy to the U.S. domestic market as well as rapid expanding emerging markets such as China. Triple H’s Tennessee mines cover a surface area of over 30,000 mineral acres and consist of nine seams that are located throughout the Tennessee Coal Reserve.”

An email to the company asking for comment went unanswered.

The conservative Tennessee group joins environmental organizations such as the Sierra Club and Appalachian Voices in pushing back against mountaintop removal.

Appalachian Voices is eager to work with “anyone who supports protecting Tennessee’s mountains,” said JW Randolph, director of the Tennessee branch of the environmental group.

“From my perspective, we don’t care if they’re from China or Chattanooga – they can be from anywhere. Blowing up mountains is a bad idea,” Randolph said. “The fact that everybody from the most liberal and progressive people in the state support protecting our mountains, and the most conservative people in our state support protecting our mountains, I think, gives me a lot of hope.”

The “Scenic Vistas Protection Act,” HB43/SB99, sponsored by Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville, and Sen. Lowe Finney, D-Jackson, would seek to prevent mountaintop removal operations by prohibiting the issuance of water quality control permits for certain projects. The bill would affect projects altering ridgelines at an elevation higher than 2,000 feet above sea level.

That’s on the low end of the height range for the Great Smoky Mountains, which range from 875 feet to 6,643 feet – the elevation of Clingmans Dome.

According to the bill, previously issued permits for mountaintop removal activities could only be renewed by the original applicant. The measure doesn’t expand or change the allowed surface area of mining operations or previously allowed actions and is not otherwise against the law. The bill also does not allow permits to be transferred from one person to another.

Although both the bill’s primary sponsors are Democrats, it appears to have at least some bipartisan support. Two Republicans in the House have signed on as co-prime sponsors: Bill Dunn, of Knoxville, who has been honored as the TCU Legislator of the Year, and Bob Ramsey of Maryville.

Gloria JohnsonGloria Johnson

“I think that the citizens – the majority of citizens of Tennessee – are supportive of that bill and don’t want to see any more mountaintop removal,” Johnson said.

During the 2012 legislative session the bill was sent to a summer study panel, where no action was taken on it.

The bill, important because of its intent to “preserve” one of the state’s “greatest assets,” has been heard before the state Legislature in various forms over the last three years, said sponsor Sen. Lowe Finney, of Jackson.

“What you’re seeing is a lot of people realize that this is an issue that can be addressed, that should be addressed and people from all over the state are taking an interest in it,” said Finney, chairman of the Senate Democratic Caucus.

Coal could be mined more responsibly, and it would benefit Tennesseans to not destroy and desecrate one of the powerful symbols of the state’s history, said Charles White, an active member of the Tennessee Chapter of the Sierra Club. He added that coal can be mined in other ways that would provide more jobs and be more “environmentally” cost-effective.

“It’s high time for our elected officials to give this legislation a chance to be discussed by the full House and Senate,” White said.

The Scenic Vistas Act is scheduled to be heard in both the Senate Energy, Agriculture and Natural Resources committee and the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Subcommittee Wednesday.

Rep. Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, and Sen. Mark Norris, R-Collierville, also have a bill (HB0875/SB1139) that aims to stem water pollution from surface mining. The bill would prohibit the issuance of permits that allow mining waste within 100 feet of any stream’s high water mark. The bill has not been scheduled for a hearing.

More than $320K Awarded for Used Motor Oil Collection in TN

Press release from the Department of Environment & Conservation; November 21, 2012:

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Department of Environment and Conservation Commissioner Bob Martineau today announced $322,400 in collection grants to establish, upgrade and expand used motor oil collection centers in 21 counties across Tennessee.

“It’s important to educate citizens on the proper disposal of used motor oil, and the use of these convenient community collection centers can have a direct impact on the water quality of our lakes, streams and groundwater in Tennessee,” Haslam said.

Tennesseans who change their own motor oil generate more than one million gallons of used oil each year, which can pollute soil and water and interfere with the operation of sewer systems when not properly disposed. The General Assembly through the Used Oil Collection Act of 1993 directed TDEC to assist local communities in collecting used oil and reducing its negative effects on the environment. Tennessee’s Solid Waste Management Act requires counties to have at least one place in the county where used oil can be properly disposed. Used Motor Oil Collection Grants are funded by a two cent deposit on every quart of oil purchased in the state.

The first priority for grant funding is to establish or expand collection sites in underserved areas. Other grants will fund improvement or replacement of equipment in existing public and private facilities. Equipment purchased through Used Motor Oil Collection Grants can include containers, used oil burners, containment structures, shelter covers and other items.

The Used Motor Oil Collection Grants announced today include:

Bledsoe County
Bledsoe     $7,600       Tanks, canopies, pads
City of Alcoa
Blount      $3,700       Tank, pump, absorbent
Campbell County
Campbell    $9,900        Tanks, canopies, pads, pump, absorbent
City of Jellico
Campbell   $13,800      Tank, canopy, pad, heater, pump, absorbent
City of LaFollette
Campbell     $4,600        Tank, canopy, pad, absorbent
Carroll County
Carroll              $8,500        Heater
Cheatham County
Cheatham       $12,300      Tanks, canopies, pads
Chester County
Chester            $8,200         Tanks, canopies, pads
Clay County
Clay                  $11,300       Canopy, pad, heater, pump, absorbent
City of Chattanooga
Hamilton         $20,500     Tanks, absorbents, crusher, heater
Hardeman County
Hardeman       $3,000       Crusher, absorbent
Hickman County
Hickman           $14,800     Tanks, pumps, absorbents
Town of White Pine
Jefferson           $1,200       Pump, absorbent
City of Athens
McMinn              $17,000   Heaters
McNairy County
McNairy             $16,300    Tank, canopy, pad, crusher, heater, pump, absorbent
Meigs County
Meigs                   $15,900    Tanks, canopies, pads, pumps, absorbents
Bi-County Solid Waste Management Montgomery County
Montgomery    $18,500    Tanks, heater
Polk County
Polk                      $9,200      Tanks, canopies, pads, absorbents
City of Harriman
Roane                  $13,800    Tank, canopy, pad, heater, pump, absorbent
City of Kingston
Roane                  $13,800    Tank, canopy, pad, heater, pump, absorbent
Roane County
Roane                  $15,700    Pump, tanks
Recycling Marketing Cooperative for Tennessee
Scott                     $16,300    Tank, canopy, pad, crusher, heater, pump, absorbent
Scott County
Scott                     $5,300       Tank, canopy, pad, absorbent
Town of Oneida
Scott                     $13,800     Tank, canopy, pad, pump, absorbent, heater
Smith County
Smith                   $4,100        Tank, canopy, pad
Sumner County
Sumner               $15,100      Tank, canopy, pad, crusher, heater
Union County Solid Waste Authority
Union                   $8,200       Tanks, canopies, pads

TOTAL  $322,400

Visit www.tn.gov/environment/swm/oil or call toll-free at 1-800-287-9013 for more information concerning used oil collection centers, operating hours, requirements for collection locations that accept commercial used oil and other facts about used oil.

State Reminds Tennesseans of Groundwater Safety Importance

Press release from the Tennessee Department of Environment & Conservation; Sept. 7, 2012: 

NASHVILLE – The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation is joining the Tennessee Department of Health to encourage Tennesseans and private water well owners in the state to observe Protect Your Groundwater Day on September 11.

Sponsored by the National Ground Water Association, in partnership with a variety of federal, state and local partners, Protect Your Groundwater Day highlights the importance of the state’s underground water resources. It also is designed to raise awareness among private water well owners on the importance of yearly testing and proper well maintenance to prevent illness.

“Protect Your Groundwater Day is a great time to reinforce the importance of good ground water quality,” said Environment and Conservation Commissioner Bob Martineau. “In addition to private water wells, a large percentage of public systems in the state rely on ground water for its drinking water supply. There are a number of steps Tennesseans can take to preserve and protect ground water for human and environmental needs.”

Tennessee contains beautiful streams, rivers and lakes, and protecting the state’s unseen groundwater system also is important. Regional aquifers are large bodies of hidden underground water and supply a substantial amount of the state’s public and private drinking water.

Tennesseans can do their part in promoting good stewardship of the state’s ground water by properly maintaining their home septic systems and any abandoned wells they own and through proper storage and the appropriate disposal of pharmaceuticals and personal care products or hazardous household waste, including common products such as gasoline, oil, paints, fertilizers, pesticides and cleaning products. For a schedule of TDEC’s upcoming Household Hazardous Waste Collection events slated for this fall, please visit www.tn.gov/environment/swm/pdf/hazcoll.pdf.

The safety requirements for public drinking water systems do not apply to private wells, so it is the responsibility of private water well owners to ensure their water is safe from contaminants. For more information on the readily available resources for well owners and drillers, please visit TDEC’s Division of Water Resources at www.tn.gov/environment/dws. The website contains several program links, including the list of Licensed Tennessee Well Drillers and Installers and the Tennessee Healthy Well Manual.

According to the Department of Health, at least three outbreaks of waterborne illness related to the consumption of water from a private well or spring have been investigated in Tennessee since 2007. These outbreaks resulted in 16 persons becoming ill. Recommendations to well owners include testing private water supplies annually for bacteria and chemical contaminants. In some areas where karst or limestone geology predominates, filtration through the earth is not effective; continuous purifying treatment such as home filtration, distillers or chlorinating systems are often necessary for drinking water to be reliably free of contamination.

Information about Protect Your Groundwater Day can be found on the National Ground Water Association’s website at www.ngwa.org.

TN Conservation Voters Releases Legislative Scorecard

Press release from Tennessee Conservation Voters; June 25, 2012:

Nashville, TN (Aug., 2012)- Tennessee Conservation Voters, a statewide non-profit organization dedicated to the protection of Tennessee’s environment, announces the release of its 10th annual Legislative Scorecard. The TCV scorecard is published to provide a clear and concise way to understand and evaluate each legislator’s voting record on key legislation in 2012.

TCV board president Mary Helen Clarke explains:

“For a decade TCV has been publishing this scorecard on state environmental votes. We think it is unique on the state level because, in addition to tracking the issues that have the public’s attention, we try to reflect patterns of support or opposition for the issues that matter over time.”

Longtime TCV board member Daniel Boone notes:

We work hard to quantify legislative votes and sponsorships in an objective way. The 2012 TCV Scorecard demonstrates that this was a mixed year for environmental law and policy in Tennessee. We had some important victories in 2012, including the continuation of Conservation Land Funding for the protection of wetlands, parks and farmland. But it’s disappointing that legislators were not willing to consider and vote on some of the most important issues – like mountain top removal coal mining.”

The top-ranked Senators on the scorecard were Beverly Marrero, Eric Stewart and Andy Berke.

The top-ranked Representatives were Brenda Gilmore, Mike Kernell, Mike McDonald, Mike Stewart and Jeanne Richardson.

To see an electronic version of the Scorecard, visit our website at www.tnconservationvoters.org and click on the TCV News section. To receive a printed copy of this year’s Scorecard, please contact our office at: (615) 269-9090 or info@tnconservationvoters.org.

State Energy Efficiency Projects to Cost $5.25M in First Year

Press Release from Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation; Jan. 11, 2012:

Projects Benefit Both the Environment and Bottom Line

Nashville – Tennessee Deputy Governor Claude Ramsey, Department of Environment and Conservation Commissioner Bob Martineau and General Services Commissioner Steven G. Cates today announced a series of energy efficiency projects in state government, as well as the new Clean Tennessee Energy Grant Program. The state projects, as well projects for other public and private entities that will be funded through the grant program, are designed to both increase cost savings and decrease emissions.

“Increasing energy efficiency in state government will help us be even better stewards of both taxpayer dollars and our environment,” Haslam said. “These projects will benefit Tennesseans on both fronts, and I look forward to implementing additional projects as we move forward.”

Funding for the projects comes from an April 2011 Clean Air Act settlement with the Tennessee Valley Authority. Under the Consent Decree, Tennessee will receive $26.4 million over five years to fund clean air programs in the state – at approximately $5.25 million per year. In the first year, $2.25 million will go to fund air quality grants for local governments, municipalities, utilities, other organizations and private entities. The remaining $3 million will fund energy efficiency projects in state government. The first round of state projects was announced today:

· Nissan LEAF Purchases – Tennessee will purchase five Nissan LEAF electric vehicles for the state fleet and will add two charging stations. The cars have zero emissions and are made in Tennessee. Replacing five motor pool vehicles with the electric LEAFs for urban travel will substantially reduce the emissions that can cause adverse health conditions due to air quality non-attainment. Replacing a conventional vehicle with an electric vehicle in a metro area reduces volatile organic compounds and carbon monoxide by 100 percent, sulfur oxides by 75 percent, nitrogen oxides by 69 percent and particulates by 31 percent.

· Tennessee Tower Window Film – The Department of General Services will add reflective film to all exterior windows in the Tennessee Tower to reduce solar radiant heat gain, thereby reducing HVAC energy consumption and increasing occupant comfort. The upfront cost for the window film is $610,000. With an estimated annual energy savings of $362,000, the project is expected to pay for itself in less than two years and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2,451 metric tons per year. The Tennessee Tower was built in 1970, and is the largest state building in Tennessee.

· TDEC Nashville Environmental Field Office HVAC – TDEC will test, adjust and balance the existing HVAC system at its Nashville Environmental Field Office to correct deficiencies and optimize energy usage. The upfront cost for the project is $39,000. With an estimated annual energy savings of $11,100, the project is expected to pay for itself in approximately 3.5 years and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 metric tons per year.

· Fall Creek Falls Inn – Tennessee State Parks will work with Tennessee Tech to install a heat recovery water heater system at the Fall Creek Falls State Park Inn and Conference center in Pikeville. A heat recovery water heater utilizes a dual cycle heat pump to scavenge heat from a recirculating chilled water loop to heat hot water, while simultaneously providing additional chilled water capacity. The upfront cost for the project is $150,000. With an estimated annual energy savings of $73,205, the project is expected to pay for itself in about two years and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 245 metric tons per year.

· Fall Creek Falls Cabins – Tennessee State Parks will convert 30 cabins to utilize geothermal energy at a rate of 10 cabins per year over three years. The upfront cost to convert all 30 cabins is $600,000. With an estimated annual energy savings of $88,552, the total project is expected to pay for itself in just over 6.5 years and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 676 metric tons per year.

“In prioritizing projects, we looked at cost of implementation, energy savings and emissions reductions,” said Martineau. “We will continue to work with the Department of General Services to look for projects that maximize energy efficiency within state government, and I hope that others outside of state government will take part in the grant program so we can spread these benefits even further.”

“We focus on the environmentally conscious design, construction, maintenance and operation of all state assets,” said Cates. “By making intelligent choices today, we prepare our state for a greener tomorrow.”

In addition to the state government projects, the Clean Tennessee Energy Grant Program will provide financial assistance to local governments, utility districts and private businesses and organizations in Tennessee for a variety of projects using innovative technology to reduce energy consumption and emissions. Eligible categories include:

· Cleaner Alternative Energy – biomass, geothermal, solar, wind

· Energy Conservation – lighting, HVAC improvements, improved fuel efficiency, insulation, idling minimization

· Air Quality Improvement – reduction in greenhouse gases, sulfur dioxide, volatile organic compounds, oxides of nitrogen, hazardous air pollutants

A total of $2.25 million will be available in the first round of grants. The maximum grant amount per project is $250,000. Grant applications are available on TDEC’s website at www.tn.gov/environment/energygrants and will be accepted until March 30, 2012. Recipients are expected to be announced by mid-May.

TDEC: Budget Reductions May Drain Other Revenues

State environmental regulators say they’re willing to chop $4.4 million worth of green from their budget next year but warned the governor that some of those cuts come with strings attached.

More than half the department’s $349 million budget comes from the federal government, often in the form of federal matching funds that would shrink or disappear if state spending were cut, according to Department of Environment and Conservation Commissioner Robert Martineau.

“We don’t want to leave that federal money on the table,” Martineau told Gov. Bill Haslam at a Capitol Hill budget hearing Nov. 15.

The department is requesting a $166 million state budget, although $85.8 million comes from dedicated state funding such as fees and revenues. TDEC oversees 53 state parks, which welcome 30 million visitors annually, but is also a major enforcer and administrator for state and federal government regulations like those that address clean air and water.

Cuts that would reduce the department’s budget by 5 percent, as requested by Haslam, include reducing funding to maintain and fix parks and equipment, and leasing out or closing parks with outdated facilities and limited visitors. But moves to close those state parks would result in more than $1 million in lost revenue, and eliminating 23 jobs in the Bureau of Environment would mean losing more than a half-million dollars in federal funds and fees, Martineau said.

Haslam is expected to cut as much as $400 million from this year’s estimated $30 billion budget to make up for increased costs in state government that are outpacing growth in state revenues.

“As we’ve told other folks, it’s our firm hope obviously we don’t have to ask everybody to do the full 5 percent,” Haslam told Martineau at the hearing.

Separately from the cuts, TDEC is asking Haslam for a $6.8 million permanent increase in dedicated funds instead of one-time money to help local governments and the state acquire park space and another $1.4 million next year to leverage federal money for a clean water program.

The department isn’t without its critics. Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey has called the agency “out of control” and launched a website in his push to roll back regulations he believes trip up businesses, including those at TDEC.

Haslam made a point over the summer to suggest that state agencies re-evaluate some of their regulations in a way that takes pressure off businesses, but none of those issues arose in TDEC’s budget hearing.

The department has managed to speed up some of its permitting processes, Finance and Administration Commissioner Mark Emkes said, and suggested other agencies mirror those efforts.

“Without spending hardly any money you’re becoming more effective and efficient, and we need to follow your example, all of us,” he told Martineau at the hearing.

McWherter Praises Guv’s Move to Block North Cumberland Plateau Coal Surface Mining

Press Release from Mike McWherter for Governor; Oct. 1, 2010:

NASHVILLE – Today, the state of Tennessee filed a Lands Unsuitable for Mining petition with the U.S. Department of Interior, Office of Surface Mining.

In an effort to preserve wilderness lands currently used by hunters, fishermen, and outdoorsmen, Governor Bredesen signed the petition requesting that approximately 67,000 acres of ridgetop in the North Cumberland Plateau be considered unsuitable for coal surface mining.

The ridgelines covered in the petition, which span Anderson, Scott, Morgan and Campbell counties, include about 40 percent of the total North Cumberland Wildlife Management Area and Emory River Conservation Easement Tract.

Mike McWherter, Jackson businessman and Democratic Gubernatorial nominee, praised the decision made by Governor Bredesen and issued the following statement in support of the move:

The North Cumberland Plateau is an ecologically diverse, beautiful part of our state that attracts thousands of tourists. Sportsmen and outdoorsmen have enjoyed its natural beauty for years, and I think Governor Bredesen has done the right thing by making sure mountaintop removal mining does not scar the landscape forever.

About Mike McWherter

Mike McWherter, the only candidate in the race who is not a career politician, is a successful small business owner in West Tennessee. A native of Northwest Tennessee, he now lives in Jackson with his wife Mary Jane and their children Walker and Bess. The McWherter for Governor campaign can be found online at www.mikemcwherter.com.

State Government Offering $2,500 Electric Vehicle-Purchase Subsidies

State of Tennessee Press Release, September 8, 2010:

NASHVILLE – Governor Phil Bredesen today announced the state of Tennessee, through its participation in the national Electric Vehicle (EV) Project, will offer a $2,500 rebate on the first 1,000 electric vehicles purchased in Tennessee. The state rebate will complement a federal tax credit of up to $7,500 for the purchase of electric vehicles.

“We’ve worked hard in Tennessee to become a leader in driving clean energy solutions and creating clean energy jobs,” Bredesen said. “We’re already seeing additional jobs being created as a result of those efforts, and our participation in the Electric Vehicle project is another indication that Tennessee is leading the way to the future of clean energy and alternative fuels.”

The Governor announced the rebate program today during a lunch time address in Nashville at the TVA Fuel Solutions Forum, which focused on using electricity as a transportation fuel.

Tennessee is one of six states and the District of Columbia selected to participate in the EV project, which is funded through a $100 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. The EV project is the largest deployment of electric vehicles and charging infrastructure in U.S. history.

The $2.5 million in state funding for the rebate program was approved in last year’s state budget and draws from the petroleum violation escrow (PVE) account, which are funds collected by the federal government from oil companies. PVE dollars can only be used for approved energy-related activities.

The rebate program will be administered by the Department of Revenue, which will offer the rebate to consumers through Nissan’s network of automotive dealerships in Tennessee. The rebate will be applied at the time the vehicle is purchased.

In May of this year, Bredesen joined Nissan officials in breaking ground for the 1.3 million square foot facility that will produce the lithium-ion batteries that will power the Nissan LEAF, an all-electric vehicle that produces no emissions. The battery facility is expected to create 1,300 additional jobs in Smyrna. The Nissan LEAF will also be manufactured in Smyrna and will begin rolling off the production lines in late 2012.

Consumers interested in purchasing the Nissan LEAF can learn more about the registration process by visiting www.nissanusa.com.

McWherter Slams Haslam for Pilot Oil Environmental Violations

Press Release from Mike McWherter for Governor; Aug. 19, 2010:

NASHVILLE – According to documents obtained from State Environmental Departments, Pilot Oil Corporation has been cited for nearly 50 violations regarding negligent maintenance of underground storage tanks oftentimes resulting in groundwater contamination in Ohio, California, Indiana, New Jersey, Arizona and Tennessee.

In addition to state government agencies, the Environmental Protection Agency has cited Haslam’s oil company for over 20 violations, most of which relate to “effluent exceedance,” which concerns high levels of pollutants in and around storage sites. These developments help to explain why Haslam declined to respond to a questionnaire sent to him by the Tennessee Clean Water Network earlier this year.

“Clearly, Bill Haslam cannot separate his ownership of a billion dollar oil company from the interests of Tennesseans,” said Shelby White, spokesman for Mike McWherter. “His company’s poor environmental record indicates yet another reason why he is unfit to be governor of this state. Tennessee needs a Governor who looks out for its citizens and not for the profits of his family’s massive oil business.”

The documents raise questions concerning the Knoxville Mayor’s ability to neutrally govern the state of Tennessee. Given Pilot Oil’s problems with environmental agencies across the country, it is unlikely Bill Haslam would appoint unbiased, tough environmental regulators to hold his family’s company more accountable in Tennessee.

“How can we trust Mayor Haslam to objectively govern this state while his family’s billion dollar oil business incessantly skirts rules and regulations,” White commented. “Tennessee’s natural resources are its greatest assets and need to be protected. Mike is the only candidate committed to safeguarding our state’s water resources, which support thousands of jobs and generate millions of dollars in tourism revenue.”

Recently, Mayor Bill Haslam has been speaking to potential voters about his commitment to clean energy and his desire to pursue “homegrown” energy sources. While his statements initially appear to be genuine expressions of candor, they are in fact an attempt to whitewash his company’s tumultuous environmental record and rewrite the history of Pilot Oil.

“Tennessee is one of the most bio-diverse regions on the planet and needs a governor who will serve as a steward of our natural resources,” added White. “Bill Haslam is more interested in oil profiteering than protecting our natural resources. We may sit on different sides of the aisle, but we all drink from the same source.”

As part of his campaign platform, the Mayor of Knoxville has often claimed he grew thousands of jobs in his leadership role at Pilot. If he is willing to take credit for mergers and buyouts engineered by his father and brother, then he also assumes responsibility for Pilot Oil’s extensive list of environmental violations and persistent refusal to effectively combat groundwater contamination across the nation.

Senate Committee OKs Berke’s Bill Against Foreign Nuclear Waste

Press Release from Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga, March 23, 2010:

Bill to prohibit downblending passes Environment Committee 5-4

NASHVILLE – A Senate committee Tuesday passed a bill sponsored by Sen. Andy Berke (D-Chattanooga) to stop 20,000 tons of foreign nuclear waste from potentially being stranded in Tennessee by prohibiting nuclear waste “downblending.”

“We’re one step closer to ensuring that Tennessee doesn’t become the world’s nuclear dumping ground,” Berke said. “I applaud the members of the Senate Environment Committee who placed the safety of Tennessee families ahead of the financial interests of one Utah-based nuclear waste company.”

The Senate Environment, Conservation and Tourism Committee passed the bill 5-4 on Tuesday, meaning the bill likely will move soon to the Senate floor. The House version is in subcommittee.

Under the bill (SB2735/HB2826), Tennessee would prohibit nuclear waste downblending, which involves mixing highly toxic and radioactive “Class B and C” waste with less harmful “Class A” waste in an attempt to classify the waste as Class A.

A Utah-based nuclear waste company is applying to downblend nuclear waste at its Oak Ridge facility. At the same time, the company wants to import 20,000 tons of Italian radioactive waste into its Oak Ridge facility.

No state in the country allows downblending. If the Italian radioactive waste is downblended in Oak Ridge, no disposal site in the United States will accept the waste – meaning it could be stuck in Tennessee for good.

Downblending is not supported by the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and Tennessee already prohibits similar processes in its clean water and hazardous waste programs. Research has shown that blended waste would have a radiation dose 465 times greater than federal regulations for Class A waste.

“Tennesseans deserve lawmakers who will fight to protect their families from dangerous nuclear waste,” Berke said. “I’m not going to sit back and let Tennessee become the world’s nuclear dumpster.”