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Press Releases

THP to Motorists: Avoid Running Over Rutting Deer

Press release from the Tennessee Department of Safety; October 17, 2012: 

NASHVILLE — The Tennessee Highway Patrol cautions motorists to watch out for deer on or near the roadways this fall season. An increase in deer-related crashes is likely during the months of October through December due to deer mating and hunting season.

“Deer pose a danger to motorists throughout the year, but especially in the fall,” THP Colonel Tracy Trott said. “November is typically the worst month for deer-related crashes. It is important to exercise caution, slow down and stay alert in areas where deer are populated.”

In Tennessee, between 2007 and 2011, 9.2 percent of deer-related crashes occurred on interstate highways. In 2011, there were 5,644 deer-related crashes, including 285 that involved injuries and two that were fatal. That was up by 4.2 percent from 5,418 the previous year. However, since 2007, deer-related crashes in Tennessee have increased 5.9 percent.

Additionally, State Farm®, the nation’s leading auto insurer, estimates 1.09 million collisions between deer and vehicles occurred in the U.S. between July 1, 2010 and June 30, 2011. That’s nine percent less than three years earlier.

The Department of Safety and Homeland Security and the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency suggest the following tips to help prevent deer-related crashes during peak mating and hunting seasons:

  • Remember that mating season puts deer on the move and deer tend to move at dawn and dusk.
  • Whenever you see deer cross the road, expect more to follow. Many times, the second or third deer crossing becomes the one that motorists hit.
  • Be attentive; drive defensively, constantly scanning the roadside, especially at daybreak and dusk.
  • Do not swerve to avoid contact with deer. This could cause the vehicle to flip or veer into oncoming traffic, causing a more serious crash. Swerving also can confuse the deer as to where to run.
  • When you spot a deer, slow down immediately. Proceed slowly until you pass that point.
  • If you do collide with a deer, never approach the injured animal. They are powerful and can cause bodily harm to a human. Report any deer collision, even if the damage is minor.

“Our agency appreciates the Department of Safety and Homeland Security’s efforts to remind drivers to be aware of the increase of deer activity at this time of year,” Don King, TWRA Chief of Information and Education said.

In the event of a deer crash, move the vehicle as far off the road as possible, and dial *THP (*847) from an available cell phone for assistance.

The call will be connected to the nearest THP Communications Center and a State Trooper will be dispatched to the location.

Tennessee law allows deer killed in a collision to be taken and used as food, as long as you contact the nearest TWRA regional office to report the accident within 48 hours. For TWRA regional offices, visit the TWRA website at www.tnwildlife.org

Enclosed are statistics for deer-related crashes in Tennessee from 2007 – 2011. Additional data regarding deer-related crashes can be found at: http://www.tn.gov/safety/stats/CrashData/StatewideDeerCrashesByCounty.pdf

Deer Crashes Statewide by Month, 2007 – 2011
Crash Month 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 5 Yr Totals 5 Yr Average
January 413 417 353 320 428 1,931 386
February 292 270 304 275 345 1,486 297
March 279 288 252 334 276 1,429 286
April 256 248 314 301 301 1,420 284
May 289 310 354 386 369 1,708 342
June 397 369 363 385 374 1,888 378
July 365 292 269 317 272 1,515 303
August 345 293 246 226 275 1,385 277
September 346 278 216 306 288 1,434 287
October 588 599 594 660 589 3,030 606
November 1,035 1,230 1,348 1,292 1,317 6,222 1,244
December 724 610 707 616 810 3,467 693
Totals 5,329 5,204 5,320 5,418 5,644 26,915 5,383
Source: Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security, Research, Planning, and Development;
 16 Oct, 2012.
Categories
Liberty and Justice News

Traffic Camera Talks Restarted

Legislators say they’re going to give debate over stoplight cameras another go next year. But they are not sure how far down the road they’ll get toward sending a bill to the governor’s desk.

The Senate Transportation Committee met for nearly two hours Tuesday to hear the latest traffic safety statistics from major metro police departments using traffic cameras to ticket drivers who violate driving laws.

The issue’s been something of a political flash point for some time now. Lawmakers last formally discussed the subject seven months ago.

Arguments over how, when or if local law enforcement should be using the unmanned surveillance equipment to spy on motorists involve a range of disagreements and competing perspectives.

Among them are questions about the essential purpose of the image-recording devices — whether cameras at intersections are used more for preventing accidents or as tools to boost local government revenues. And if safety is the priority, are they demonstrably effective?

There are further debates over how much oversight the companies that make, install or maintain the equipment ought to be subject to, and whether people who’re ticketed as a result of camera-based evidence are being afforded their full spectrum of rights, including that of being able to confront and question their accusers.

Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper has issued more than one opinion, most recently last February, indicating he see no legal problems with traffic camera use.

The Senate put the breaks on a bill that made it through the House of Representatives last session. The reasoning cited was that Senators needed more time to study the issue because they weren’t particularly involved or kept apprised of the legislation development.

The Senate Transportation Committee plans to continue studying the issue in 2011, according to its chairman, Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville. He said his committee would start from scratch instead of building on language from the House bill. Tracy is “not sure” whether any legislation will get the green light for floor votes by the time lawmakers break for the year.

“I want to make sure it’s a safety issue,” said Tracy after Tuesday’s meeting. “I want to look at statistics at these intersections where we’ve got data from Murfreesboro and Chattanooga and Knoxville and see if actually accidents have gone down and there’s been safety there.”

For now, lawmakers are mulling over the prospect of standardizing traffic camera practices across the state, such as by limiting the total amount traffic violators can be charged, capping the number of cameras used or mandating that private companies operating the equipment not be paid per violation.

On the other hand, some lawmakers are still flat-out opposed to them. State Sen. Mae Beavers contends that traffic cameras are simply unconstitutional. “I’ve always had a problem with them and I always will,” said the Mt. Juliet Republican, who heads the Senate Judiciary Committee.

There are no guarantees what will happen, said. Sen. Andy Berke, a Chattanooga Democrat. Lawmakers may ultimately vote to standardize the cameras. Or, they may vote to ban them altogether, he said.

“I don’t assume they’re here to stay at all,” Berke said, adding that he expects traffic-camera discussions in the Tennessee Legislature to continue for years, not months.

Categories
Liberty and Justice News

Traffic Camera Legislation Promised, But Not Before April

The House sponsor of a proposal to regulate red-light traffic cameras made assurances this week that he’ll try to pass some form of the bill this year.

However, nobody should expect any legislative action for another six weeks, said Rep. Bill Harmon, D-Dunlap.

He made the announcement Tuesday as he asked the Public Safety Subcommittee to forward the current version of the bill to the full House Transportation Committee.

Harmon said he wants to sit on the bill until April 1 so that agencies and groups like the Department of Safety, Department of Transportation, the Municipal League, sheriff and police chief associations and traffic engineers can attempt reaching an agreement on a final version.

Whatever they come up with will be made available well enough in advance so lawmakers can study it before having to vote on the bill, said Harmon.

Harmon said if the group does not finalize recommendations by April 1, he’ll push all bills related to traffic cameras.

“If that’s not putting the pressure on, I don’t know what,” he continued. “I’m disappointed we can’t move this bill as-is, to be honest with you.”

Rep. Chad Faulkner, R-Luttrell, asked Harmon if he’s fully committed “to do something after April 1.”

“If I do not have something brought to this committee by April 1, I’ll be asking you pass the bill I had originally without their recommendations,” Harmon responded.

Under Harmon’s current proposal, no government would be allowed to enter into, or renew, a contract with a private red-light camera vendor for two years, except for the traffic camera on Hixson Pike in Chattanooga. In addition, fines for first time violators would be reduced from $50 to $10.

In the end, the legislation could hinge on a state attorney general’s opinion Rep. Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport has requested.

Among Shipley’s questions for the Tennessee Department of Justice:

  • Do alleged red-light violators have a right to confront their accusers, as guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution?
  • Do the camera systems replace the presumption of innocence with the presumption of guilt?
  • Do the systems create a lack of uniformity in traffic laws throughout the state, which could potentially create a lack of equal protection?

Shipley, who submitted the requested opinion on January 9, said he’s received no word as to when the opinion will be delivered.

A spokeswoman for the Attorney General Robert Cooper declined questions, saying all requested opinions are “confidential” until they are released on their web site.

Shipley, who said red-light camera systems are operating in his Kingsport-area district, indicated he’s neutral on whether or not they ought to be banned in Tennessee.

“I’m against them if they are unconstitutional,” he said. “Anecdotally, they have saved lives.”

Categories
Press Releases

Group: TVA Should No Longer Get to Evade Environmental Laws, Marketplace Competition

Environmental Integrity Project Press Release, Dec. 14, 2009:

As 1st Anniversary of Kingston Coal Ash Spill Nears, EIP Report Exposes TVA’s Pollution, Poor Environmental Track Record, and Reveals How TVA Avoids Compliance with Federal Environmental Laws; EIP and Top Groups Call on White House to Reform TVA.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Eight decades after President Franklin Delano Roosevelt created the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) to bring power to the southeastern United States, the TVA should no longer be exempt from federal environmental enforcement and the healthy influence of competition in its region, according to a major new report released today by the nonprofit Environmental Integrity Project (pdf).

In a separate letter to the White House, EIP and leading national and southeastern U.S. environmental organizations urged the Obama Administration and Congress to take action to reform the TVA. (See below.)

The new EIP report — titled “Outside the Law: Restoring Accountability to the Tennessee Valley Authority” – details how the TVA has emerged as one of the nation’s worst polluters by exploiting its special status as a federal corporation to sidestep federal regulation, avoid fines that other utilities are required to pay, and delay solutions to known environmental problems at Kingston and other TVA coal plants. Although both the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the TVA Inspector General (IG) have documented numerous violations of environmental law, the Justice Department has never taken this utility to court. Although this utility is virtually independent, completely self-financing, and responsible under the law for its own legal defenses, it has been allowed to hide behind legal doctrines meant to protect federal agencies and U.S. taxpayers.

The EIP report notes: “… the evidence in this report reveals that the Kingston spill is only the latest and most dramatic example of environmental mismanagement at one of the nation’s largest utilities. President Roosevelt established TVA nearly eighty years ago as a public utility dedicated to progressive management on behalf of the public interest, but TVA’s environmental record and conduct in recent years mock the vision that inspired its founding.”

In releasing the new report, Environmental Integrity Project Director Eric Schaeffer said: “It is time to reform the Tennessee Valley Authority and make it fully accountable for environmental misconduct. Any other utility that spilled a billion gallons of coal ash into a river would face certain federal prosecution, but the Justice Department won’t file a case against TVA. Legal doctrines that limit enforcement actions against other federal agencies shouldn’t apply to this behemoth, which by law is completely responsible for its own legal defenses, and which is financed by its own ratepayers, not the U.S. Treasury. It’s time for TVA to be treated like its competitors, and to expect prosecution for violating environmental laws.”

The EIP report points out:

  • TVA’s own Inspector General found that TVA negligence contributed to the Kingston disaster, and that TVA avoided full transparency to limit litigation following the spill.
  • TVA intended to transition its coal waste ponds from wet-to-dry systems over 20 years ago, a move that could have averted the coal ash disasters at both Kingston and Widows Creek and curb TVA’s harmful water discharges. However, no such action was taken and TVA reported to EPA that it discharged 3,433,291 pounds of toxic pollutants into surface waters in 2008 alone.
  • The TVA IG also found that TVA bypassed air emission controls at the Cumberland, Widows Creek and Bull Run coal plants, resulting in well over a thousand tons of illegal emissions. According to the IG reports, TVA delayed fixing the problem or reporting the emissions to regulatory authorities.
  • TVA is home to some of the oldest and least efficient coal plants in the U.S., and spends less on maintenance than many of its competitors. Unlike some utilities, there is little evidence that TVA is making the transition toward cleaner, low carbon source of electricity—its recalcitrance may be aided by federal law that prohibits competition within TVA’s service area.
  • Equally troubling, TVA repeatedly invokes its status as a “federal” agency to avoid responsibility for its own environmental misconduct. TVA raises issues of federal “sovereign immunity” to avoid penalties in environmental enforcement cases filed by citizens in federal court, yet TVA does not receive federal funds or tax dollars drawn from the U.S. Treasury. Limitations on the ability to recover penalties from federal agencies are supposed to protect the taxpayer— but TVA is completely self-financing, and has not received federal appropriations in decades; any fines paid by TVA need not come from the U.S. Treasury.

Robert Dreher, senior vice president for conservation law and climate change, Defenders of Wildlife, said: “Even looking beyond TVA’s recent coal ash spills and troubling record of environmental mismanagement, TVA should not be able to undermine the integrity of the legal process by claiming immunity to the enforcement of environmental laws. No corporation or agency should be above the law, especially at the expense of the environmental well-being of our citizens, wildlife and waters.”

Renée Victoria Hoyos, executive director, Tennessee Clean Water Network, said: “TVA needs reform. The disaster of December 22, 2008 and the subsequent handling of the issue demonstrated to us that TVA must be formally regulated by the US EPA like any other utility. I hope that this Administration will implement the recommendations of this report. It is simply the right thing to do.”

A separate letter sent today to the White House by EIP and over a dozen additional groups, including the Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife, Natural Resources Defense Council, Appalachian Voices, Tennessee Clean Water Network, Waterkeeper Alliance, Inc., Tennessee Environmental Council, United Mountain Defense, Cumberland Stewards, and Solar Valley Coalition, urges President Obama to take action to reform TVA.

The joint letter states: “We write to respectfully request that your Administration clarify that TVA is not immune from federal prosecution for the Kingston spill and other violations of federal law. We ask also that the Directors you appoint to lead TVA pledge to take specific actions to reform the agency and reduce its reliance on dirty coal-fired power plants … TVA has become little more than giant electric utility unchecked by the regulatory agencies that manage electric power production and protect the public in most of the rest of the country. The Kingston coal ash spill is only the latest and most dramatic example of environmental mismanagement at one of the nation’s largest utilities.”

The full text of the joint letter to the Obama White House is available online.

RECOMMENDED ACTION STEPS

The EIP report recommends the following steps to restore accountability at the TVA:

  • Clarify that EPA and the Justice Department Can Take TVA to Court. A directive from the White House, clarifying that the “unitary executive” theory does not prevent EPA and DOJ from taking enforcement action against TVA will help bring TVA into compliance with federal environmental laws and resolve environmental violations that have lingered for years.
  • Support Legislation to Eliminate TVA’s Special Protections. The White House and Congress should support legislation to remove TVA’s special protections, such as immunity from penalties for environmental violations, and anti-competitive measures that keep rival utilities out of its service area. TVA no longer relies on tax dollars or federal appropriations and therefore, should be as accountable as any other utility for its environmental wrongdoing.
  • Increase Environmental Oversight. Congress can play a critical role in reforming TVA through its oversight authority. The House and Senate Committees charged with TVA oversight have held multiple hearings regarding the Kingston spill, but long-term oversight of TVA’s environmental management is needed to prevent another disaster and transform TVA into a national example of environmental sustainability and clean energy production.

The EIP report recommends the following steps to reduce TVA’s environmental footprint:

  • Create a Culture of Environmental Compliance. TVA’s large and dirty environmental “footprint” is a product of its internal culture of neglect and cost-saving decisions made at the expense of the environment. Even TVA’s own inspector general reported that TVA’s “litigation strategy seems to have prevailed over transparency and accountability,” after the Kingston spill. However, the President has an opportunity to change TVA’s internal culture from the top down, starting with the appointment of new leadership to TVA’s Board of Directors. As of December 2009, President Obama named two new nominees to TVA’s nine-member Board of Directors. New Board nominees should pledge to take the specific actions below to establish greater transparency and environmental compliance at every level of TVA’s operations.
  • Switch From Wet to Dry Coal Waste Disposal and Stop Toxic Discharges. TVA must transition its wet CCW storage ponds to dry disposal systems in the immediate future. TVA promised to make this transition over 20 years ago and recently promised again to convert its wet CCW ponds to dry storage after the Kingston spill. Yet TVA owns wet coal waste impoundment at all of its coal plants, and still has not produced a timeline by which each plant will transition from wet to dry, zero-discharge systems in the near future.
  • Transition from Coal to Clean, Renewable Energy. TVA must decide whether to make investments in its aging coal-fired fleet or simply retire the oldest, most underperforming units.

To see the full text of the EIP report, go to http://www.environmentalintegrity.org.

Categories
Liberty and Justice News

Seeking Consensus on Traffic Cameras

Instead of slamming the brakes on red-light traffic cameras, House Transportation Committee members have tentatively agreed to try and hash out a three-part proposal to guide and regulate their use instead.

The rough plan, which includes a series of studies and a possible moratorium on new red light cameras, would give lawmakers more tools – and time – to decide the ultimate role the new technology will play in Tennessee communities.

Still, a number of lawmakers haven’t backed off their basic objections with the red-light cameras, saying both that the photos they take subvert civil liberties and that the private camera-vendors collect too much profit off the issuance of violations.

But the hope is to approve one comprehensive plan and move it through the Legislature, according to Rep. Bill Harmon, D-Dunlap, who chairs the committee.

The panel batted around ideas Wednesday, including a plan by Maryville Republican Rep. Joe McCord to shuffle profits from citations to drivers education or trauma services statewide.

McCord, a vocal opponent of red light cameras, introduced legislation last year banning the technology. He has since dropped the ban, saying he now sees a safety value of the system, but he’s still uncomfortable with how the ticket-generated revenues are divvied up.

Many on the 12-member House Transportation Committee agree that the private traffic-camera service-providers currently have too much unchecked, profit-driven power over motorists.

The vendors capture alleged violations on camera, examine the pictures, cross reference the information with the Department of Motor Vehicles, then mail out the citations. In return, they receive the lion’s share of fines collected.

Harmon wants the state comptroller to take a hard look at the traffic cameras and report back to lawmakers on issues like what impact the systems have on vehicle crashes, the make-up of traffic-camera service contracts, and detail as to how citation revenues are spent.

Harmon also wishes to see the state Department of Transportation conduct an engineering study on each intersection proposed to use a traffic camera, and added he hopes to ban all unmanned speed cameras on state highways.

While many lawmakers on the panel generally seemed supportive of Harmon’s ideas, some still argue the cameras are unconstitutional and an invasion of privacy. “If it intrudes a little, it’s too much,” said Rep. Tony Shipley, a Kingsport Republican.

A study (pdf) by the free-market Tennessee Center for Policy Research released earlier this year argued that traffic-enforcement cameras are unwise, unnecessary and unsafe.

The City of Gallatin collected nearly $1 million in traffic citations linked to the traffic cameras in 2007, according to TCPR’s study. At least 16 Tennessee cities use some sort of traffic camera: Chattanooga, Clarksville, Cleveland, Gallatin, Germantown, Jackson, Jonesborough, Kingsport, Knoxville, Memphis, Morristown, Mount Carmel, Murfreesboro, Oak Ridge, Red Bank and Selmer.

“There’s a lot of money being made here,” said TCPR policy director Justin Owen, an attorney who co-authored the report.

Instead of installing cameras, he says lawmakers should require municipalities to extend the length of the yellow light, giving drivers more time to travel through the intersection instead of stopping short for fear of a traffic ticket.

“The mere presence of the watchful cameras encourages drivers to attempt to stop at yellow lights even if passing through the light would be safer. Coupled with a decrease in yellow light timing, this can readily explain the increase in the number of rear-end collisions that occur at intersections with red light cameras,” stated the TCPR report.

Rep. John Tidwell, an engineer from New Johnsonville, says he’ll push lengthening the yellow light next year.

The Tennessee Association of Chiefs of Police maintains that the cameras help enforce the rules of the road, reduce crashes and generally improve safety, said Maggi Duncan, executive director. The association plans to push for the red light and speed cameras this legislative session.

The committee hopes to formulate an initial legislative proposal at their next meeting on Jan. 11.

Categories
Liberty and Justice News

Lawmakers Focusing on Possible New Traffic-Camera Rules

Traffic cameras may be growing in popularity among local governments and law enforcement agencies across the country, but some state lawmakers are questioning whether they belong in Tennessee.

Some say the cameras – which snap pictures when motorists drive through a stop light – are simply a tool to raise money.

“There’s no doubt that in some places it’s not about safety. It’s about revenue,” said Rep. Richard Floyd, a Chattanooga Republican.

House lawmakers examining the use of the high-tech traffic enforcement tools plan on introducing bills next year that could create statewide guidelines on the sorts of intersections where cameras could be used, and lengthening the duration of a yellow light before it turns red.

New Johnsonville Democrat John Tidwell, a civil engineer, said yield signals made one second longer will help reduce vehicle crashes, and he hinted he’ll push that issue in the coming session.

Also under discussion are laws to prohibit speeding-enforcement and stoplight-cameras completely.

The cameras are typically operated by private companies that set up the equipment, snap photos, evaluate violations and mail tickets to vehicle owners. Those organizations also receive a chunk of the revenues collected by violators, which is adding to the unease and outright opposition some critics are voicing.

Red-light cameras are under fire right now in a lawsuit arguing that traffic enforcement systems are operating illegally because they’re not properly licensed. Other suits attacking the practice have cropped up around the country.

Lawmakers Tuesday heard from Gordon Catlett, a patrol-support commander for the Knoxville Police Patrol Division who is a supporter of the cameras – and threat of a ticket – to change driver behavior.

“A lot of us treat a traffic signal like a yield sign,” he said.

The Transportation Committee will meet again Wednesday morning to discuss possible alternatives to traffic cameras, and ways to tinker with the system already in place.