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Campaign Kicked Off to Fight EPA’s Coal-Burn Regs

Critics of new Environmental Protection Agency limits on coal-plant emissions say they fear the Obama administration is attempting to incrementally phase out coal as an energy source in America.

The Consumer Energy Alliance launched a nationwide public relations campaign last week geared toward convincing the public of coal’s utility as an “affordable and reliable” source of U.S. electricity.

At a regional conference in Nashville Sept. 25, Michael Whatley, the alliance’s executive vice president, said a “full-fledged conversation” is necessary to discuss what detrimental impacts the new rules are going to have on coal-fired power plants.

Whatley said the initial emphasis of CEA’s campaign will be to fan opposition among broad sectors of energy consumers – industry, agriculture and household users.

The regulatory effort that prompted the CEA campaign would require new large natural gas-fired turbines to be limited to 1,000 pounds of CO2 per megawatt-hour, and small natural gas-fired turbines to 1,100 pounds of CO2 per megawatt-hour.

Additionally, new coal-fired plants would be limited to 1,100 pounds of CO2 per megawatt-hour, according to an EPA press release on the new standards. New coal plants could also opt for a tighter limit if they choose to average emissions over multiple years, offering more operational flexibility.

Lacking more advanced emissions control technology, newer power plants produce 1,800 pounds of carbon emissions per megawatt-hour, The Tennessean recently reported.

Whatley told TNReport the EPA’s new regulations “are going to basically require that you cannot build a new coal-fired power plant unless you can capture all of the carbon emissions that come off it, and then sequester them in the ground somewhere.”

He said the the technology doesn’t yet exist to do that.

“What we’re going to see next year is another set of regulations that are going to talk about how they’re going to reduce the emissions from pre-existing plants,” Whatley said. “And unfortunately, right now, we don’t know what the impacts of that are going to look like.”

The EPA release says that the agency will reach out to state and local governments, as well as those in the industry to work to establish the new standards for carbon pollution from existing plants.

This second round of regulations would come about under a separate section of the Clean Air Act as the first set, and although the agency would establish the requirements, the states would be the ones to choose how to enforce the new rules, according to a report by The New York Times.

Dr. David Penn, the director of Middle Tennessee State University’s Business and Economic Research Center, teaches a course on environmental economics and told TNReport that he believes the benefits of restricting pollution from coal will ultimately outweigh the costs.

“It certainly is going to reduce the demand for coal, but the demand for coal … at power plants has been falling anyway as plants switch to natural gas, which is cheaper,” Penn said. “Coal is finding other markets in Europe and in the Far East. Better air quality has a cost, but the benefits typically far exceed the cost of increasing air quality. Benefits in terms of more longevity — (and) you’re sick fewer days.”

This is a view that the Tennessee Environmental Council shares.

“Anything that we do to sequester coal and all the carbon discharges, and all the other toxic pollutants that come out of those smoke stacks is good for human health, and it’s really good for our economy (because it cuts health care costs),” said Executive Director John McFadden.

The intent of the new regulations is to reduce carbon emissions for the purposes of fighting global warming and improving health by restricting the allowable amount of carbon produced by new natural gas and coal-fired power plants, according to the agency press release.

However, the EPA’s proposal, which outlines the regulations, suggests that the expected reduction in carbon emissions will be “negligible” through the year 2022.

Lawmakers Taking Wait-and-See Approach to Common Core

The Tennessee Senate Education Committee on Friday wrapped up two days of hearings on the the new nationwide education-standards blueprint that’s been drawing attention around the country.

The committee, chaired by Somerville Republican Dolores Gresham, didn’t take any definitive action, but promised a formal written review of the Common Core Standards plan in Tennessee.

Common Core is all but certain to remain on the political radar going into the 2014 state legislative session as the Tennessee Department of Education and local school districts continue implementing various program elements.

“These hearings have met the goal that we set, and that was to bring us some enlightenment on the whole subject of the Common Core State Standards,” said Gresham at the close of Friday’s meeting. “It will be our job now to soberly reflect on what we have heard, and then put together a report that will go to the full Senate in January.”

Gov. Bill Haslam’s education commissioner, Kevin Huffman, defended Common Core and Tennessee’s participation in it. Applying standards to Tennessee students that are aligned with standards used to assess students across the country will work to their long-term advantage, he suggested.

“Tennessee students are as smart and as capable as students anywhere in the country, and…when we give them the right challenges and opportunities, they rise to those challenges,” Huffman said.

Tennessee, one of 45 states to take up the standards, adopted Common Core in 2010, and has been gradually shifting its education standards to full implementation over the past three years.

Those testifying included teachers, administrators, business leaders, politicians and representatives from nonprofit organizations. The issues discussed ranged from concerns about student privacy and “data mining” to concern over selection of appropriate reading materials.

A Republican state senator from Georgia, William Ligon of St. Simons Island, testified before the committee about his state’s experience with Common Core. Ligon said he’s been pushing Georgia to ditch the initiative because citizens don’t seem to have a lot of say in how it is carried out or what students are asked to learn through it.

One worry voiced frequently during the hearing was the prospect of added Common Core costs to local Tennessee school districts. Ligon argued Georgia taxpayers are very likely paying more for education as a result of the program, but there’s actually no official Common Core fiscal evaluation by the state government.

“(Common Core) was brought to Georgia without any review of the cost,” Ligon said. “In our hearings held last January in our state senate, I specifically asked our Department of Education, ‘Where is your cost analysis?’ And they had none.

“The only estimate of costs have come from nonprofits, such as the Pioneer Institute, and they concluded that Georgia would be spending about $225 million on professional development, $100 million for textbooks and $275 million on technology,” Ligon continued. “One of the things that we found was is that our cost to administer standardized tests went from $11 per student to $33 per student, if your school system had the technology and the broadband to administer these tests online.”

The written test could be purchased for $40 per student, if the school was unable to administer the tests online due to technological restrictions, Ligon said.

Huffman downplayed any potential cost increases. The Tennessee General Assembly appropriated $51 million in funds last year to provide aid for local school districts with “technology readiness,” he said, adding that technological advancements are needed to help Tennessee students achieve more, and be better prepared for secondary education and the workforce.

Huffman told reporters new assessment tests across the state will raise costs $1 million to $5 million more “than if we had to do TCAP covering the same subject areas.”

Feds, States Reach Agreement on TVA Trout Hatchery Operations

Press release from the Tennessee Valley Authority; May 17, 2013:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander and representatives from the Tennessee Valley Authority, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and Georgia Department of Natural Resources announced Friday a new agreement that will continue popular trout stocking programs in reservoirs and tailwaters of certain TVA dams across the region.

TVA will provide more than $900,000 per year for the next three years to support federal fish hatchery operations that provide the trout for stocking. During the three-year timeframe, per an agreement signed by the four agencies, a working group will be formed with key stakeholders who benefit from the recreation-based trout stocking to identify a long-term funding source.

Currently, non-native trout stocked near some of TVA’s dams are raised at three federal fish hatcheries operated by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service: Erwin National Fish Hatchery in Erwin, Tenn.; Dale Hollow National Fish Hatchery in Celina, Tenn.; and Chattahoochee Forest National Fish Hatchery in Suches, Ga.

“Closing Dale Hollow and Erwin would have been a disaster for 900,000 Tennesseans and visitors who bought fishing licenses last year,” Alexander said. “Dale Hollow helps make Tennessee’s rivers and lakes among the most prized trout fisheries in our country. And the Erwin hatchery provides brood stocks for fishing waters across the country.”

The trout are provided to the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and Georgia Department of Natural Resources for stocking in the colder water of the reservoirs and tailwaters of the TVA dams. TVA supports the stocking programs by enhancing aquatic habitat through oxygenation systems, foregoing electric generation and providing minimum river flows to help adequately maintain cooler water temperatures. However, in most of the waters, the trout cannot naturally reproduce, requiring regular stocking to maintain fishable populations.

“TVA is voluntarily providing three years of stewardship funding for trout hatchery operations because the agencies involved understand the importance of stocked trout waters to recreation, tourism and local economies,” said Joe Hoagland, TVA senior vice president of Policy and Oversight. “At the same time, the working group being formed to look at ongoing, sustainable funding is critical given TVA’s focus on keeping electric rates low and the budget challenges of all the participating agencies.”

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service greatly appreciates TVA’s dedicated funding for the next three years,” said Cindy Dohner, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s regional director for the Southeast. “We also are encouraged by the commitment by all the agencies to develop a long-term, sustainable funding source for this important conservation, recreational, and economic activity for our citizens.”

Through this three-year hatchery funding agreement, trout will continue to be stocked for recreational fishing in reservoirs or tailwaters at 12 TVA dams in Tennessee and Georgia: Apalachia Dam on the Hiwassee River; Blue Ridge Dam on the Toccoa River; Cherokee Dam on the Holston River; Ft. Patrick Henry Dam on the South Fork Holston River; Normandy Dam on the Duck River; Norris Dam on the Clinch River; Ocoee Dam No. 1 on the Ocoee River; South Holston Dam on the South Fork Holston River; Tellico Dam on the Little Tennessee River; Tims Ford Dam on the Elk River; Watauga Dam on the Watauga River; and Wilbur Dam on the Watauga River.

“The funding of the federal hatchery operations is vital to our agency’s ability to meet the demand for quality trout fishing in Tennessee,” said Ed Carter, executive director of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. “Their continued operation will help continue providing a tremendous recreational activity to thousands of Tennesseans. An associated but very important side benefit is the significant economic boost to local businesses associated with the fishing and outdoor industry.”

“The Blue Ridge Dam-Toccoa River project is a critical trout fishery for our citizens and the economy of the area,” said Dan Forster, director of the Wildlife Resources Division for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. “This agreement provides an important step in addressing the long-term continuation of trout production and stocking associated with this fishery.”

Details on the trout hatchery funding working group are currently being developed. The agencies will be seeking representation, ideas and input from angling groups, local and regional businesses, tourism organizations and the local governments that realize the direct and indirect benefits of having fishable trout waters in their communities.

“This is good news for Tennessee fishermen,” Alexander said of the hatchery agreement. “TVA has helped make sure Tennessee’s rivers and lakes will remain among the most prized trout fisheries in our country.”

Press release from U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.; May 17, 2013:

NASHVILLE, May 17—U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today announced an agreement between TVA and federal and state wildlife agencies that he said will keep open hatcheries that produce 60 percent of the trout stocked in Tennessee rivers and lakes.

During a press conference at the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency headquarters, the senator said that budget woes have threatened to close both the Dale Hollow and Erwin national fish hatcheries. The senator credited TVA’s participation in a three-year agreement with federal and state wildlife agencies with keeping the hatcheries open while a permanent solution is being negotiated.

“Closing Dale Hollow and Erwin would have been a disaster for 900,000 Tennesseans and visitors who bought fishing licenses last year. Dale Hollow helps make Tennessee’s rivers and lakes among the most prized trout fisheries in our country. The Erwin hatchery provides brood stocks for fishing waters across the country.”

For several years Alexander has helped provide funds for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ budget to purchase trout from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to mitigate the loss of fish caused by Corps dams. He is the senior Republican on the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the Corps. TVA will also mitigate for the loss of fish on the Tennessee River system.

Alexander said this had been a week of “good news for Tennessee fishermen.” On Wednesday, the U.S. Senate passed his legislation that would delegate to state wildlife agencies enforcement of safety regulations below Corps of Engineers Dams on the Cumberland River. The senator said he expected the Corps would work with state agencies to create “reasonable regulations that prohibit fishing while water is spilling through the gates of the dams 20 per cent of the time, but allow fishing with appropriate precautions the rest of the time.”

The senator was joined at the press conference by Joe Hoagland, TVA’s senior vice president of policy and oversight; Ed Carter, executive director of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency; Cindy Dohner, regional director, southeast region, of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; and Dan Forster, director, wildlife resources division, of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

State to Deploy Oral Rabies Vaccines for Wild Raccoons Along Eastern Border

Press release from the Tennessee Department of Health; September 25, 2012: 

NASHVILLE – The Tennessee Department of Health is working with the United States Department of Agriculture to prevent the spread of rabies by distributing oral rabies vaccine for wild raccoons along Tennessee’s borders with Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia. The annual baiting program administered by the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Wildlife Services, will begin in Tennessee on October 2, 2012.

“Control of raccoon rabies is a vital aspect of protecting public health in Tennessee,” said Health Commissioner John Dreyzehner, MD, MPH. “We’re pleased to be part of this important and effective program to reduce rabies in wildlife, which helps prevent transmission to people, pets and livestock.”

Public health workers will distribute vaccine packets placed inside fishmeal blocks or coated with fishmeal as bait throughout a 15-county area in Tennessee to create a barrier against westward spread of the raccoon-adapted strain of rabies virus. The barrier varies from 30 to 60 miles wide and covers approximately 3,400 square miles, running along the Virginia/North Carolina border in northeast Tennessee to the Georgia border in southeast Tennessee near Chattanooga. The vaccine packets will be distributed by hand from vehicles in urban and suburban areas and dropped from specially equipped airplanes in rural areas.

The oral rabies vaccine will be distributed on the following schedule:

  • October 2 -12: Carter, Cocke, Greene, Hamblen, Hawkins, Sullivan, Unicoi and Washington Counties
  • October 7-16: Bradley, Hamilton, Marion, McMinn, Meigs, Monroe and Polk Counties

“Rabies is most common in wild animals in Tennessee, and is a threat to humans and domestic animals that come into contact with wildlife,” said L. Rand Carpenter, DVM, state public health veterinarian. “It’s important for pet owners to make sure rabies vaccinations are current for their dogs and cats to ensure their health and safety, and help provide a barrier between rabies in wild animals and humans. It is also extremely important that people don’t transport raccoons from one area of the state to another.”

Rabies, once disease develops, is almost universally fatal. However, it is completely preventable if vaccine is provided soon after exposure.

This is the eleventh year Tennessee has participated in baiting with rabies vaccine to slow and possibly halt the spread of raccoon rabies. Two raccoons have been diagnosed with rabies in the eastern part of Tennessee so far this year. Since raccoon rabies was first detected in Tennessee in 2003, the disease has not spread as rapidly here as has been documented in other areas of the United States.

Although the vaccine products are safe, the USDA Wildlife Services program has issued these precautions:

  • If you or your pet finds a baited vaccine packet, confine your pet and look for other baits in the area. Wear gloves or use a towel and toss baits into a wooded or fencerow area. These baits should be removed from where your pet could easily eat them. Eating these baits won’t harm your pet, but consuming several baits might upset your pet’s stomach.
  • Don’t try to remove an oral rabies vaccine packet from your pet’s mouth, as you could be bitten.
  • Wear gloves or use a towel when you pick up bait. While there is no harm in touching undamaged baits, they have a strong fishmeal smell. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water if there is any chance the vaccine packet has been ruptured.
  • Instruct children to leave baits alone.
  • A warning label on each bait advises people not to touch the bait, and contains the rabies information line telephone number.

For additional information on rabies prevention or the oral rabies vaccine program, call the USDA Wildlife Services toll-free rabies line at 1-866-487-3297 or the Tennessee Department of Health at 1-615-741-7247. You may also find rabies information on the TDH website at http://health.state.tn.us/FactSheets/rabies.htm.

The Tennessee Department of Health urges individuals to enjoy wild animals such as raccoons, skunks, foxes and bats from a distance and keep pets up-to-date on rabies vaccination to help prevent exposure to animals that can carry rabies. The Centers for Disease Control and prevention has a website to help educate children about rabies. Visit the site at www.cdc.gov/rabiesandkids/.

Georgia, Tennessee Seeking Federal High Speed Rail Funding

Press Release from the State of Tennessee, Aug 09, 2010

From the Georgia DOT:

ATLANTA – Georgia Department of Transportation Commissioner Vance C. Smith, Jr. announced today that the Georgia DOT, along with the Tennessee Department of Transportation, applied for $34 million in federal funding to accelerate development of high-speed rail service from Atlanta to Chattanooga, Tennessee, continuing to Nashville and eventually to Louisville, Kentucky. GDOT is the lead state in the initiative and applied on behalf of the two states.

Earlier this summer, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) said states could apply for federal funds under the U.S. High Speed Intercity Passenger Rail (HSIPR) program created by Congress last year. Funds would be used to plan and implement high-speed service along approved corridors.

“Even before the federal High Speed Rail program was announced last year, Georgia DOT was already planning several related projects such as the Atlanta-Chattanooga High-Speed Ground Transportation Project and the downtown Atlanta Multi-Modal Passenger Terminal,” Georgia Department of Transportation Commissioner Vance C. Smith, Jr. said. “We expect to fit right in.”

With FRA approval, Georgia DOT, and the Tennessee DOT, would continue environmental planning and engineering on a high speed rail link between Atlanta and Chattanooga, design approved stations along the corridor, and create a comprehensive plan for high-speed service to the public that could one day stretch from Florida to Chicago. TDOT would then manage planning along the extension from Chattanooga to Nashville.

Commissioner Smith thanked co-applicant TDOT Commissioner Gerald Nicely for his strong support, and gave specific credit to Rep. Zach Wamp R-TN, and the Georgia Congressional Delegation. They were instrumental in securing nearly $14 million in federal funds last year for the Atlanta-Chattanooga HSGT Project.

Smith noted that when Wamp leaves Congress at the end of this year, “The South will lose one of its strongest high-speed advocates who has given years of service to the northwest Georgia-southeast Tennessee region.”

Smith also congratulated the State Transportation Board whose members have long advocated for this development.

“We look forward to the day when Georgians have a vibrant range of travel alternatives and can choose to travel in safety and comfort along a beautiful high-speed corridor where no options exist today” Smith said.

The application received written support from key transportation partners, including the Atlanta Regional Commission which will cooperate on livable communities planning, AMTRAK and numerous cities and organizations in Georgia and Tennessee. The Chattanooga Enterprise Center has been a special partner in this endeavor for many years.

The Georgia Department of Transportation is committed to providing a safe, seamless and sustainable transportation system that supports Georgia’s economy and is sensitive to both its citizens and its environment. Additional transportation revenues are imperative to grow and sustain Georgia’s economic vitality and quality of life through the 21st Century. Georgia is the 3rd fastest-growing state in the nation, yet 49th in per capita spending on transportation. For general information on the Georgia DOT, please visit our website (www.dot.ga.gov).