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Haslam Awards Shelbyville $361K TDOT Grant

Press release from the Office of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam; August 11, 2014:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Tennessee Department of Transportation Commissioner John Schroer announced today the award of a $361,440 transportation alternative grant to the city of Shelbyville for the North Square Sidewalk Improvement Project.

The project includes replacement of nearly 2,000 feet of existing sidewalks, and improvements to four intersections north of the City Public Square. This project continues the city’s efforts to provide pedestrian facilities to its downtown, and will build on previous improvements along the corridor. The project will also improve the aesthetics of the area, and encourage development in the downtown district.

“This project will support Shelbyville’s efforts to give its downtown a more vibrant, inviting appearance,” Haslam said. “We want to continue to make our state an even better place to live, work and raise a family, and projects like these are key to making that a reality.”

The transportation alternative grant is made possible through a federally funded program formerly known as transportation enhancement, and is administered by the Tennessee Department of Transportation.

“Through these grants, TDOT has funded more than $306 million in non-traditional transportation projects,” said TDOT Commissioner John Schroer. “This program has assisted communities all over the state in their efforts to revitalize downtowns, highlight historic areas, provide alternative means of transportation, and increase opportunities for economic development.”

A variety of activities such as the restoration of historic facilities, bike and pedestrian trails, landscaping and other non-traditional transportation projects are eligible for grant funds under the federal program.

Sen. Jim Tracy (R-Shelbyville) and Rep. Pat Marsh (R-Shelbyville) represent Bedford County in the Tennessee General Assembly.

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.

House Republicans Hear Business Complaints on Workers’ Comp, Unemployment Benefits

Republican lawmakers are expected to address the state’s workers’ compensation system next year and revisit the issue of extended unemployment benefits, based on a meeting of the GOP’s House small business task force in Nashville on Wednesday.

The task force heard anecdotal evidence of people who are currently accepting unemployment benefits but are not willing to apply for jobs. Democrats lobbied hard for an extension of unemployment benefits in the waning hours of negotiations on the state’s $30.8 billion budget passed in May.

But Democrats are not members of the House group that met Wednesday. The task force is comprised entirely of Republicans, who have a 64-34-1 majority in the House. The task force heard from several small business operators from across the state.

Workers’ compensation issues have come up frequently at business roundtables held by Gov. Bill Haslam, and the governor has said the matter should be addressed. Several people spoke of the workers’ comp issue at Wednesday’s meeting of legislators.

“We’re not (going) to get in front of the governor,” Rep. Jimmy Matlock, R-Lenoir City, chairman of the task force, said after the meeting. “We’re working hand in hand with them. What you’ll see come from this committee is recommendations back to the Assembly of what we heard today, what we’ve found out through our investigations.”

When asked if Tennesseans could expect to see workers’ comp legislation surface when the General Assembly convenes in January, Matlock said, “I think we will.”

Rep. Pat Marsh, R-Shelbyville, who is in the trucking business, said workers’ compensation insurance is one of the problems his business faces. Marsh introduced Raymond Farmer, vice president of the American Insurance Association, a trade group based in Atlanta, as an expert.

Farmer told the group his organization analyzes the insurance environment in different states and that Tennessee is a business-friendly state but that it should focus on workers’ compensation. Farmer said the state should reform its adjudication process, moving from a court-based approach to an administrative format.

“Tennessee is one of only three states, the others being Alabama and Oklahoma, with a cumbersome court-based approach to adjudicating workers’ comp claims,” Farmer said. “Although administrative systems can, and do, have their own shortcomings, eliminating a court-based approach is a significant step in the right direction for a system not based on fault, as is the court system.

“Tennessee should adopt a purely administrative system.”

Farmer said Tennessee currently reimburses based on multiple conversion factors that undermine the system by politicizing physician reimbursements and increasing medical costs, including pharmaceutical expenses. Farmer also said Tennessee should modernize its funding of the compensation system.

Wyatt Owens, a contractor from Paris, Tenn., said trouble with workers’ compensation is the biggest complaint he and other contractors have.

“The really biggest problem I have with it is Owens Construction has to be the policeman,” Owens said. “Every sub we hire, we’ve got to make sure they’ve got their paperwork right. We’ve got to make sure they pay their dues, they pay their whatever. And if we don’t do that, we’re penalized.”

Owens said he believes there should be workers’ compensation but that rules and auditors keep changing.

House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick formed the task force in July, saying the state needs to identify regulations that impede job growth. McCormick sat in the audience through much of Wednesday’s meeting, as did House Majority Caucus Leader Debra Maggart, who spoke briefly to the task force.

After the meeting, Matlock said there seems to be a common theme in the group’s work, including workers’ comp, unemployment benefits and job creation.

“We’ve got to get people incentivized to get back out and want to get back in the workplace,” Matlock said.

“What these business owners are telling us is, ‘Folks, there are some barriers out here. There are some things that are causing us not to take risk, not to get out and look for employees, because there is this overwhelming data that shows us we’ve got too many pages of issues we’ve got to compile, too many things we’ve got to, as business owners, be responsible for.’

“And at the end of the day it’s all about job creation. It’s all about seeing our communities grow.”

Matlock said he opposed extension of unemployment benefits this year but emphasized that he is just one member of the Legislature. Rep. Steve McManus, R-Cordova, said he voted for it.

“There really are an awful lot of people out there that are just trying so hard to work,” McManus said. “Yet today it was so interesting that we heard that people are turning work down when they’re unemployed.”

McManus said he believes the group’s homework is just beginning. He said there is a need to distinguish between state regulations and federal regulations and then get specific with state regulations that are hurting businesses.

“We write an awful lot of legislation up here. It’s time to rescind some of this legislation, too,” McManus said.