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VOL. 35 | NO. 12 | Friday, March 25, 2011

Tennessee Environmental Council marks 4 decades

By Hollie Deese

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40 years of achievements in defense of Tennessee’s land, air, waterways and wildlife

1970: Tennessee Environmental Council is founded as a "canopy" environmental organization by six Tennessee groups: the League of Women Voters, the Junior League of Nashville, the Tennessee Lung Association, the Tennessee Conservation League, the Tennessee Federation of Garden Clubs and the Tennessee Botanical Gardens and Fine Arts (Cheekwood).

1977: Initiated a lawsuit against TVA to force the agency to comply with the federal Clean Air Act. The Council won the suit, forcing TVA to reduce its emission of sulfur dioxide by one million pounds per year.

1982: Began a 10-year effort to protect wetlands, resulting in successfully stopping the channelization of more than 200 miles of rivers and resulted in a halting of drainage over 90,000 acres of wetlands.

1990: Initiated and sponsored the first two state recycling conferences. Organized the Tennessee Commercial Recycling Project, a statewide campaign to encourage commercial efforts at waste reduction, reuse and recycling. This resulted in the formation of the Tennessee Recycling Coalition.

1993: Filed lawsuit against Harmon International Industries in Hardeman County for violating permit regulations by illegally dumping chemicals, including xylene, ethylbenzene, lead and copper, into the Hatchie River, resulting in a $112,500 settlement paid to the Tennessee Environmental Endowment.

1995: Won largest settlement to date in a federal Clean Water Act citizen suit, $1.125 million against the Dana Corporation for violations of its water discharge permit involving the discharge of lead into tributaries of the Duck River. The settlement funded the Tennessee Environmental Endowment and later helped form the Duck River Opportunities Project.

1995: Sued and won a lawsuit against Champion Paper concerning pollution of the Pigeon River. The company was forced to implement changes that reduced pollution by approximately 75 percent.

2003: Served as a lead organizer in the movement to preserve the Wetlands and State Parks Land Acquisitions Fund, currently in danger of being eliminated from the state budget with all funds rerouted to the general fund. The Fund is the state’s mechanism for leveraging the matching funds used to preserve wetlands and acquire new park lands.

2004-2005: Spearheaded the effort that stopped Louisiana Energy Service from disposing of nuclear waste in Hartsville.

2005: Worked to stop a sewage treatment plant from discharging into Rumbling Falls Cave in Spencer.

2007: Partnered with Tennessee Conservation Voters to launch Sustainable Tennessee, a coalition of citizens, conservation groups, environmental policy experts, students, educators and representatives of private business and industry. The group established the Sustainable Tennessee Agenda with policy and practice recommendations to protect and conserve land, air, water and energy in Tennessee. Since 2007 the Council has engaged over 750 individuals and 250 organizations at the annual Summit for a Sustainable Tennessee held each November; Conservation Education Day; and other events throughout the year. The group also helped Forever Green Tennessee restore $16 million in the 2010 State Budget for land conservation.

2008: Awarded 2009 Tennessee Governors Environmental Stewardship Award for excellence in Aquatic Resource Preservation for the Duck River Opportunities Project.

2011: Hosted Conservation Education Day at Legislative Plaza as part of Sustainable Tennessee, enlisting more than 800 supporters for a sustainable Tennessee and green jobs.

Eco-consciousness, which seems to be gaining traction across the country, and especially here in Tennessee, had to start somewhere.

Locally, one of the first groups to get things rolling was the Tennessee Environmental Council. Founded in 1970, it was initially created by six groups – including the League of Women Voters and Junior League of Nashville – to work toward protecting the state’s environment.

“They came together and said we need to have an organization in the state of Tennessee that looks at a broader set of conservation and environmental issues,” says John McFadden, TEC’s director.

“The council has gone from being very advocacy oriented to really try to get in there and figure out what needs to happen and then try to make it happen.”

TEC does this through a variety of programs including Sustainable Tennessee, Wildlife Habitat Conservation and Restoration, Environmental Legacy, Healthy Communities and Watershed Support.

“Over the past four years, we have brought nearly 1,000 folks together to develop a sustainable Tennessee agenda,” McFadden says. “We know what we are doing now is not sustainable. This is not going to last. Our economic situation is actually sort of sign of that. All the states, including Tennessee, are strapped for money.”

And lack of funds make it difficult for non-profit organization to continue their successful efforts, such as protecting the Great Smoky Mountains, cleaning up the Pigeon River, reducing pollution from coal-fired power plants and preventing degradation of high-quality streams.

“Part of the problem is we are now in a situation where we have to redo all of our civil infrastructure,” McFadden says. “Our roads are failing, our concrete in the dams is getting beyond their expected lifespan. We have some huge issues with storm water.”

Earlier this month TEC was at Legislative Plaza advocating green jobs for Sustainable Tennessee. Members from a variety of organizations like the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and the Tennessee Pollution Prevention Partnership Program scheduled meetings with senators and representatives to discuss the importance of bringing green jobs to the state. Hemlock Semiconductor, for example, will bring 500 skilled green jobs to Tennessee in 2012 and $1.2-$2.5 billion in revenue.

TEC has just two full-time employees and a wide network of volunteers. And for McFadden, the work is more than a 9-5. It is acting on a personal belief to take care of nature.

“My Christian mission in life is to care for my community and there is nothing in my opinion more important or spiritual or moral that I could be doing than working to care for my community for future generations,” he says.

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