Tennessee State Legislature

statecapThe Tennessee State Legislature reviews and often passes legislation pertinent to our environment, and specifically our water quality. From January to May of each year legislators meet in committees, on the floor of their respective houses, and with a variety of lobbyists to discuss legislation. Each General Assembly session takes two years. During this time all legislation which has been introduced is still in play, but at the end of each session any current business ceases. Learn more about Tennessee’s General Assembly.

The 110th Tennessee General Assembly began in January of this year. The following are some of the bills TCWN will track this session:


HB0362 (Zachary)/SB0295 (Briggs):  Prohibits TDEC from issuing any permit that has not first been reviewed by the general assembly. This would be incredibly inefficient, costly, and overly burdensome.

  • TDEC manages over 25,000 active permits. Last month alone, TDEC issued over 180 permits between the water resources and air divisions – and these aren’t the only divisions in TDEC. Clearly legislative review of each permit issued by TDEC would be time consuming and burdensome.
  • Legislative review would delay permit issuance. In 2010, in order to “…protect the rights of applicants, and to promote efficient, effective resolution of permit applications by the commissioner…” the Tennessee Legislature passed the Permittees Bill of Rights (TCA 69-3-141) guaranteeing permittees timely review and final decisions on water resources permit applications. Requiring legislative review will prevent compliance with these timelines and deny permittees the efficiency guaranteed in the Permittees Bill of Rights.
  • The procedure would be incredibly costly. The process needed in place in order for legislative review of TDEC permits to occur would add significant expenses to the permitting process. These extra expenses would fall on either the taxpayers in general or result in increased permit fees.

HB0571 (Powers)/SB0686 (Yager):  Creates a special joint committee to study issues relative to Tennessee obtaining primacy over the regulation of surface coal mining. This would be an incredible waste of state resources because we already know obtaining primacy would be costly and inefficient. 

  • Tennessee taxpayers should not foot the bill to keep a dying industry on life support.
    The state estimates its costs to startup and operate the SMCRA program – after accounting for
    federal cost-sharing and fees from permittees – would be $600,000 in FY 15-16, $1.6 million
    in FY 16-17, $1.5 million in FY 17-18, and $1 million in FY18-19. This amounts to a total of
    $4.7 million in new state expenditures over four years to run a program that is already operated
    by the federal government and will keep operating even if Tennessee does not take it over.
  • Coal mining is declining in Tennessee and throughout Appalachia, and this decline is driven
    by market forces:

    • Consistent with national trends, coal production in Tennessee has declined dramatically,
      from a high of 11.2 million tons in 1972 to just 1,099,000 tons 2013, including 731,000
      tons from underground mines and 368,000 tons from surface mines, and Tennessee
      produces just 0.1% of the coal mined in the U.S.
    • On July 31, 2014, one of the nation’s largest coal producers announced potential closure
      of 11 coal mines in West Virginia, citing industry forecasts that Central Appalachia coal
      production would be less than half the region’s output in 2009 due to decreased demand.

HB0631 (Staples)/SB0619 (Harris):  Requires State Board of Education to promulgate rules for testing lead levels in drinking water sources at public schools. TCWN supports this bill and would like for it to go further to protects Tennessee children from contaminated water.


The committees most frequently involved in water quality legislation are the House Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee and the Senate Energy, Agriculture, & Natural Resources Committee. It is the role of these committees to review all legislation impacting the condition of our streams, changing water quality regulations, and all matters pertaining to water quality pollution.