Health Departments & Water Pollution

Updated: Apr 8

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Clean water advocates in Tennessee should urge their State Senator and Representative to vote against SB1368/HB1163, which will be discussed in the State Senate Energy, Agriculture, and Natural Resources Committee and in the House Health Committee this Wednesday, 3/10.

In short, this bill disallows county health departments to “prohibit or regulate agriculture” even when faced with an agricultural operation that threatens the health of Tennesseans. That defies logic.

TCA 68-2-601(f)(3) currently gives county health departments the power to "[a]dopt rules and regulations as may be necessary or appropriate to protect the general health and safety of the citizens of the county...Regulations of a county board of health supersede less stringent or conflicting local ordinances."

SB1368/HB1163 would add a new subsection with the following language: "Nothing in this part shall be construed to grant any county board of health or county health department the power to prohibit or regulate agriculture..."

The bill appears to be in direct response to the growing opposition to the proliferation of factory farms, or CAFOs, in West Tennessee following a loosening of regulations in 2018 that removed a standard operating permit requirement for medium CAFOs.

There is a reason CAFOs operate mostly in the dark, deftly sidestepping transparency data about locations, numbers of livestock, and what happens to the millions of tons of animal waste they generate.

CAFOs cause air pollution and water pollution, increase truck traffic, create noxious smells, and otherwise plague a neighborhood. A county should be able to say NO!

Many of us are misled by the nomenclature of regulations like Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act, assuming that our waters are protected from CAFO-caused pollution. We are not. "Big Ag" has - for decades - successfully lobbied against any comprehensive regulations.

Producers like Tyson and Chinese-owned Smithfield fully understand the legislative environment in which they operate, and they advocate for laws such as SB1368 that will attract precisely the type of business that Tennessee does not want.

Without prohibitive state or federal regulations, CAFOs will overtake Tennessee as they have regions of the Midwest where lawsuits regarding drinking water contamination from CAFO-caused harmful algal blooms (HABs) have occurred.

Tennessee is known for its natural beauty and must protect it as well as its residents.


(with credit to Stewart Clifton of Tennessee Conservation Voters and Scott Banbury of TN Chapter of Sierra Club)

SUPPORT the Tennessee CLEAN Act (HB0174/SB0152), which is about new ideas and proven solutions to the problem of litter pollution while expanding the state's already effective, but under-resourced, programs. Followers of the "Bottle Bill" will be glad to know that Marge Davis supports the Tennessee CLEAN Act!

SUPPORT the C-PACE (SB795/HB667). The "Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy and Resilience Act" allows commercial, industrial, and multi-family property owners to finance energy efficiency and renewable energy improvements through their property tax payment.

SUPPORT HB0046/SB1410, which requires the Department of Education to develop a water testing program to reduce potential lead contamination in drinking water in public schools, requires child care programs to implement the water testing program required for public schools, and changes the lead level (from 20 to 15 ppb) at which a school or child care program is required to take protective and remedial steps.

OPPOSE HB0707/SB1043, which prohibits TDEC from requiring a permit, inspection, review, or approval of plans for the construction, installation, or modification of a land application system, also called "decentralized wastewater management." Rep. Zachary wants to strip all authority from TDEC to regulate independent, mostly rural sewage treatment systems.

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