Planning Downstream

Tennessee needs a veto.

The 2018 TNH2O Plan – a well-researched, forward-thinking guidance document for our state’s water resources – states, on p34, “The future health of Tennessee’s natural aquatic resources…depends on land- and water-management decisions and investments made today.”

TCWN could not agree more.

Unfortunately, last week, a strict party-line vote in Tennessee’s General Assembly resulted in the passage of short-sighted legislation called the Primacy & Reclamation Act. Only a veto can stop it now.

In a nutshell, the Act invests a million Tennessee taxpayer dollars a year in an attempt to revive the state’s coal industry, which has been on a steep decline for over a decade.

It’s not just a gamble; it’s a boondoggle.

The federal government – and every American – was duped into spending $2.3 million federal dollars to support Tennessee’s takeover of mining regulation and oversight. The fallacy was that once implemented, coal industry revenue would pay the cost to maintain the program.

TCWN and many other groups did the math and told the State that claim was false in early 2019.

No one listened. The money was spent. And now new money ($871,000 annually) is needed, as predicted, to maintain the program, and more money will be needed to clean up abandoned mines in the future.

If Governor Lee signs the Act into law, it will be starkly reminiscent of 2018, when conservation groups statewide warned legislators that lessening regulations on factory farms would attract the wrong type of business to the state. Now some Middle and West Tennessee counties are fighting desperately to protect their communities from the inevitable air and water pollution that accompanies CAFOs.

Coal mines and factory farms? Do they represent a good vision for Tennessee’s water resources?

In 1981, Lamar Alexander developed the “Safe Growth Plan” to address development issues. Since then, no Tennessee Governor has prioritized environmentally responsible growth to such degree, despite its direct impact to the wellbeing of both Tennesseans and the industries that serve them.

Tennessee’s runaway population growth is predicted to continue. While urban infrastructure cracks under the pressure, vast swaths of rural forests, grasslands, and wetlands are replaced by subdivisions with only the minimum separation of houses, minimal stream buffers, and not a single tree remaining in the wake of the bulldozers.

Reckless landscape changes cause irreversible impacts to watersheds, including increased flooding, pollution, and massive sediment transfer. Short-sighted development results in massive – and repeated – flood damage, sewage overflows, increased utility rates, and overall decreased water quality.

Tennessee’s beautiful landscapes and remarkable biodiversity cannot withstand irresponsible development to meet population growth. We must start now on smart growth plans to manage the damage.

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