Legislative breakfast held with Sierra Club

  
  Dean Whitworth, Tennessee Sierra Club CAFO Chairman, attended a Thursday, Dec. 9 legislative breakfast along with 15 other members of JCCCCAW and the State of Franklin Sierra Group hosting Rep. Jason Mumpower and Sen. Ron Ramsey. The meeting took place at the Main Street Cafe in downtown Mountain City.
  Before the talk got going, Steve Ferguson, president of JCCCCAW, presented both representatives with their own copy of "Empty Pastures," a book covering the state of corporate agriculture and family farming today.
  Ferguson covered the ongoing concern about the unregulated spreading of human waste from the Mountain City treatment plant and violations of the Clean Water Act, like the large open asphalt dump on Hwy. 421, run off from which culverts into Roan Creek. There is also another location near Forge Creek where asphalt has been piled up. "We now have six streams in our county on TDEC's 303d contaminated list for 2004 because of these and other questionable practices."
  The Johnson County Citizens Committee's pending lawsuit against EPA and TDEC was mentioned, but the focus stayed on the main challenge of investigating and enforcement of regulations covering pollution violations citizens are reporting in Johnson County. All agreed TDEC staff from the Johnson City Environmental Assistance office were willing to do their jobs, but the lack of a workable penalty system within the state agency appears to make compliance by industrial corporations and other entities unattainable.
  Both Mumpower and Ramsey seemed surprised at the lag between the time a violation is reported and the time TDEC will issue a penalty (up to a year in some instances). Even when penalties are exacted, they are often insignificant and not a deterrent.
  In JCCCCAW's opinion, TDEC is violating federal law by not allowing citizens to have a real voice in the permitting and appeals process. TDEC agreed to listen to citizens in two "informal gatherings" in Mountain City in August, but none of the evidence presented by citizens and consultants was taken into consideration when the permit was issued within the minimum time possible. Citizens were actually told by officials that their input would not influence TDEC's CAFO permit decision. Anyone attending these meetings saw the arrogance and unconcern for the welfare of local residents that TDEC officials displayed. This behavior was also evident at the meeting on the Butler Asphalt Plant Permit held some weeks ago. Citizens were told by TDEC officials that though they "feel our pain," the permit was going to be issued. It is just this behavior that must be called into account. The Petition and NOI submitted by the Johnson County Citizens group gives EPA 60 days to bring TDEC into compliance before a lawsuit is filed. TDEC is facing vigorous criticism from citizens all over the state.
  In JCCCCAW's opinion, TDEC is violating federal law by not allowing citizens to have a real voice in the permitting and appeals process. TDEC agreed to listen to citizens in two "informal gatherings" in Mountain City in August, but none of the evidence presented by citizens and consultants was taken into consideration when the permit was issued within the minimum time possible. Citizens were actually told by officials that their input would not influence TDEC's CAFO permit decision. Anyone attending these meetings saw the arrogance and unconcern for the welfare of local residents that TDEC officials displayed. This behavior was also evident at the meeting on the Butler Asphalt Plant Permit held some weeks ago. Citizens were told by TDEC officials that though they "feel our pain," the permit was going to be issued. It is just this behavior that must be called into account. The Petition and NOI submitted by the Johnson County Citizens group gives EPA 60 days to bring TDEC into compliance before a lawsuit is filed. TDEC is facing vigorous criticism from citizens all over the state.
  Johnson County folks attending the meeting also expressed a desire to have state officials discontinue General CAFO Permits in Tennessee altogether and require that all NPDES CAFO applicants apply for an Individual Permit. A General Permit allows operators to regulate themselves during construction and operation, whereas Individual Permits require supervision by state experts from day one and on a regular basis during operation. No continuous agency scrutiny increases the likelihood of soil, air and water contamination and places the burden of policing onto local residents.
  TDEC issued a permit for a CAFO near Mountain City and for the asphalt plant in Butler in the shortest possible time frame. Frustration was expressed that TDEC has rarely held up a permit for further consideration and study. TDEC officials, under the supervision of Betsy Child, seem to rubber stamp every permit application that comes across their desk. Any input from stakeholder citizens seems to be ignored as is current scientific data concerning the potential for harm to local residents that these industrial entities can cause.
  Important points made were:
  * There is a large voting population in Johnson County who are determined to keep this CAFO and Asphalt Plant out.
  * Reform TDEC, creating an agency where citizen input is heard and actually considered when decisions are made.
  * Demand higher permit fees to be paid by applicants.
  * Permit fees should help fund TDEC's enforcement division. Polluters should pay the price for their pollution, not citizens.
  * Fair environmental impact assessments must be made on existing and proposed polluting business and municipal operations,
  * Consideration of the welfare of residential citizens as a first priority in consideration of any permit to polluters.
  Both representatives understand Johnson County's economic future depends on tourism and home construction and a clean environment. The legislative representatives also discussed with attendees the value of some form of land use planning. Ferguson said that "all citizens must be guaranteed property rights" if we expect folks to want to live here.
  As the meeting closed, the two state representatives were given the following detailed written statements reinforcing some of the topics discussed at the table:
  69-3-101, et.seq., the Water Pollution Control Act, does not comply with federal law because it does not address any rights of citizens to appeal permits. It can be changed in two venues:
  1. 69-3-108 which discusses permits and that only permit applicants can appeal to the Board or the Court for review; or
  2. 69-3-118, which discusses the right of citizens to file a complaint with the Commissioner, in which she has 90 days to act on.
  Neither of those two are adequate. Also, the act must allow permits appealed to be suspended, during the appeal process, or the appeal is for naught.
  Permits issued by a state agency which openly violate the very CWA law they are supposed to uphold and regulate, invalidates those permits. The violations are laid out in the JCCCCAW NOI and Petition.
  Understand that the NPDES program is a Federal program (not a state program) which Tennessee has been delegated authority to administer and federal funding to implement in Tennessee. To do that, the Tennessee Water Quality Control Act must be comparable to the Federal Clean Water Act and regulations. It is not, and the 6th Circuit has said so. The reason it isn't, is the lack of real public participation in agency decision making, required by the U.S. Congress. Reform is the only cure.