PROTECT CLEAN WATER NOW!
Proposed revisions to Tennessee’s Clean Water Rules, Chapters 0400-40-03 (General Water Quality Criteria), 0400-40-04 (Use Classification for Surface Waters), and 0400-40-07 (Aquatic Resource Alteration) would:
A major goal of Tennessee's Water Quality Control Act is to clean up previous pollution of our state's waters:
§ 69-3-102. Declaration of policy and purpose.
(a) Recognizing that the waters of Tennessee are the property of the state and are held in public trust for the use of the people of the state, it is declared to be the public policy of Tennessee that the people of Tennessee, as beneficiaries of this trust, have a right to unpolluted waters. In the exercise of its public trust over the waters of the state, the government of Tennessee has an obligation to take all prudent steps to secure, protect, and preserve this right.
(b) It is further declared that the purpose of this part is to abate existing pollution of the waters of Tennessee, to reclaim polluted waters, to prevent the future pollution of the waters, and to plan for the future use of the waters so that the water resources of Tennessee might be used and enjoyed to the fullest extent consistent with the maintenance of unpolluted waters.
To read this statute in its entirety, click here.
The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) has proposed major changes to Chapters 0400-40-03 (General Water Quality Criteria), 0400-40-04 (Use Classification for Surface Waters), and 0400-40-07 (Aquatic Resource Alteration), which are Tennessee’s principal regulations on water quality protection.
The proposed changes are contrary to the purpose and spirit of the Water Quality Control Act, put clean waters at risk of pollution and development, and make it harder to clean up the waters that are already polluted. In fact, these changes are so detrimental to Tennessee’s natural heritage that the US Environmental Protection Agency says that in many cases, they don’t meet the minimum requirements of federal law. To review the USEPA’s comments, click here.
Instead of attempting to "abate existing pollution of the waters of Tennessee, to reclaim polluted waters," or "to prevent...future pollution," the proposed regulations:
1. Grandfather in existing pollution and degradation
The proposed regulations create several loopholes that allow existing pollution and degradation to continue unabated:
When considering appropriate pollution levels when issuing discharge permits, the proposed regulations introduce a new definition of “new or increased discharges” and then provide that TDEC will not concern itself with pre-existing pollution levels. See Rules 0400-40-03-.04 (19) [Definition], 0400-40-03-.06 (1)(b), (3)(c), (d)(2)(a) [Waters with Unavailable Parameters], (d)(3)(a) [Waters with Available Parameters], (4)(c) [Authorization of Activities in Exceptional Tennessee Waters], (d) [Determination of Economic/Social Necessity].
2. Improperly decrease public participation in environmental decision-making
The proposed regulations make anti-democratic changes to the permitting process, erecting barriers to public participation and making environmental decisions more arbitrary and opaque:
3. Allow Tennessee’s rivers and streams to be paved over without adequate mitigation
The proposed regulations undercut permitees' obligations to offset the impact of development on waterways:
4. Take important resources from people who use and need them by allowing mitigation (if any is required) to be performed far from the impact
Under the new rules, mitigation is not required to be done in proximity to the damage caused, and maybe not even in the same watershed, but potentially far away. See Rule 0400-40-03-.04 (12).
5. Changes don’t meet the minimum requirements of federal law
The US Environmental Protection Agency says that “[Some of TDEC’s proposed changes would make Tennessee’s regulations] narrower than the goals of the Clean Water Act. The Act requires water quality standards to protect the public health or welfare, enhance the quality of water, and serve the purposes of the Act. The water quality necessary to support the protection and propagation of fish, shellfish, and wildlife and for recreation in and on the water [is the goal of the federal Clean Water Act]…” To review the USEPA’s comments, click here.
The failure to meet even minimum federal requirements will likely result in EPA disapproval, meaning changes either will not happen, or be delayed, and potentially diminish certainty for business and other stakeholders, and slow down growth.
WHAT WE TENNESSEE CITIZENS WANT:
A chance to work with the public and regulated communities to devise systems designed to achieve the goals of federal and Tennessee law: “to abate existing pollution of the waters of Tennessee, to reclaim polluted waters, to prevent the future pollution of the waters…” TN Code Ann. § 69-3-102.