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Environmentally friendly bills stalled in Tennessee senate committees

TN LegislatureHave you attended a Tennessee senate committee hearing in Nashville? On April 2 Clarksvillian’s Faith Robinson, Nicole Donnelly, Debbie Boen and I went to several of these meetings. This was a Conservation Lobby Day and dozens of environmental supporters from around the state attended. Our main focus was to support ending mountain top removal coal mining and reenacting bottle deposits which encourage recycling.

We felt pretty helpless and uncounted in our seats watching the hearings since neither bill we supported was even voted on in committee. However, we could tell that phone calls and emails to Senators and Representatives really have an impact on what happens in session.

Senator Rosalind KuritaWhile visiting our Clarksville Senator co-sponsoring this bill, Rosalind Kurita, she reminded us that Senators and Representatives have a rough and winding road to get bills passed – enduring frequent delays and other obstacles. Experience is critical to getting things done within this system. Senator Kurita was enthusiastic when she told us about her role on the Governor’s new task force to develop a Tennessee Comprehensive Energy Policy.

We also met with our Representative, Joe Pitts. “How are our issues doing?” asked Rep. Pitts as he took time out of his busy schedule to say hello and take a picture with Rossview High School students, Faith Robinson and Nicole Donnelly.

Faith Robinson, Rep. Joe Pitts, Nicole Donnelly

*SB 3822 Finney R.: Issuance of permits for surface mining.

This bill prohibits the department of environment and conservation from issuing permits related to surface mining until a new programmatic environmental impact statement (EIS) addressing direct and indirect site specific and cumulative impacts is completed and a record of decision is published in the Federal Register by the office of surface mining.

Recommended action: Support this bill, attend the committee hearing. This bill would stop mountain top removal in Tennessee.

The Senate committee did not vote on 4/2/08 and re-scheduled the hearing for 4/9/08. Unfortunately, a House subcommittee voted to kill the bill and adjourned for the year. Therefore, this bill cannot be passed this year. However, let the Senators know your views because it will probably resurface next year.

As far as the action in the House, here are the votes for and against the bill. Legislators voting for the bill were Reps. Frank Buck, D-Dowelltown; Brenda Gilmore, D-Nashville; and Mike Kernell, D-Memphis.

Those voting no were Reps. William Baird, R-Jacksboro; George Fraley, D-Winchester; Joe McCord, R-Maryville; Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains; and John Tidwell, D-New Johnsonville.

Some of this information was obtained from Knoxnews.com

The Senate met to discuss the same bill.

Senate Environment, Conservation & Tourism Committee members: Chair Kilby (D), Vice Chair Bunch (R), Secretary Jackson (D), R. Finney (R), Herron (D), Ketron (R), Roller (D), Southerland (R), M. Williams (I).

Senator Kilby, Chair, wanted to drop this bill several times but Senator Finney and Jackson argued successfully to put the bill back on the calendar for next week. They had to force the issue. Senator Bunch wanted to delay the vote for further study about the fiscal impact.

Debbie Boen overheard Senator Kilby telling someone in the hallway after session that he tried and tried and tried to kill it, but they wouldn’t let him. That’s how it went. We heard expert testimony to the effect that there is no agency or law that determines exactly how mountain top removal will be regulated and by whom.

Please thank Senators Finney and Jackson for insisting on taking action on this bill. Thank chair Tommy Kilby and Senator Bunch for taking the issue seriously at this time. Let him know that this is a very important issue to us and Tennessee and we want the Senate to lead our state in saving our mountains.

Bottle deposit bill

The other bill we were most interested in supporting, the bottle deposit bill, was put off for a week because there was no time to hear the case. Container deposit bills change behavior and are the single most effective tool yet devised to significantly and permanently reduce litter—more effective than curbside recycling, more effective than penalties, more effective than education programs, and certainly more effective than prisoner pickup programs.

Senate Government Operations — Wednesday at 2:00 pm
MEMBERS: Chair Harper (D), Vice Chair Marrero (D), Secretary O. Ford (D), Bunch (R), Crowe (R), J. Johnson (R), Stanley (R), Watson (R), Williams (I).

*SB 1408 Jackson: TN Deposit Beverage Container Act of 2007 (AKA the Bottle Bill). Requires deposit beverage distributors to pay a fee to the department a fee of one-half of one cent (increasing to three cents by July 2008) per deposit container and a separate deposit of 5 cents on each beverage in a deposit container manufactured in or imported to the state.

Recommended action: Support this bill, attend committee meeting.

SB 1408/HB 1829 creates the TN Beverage Container Act to increase recycling rates and reduce litter. This bill would place a refundable deposit on containers of beer, soda and other designated beverages. A large, nonpartisan coalition of organizations, including the Tennessee Federation of Garden Clubs, Cumberland Harpeth Chapter of the Audubon Society, Scenic Tennessee, TN Conservation Voters, Tennessee Scenic Rivers, Loudon County Commission, Maury County Commission, Maury County Farm Bureau, Lebanon Beautification Board, Davy Crockett Ruritan District, Trout Unlimited, Keep Bristol Beautiful, Kiwanis Club of Tellico Village, Recycle Rutherford, Boone Watershed Partnership, League of Women Voters of Tennessee and Tennessee Sierra Club support this legislation because:

  • A recent survey conducted by UT in which registered voters were asked if they would support a 5-cent refundable deposit on beverage containers as a way to reduce litter and increase recycling rates in Tennessee. An amazing 80.4 % of those polled said they would support such a bill–with almost half saying they would support it.
  • Improved recycling rates generate lower landfill costs. Many Tennessee counties currently pay in excess of $30/ton to landfill solid wastes.
  • In 2005, Tennessee was found to generate a total of almost 4 pounds of litter per person per year in Tennessee. In Maine, the state whose bottle bill most closely resembles the one we propose for Tennessee, the total litter generated per person was 4 ounces of litter per year.
  • TDOT is spending $5 – 6 million per year picking up trash along state roadways. Counties are spending up to $6.5 million per year on litter collection and cities are spending millions to pick up litter on their streets.

We need a new strategy.

Numerous surveys have found that in states without a bottle bill, beverage containers can make up the single largest category of roadside litter—typically 40 to 60 percent of the total Funds generated from unclaimed deposits are earmarked for continued funding of the county litter grants program.

In addition, it allots funds to reimburse counties or any lost tax revenue under the proposed change to the “greenbelt law.” Fifty percent of what is left will go to the distributors in the same proportion as they paid deposits in the first place; and the rest will be used for related purposes, such as litter control or recycling projects

States that tracked litter pre- and post-bottle bill reported a decrease in beverage container litter of as much as 84 percent , while overall litter decreased by as much as 64 percent . Container recycling rates increased from 10 % to 85% of containers sold and overall recycling rates in bottle bill states are an average of 30-35% compared to 10% in Tennessee.

Related links

Beth Robinson
Beth Robinson
Tennessee native. Computer Systems Analyst - 30+ year career in computer industry. B.S. Computer Science, 1983 TTU. M.A. Instructional Technology, 1999 APSU. She is a member of the Friends of Dunbar Cave,  Tennessee Tree Steward,  The Climate Project, Audubon,  Sierra Club, World Wildlife Fund, League of Conservation Voters, an active member of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Clarksville (UUFC), UU Service Committee, and UUFC Social Action chairperson / Green Sanctuary chairperson / Youth group advisor.


  1. Update on legislation from Beverly Fisher:
    The Senate Environment, Conservation & Tourism Committee Committee re-scheduled the hearing on SB 3822 (mountain-top removal) for 4/16/08. There is still time to contact the Senators on the committee to let them know your views.
    For the Senators contact information, see my article:
    If you like the mountains, this article is for you.


  2. Update on “Bottle” legislation from Beverly Fisher
    The House Government Operations Committee put HB1829 on their 4/16/08 agenda. Please contact these representatives to tell them you support HB 1829. All may be contacted by sending e-mail to rep.first name.last name@legislature.state.tn.us or through the legislative website at http://www.legislature.state.tn.us

    Government Operations

    38 Legislative Plaza
    Phone (615) 741-4866
    Mike Kernell, Chair
    Barbara Cooper, Vice-Chair
    , Secretary
    Mike Bell, Stacey Campfield, Glen Casada, Jim Cobb, Lois DeBerry, G. A Hardaway, Susan Lynn, Jason Mumpower, Gary Odom, Jeanne Richardson, Randy Rink and Eric Swafford

    Kyle Faulkner , Committee Secretary
    Kristina Ryan, Research Analyst

  3. Tennessee Beverage Container Deposit Act of 2008: HB1829

    April 9, 2008: The bill makes it out of the Senate Government Operations Committee with a “recommendation for passage.”

    April 16, 2008: The bill is due to be heard by the House Government Operations Committee.

    April 23, 2008: The bill is scheduled to be be heard by the Senate Environment, Conservation and Tourism Committee and by the House Local Government Subcommittee. Supporters are urged to be on hand!

    Mountain Top Removal Mining Passes Senate!

    Rec. for pass. w/ am., ref. to S. Cal. Comm. Ayes 8, Nays 1 PNV 0

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