By Chris Ford

As we begin a new decade, Tennesseans look to elected leadership that will both understand and honor two facts that should appear self evident: Tennessee is both a land mass in which we are blessed and privileged to live and a unique and diverse people who call the land within these boundaries home.

Our state is home to many of the most biologically diverse and beautiful pieces of the planet anywhere on Earth. From the mountains of the east to the mighty Mississippi in the west, we both cherish and rely upon the beauty and bounty of these resources for economic stability, healthy living and a way of life that is unique and worth protecting.

In order to maintain this sustainable balance, we must both rely upon and call upon our elected leadership to begin to protect these resources in a sustainable manner that does not divorce strong economic development from strong environmental protection. Weakened environmental safeguards and shortsighted economic gains will seek to sell our birthright for the proverbial bowl of stew if we do not advocate a sustainable future for those futures of generations that inherit our state.

This year we begin a new decade that calls upon the Tennessee General Assembly to consider with all seriousness and due diligence conservation and environmental priorities including:

• Restoration of dedicated funds from real estate transfer tax. These funds are dedicated by law to go to the Wetlands Fund, State Land Acquisition Fund, Local Parks and Recreation Fund, and the Agriculture Resources Trust Fund.

• Preserving water quality and opposing efforts to weaken protection of streams and rivers. We will fight to maintain selenium regulation and the right to sue for nuisances

• Banning mountain top removal by restricting issuance of coal-mining permits relative to altering ridgelines and polluting streams, an obviously needed protection with bi-partisan support whose time has come. We have seen with sadness this unnecessary devastation of our Appalachian neighbors to the northeast. Our Tennessee economy’s second largest sector is tourism from our natural beauty---coal does not even rank in the top 100.

• Improving air quality by supporting measures to regulate open burning and aerial spraying and to promote helpful energy bills that play important roles in improving air quality. Our asthma rates and poor air quality consistently rank among the worst in the nation, with many of these negative effects harming the most vulnerable----our children, the elderly and minority populations.

• Safeguarding environmental funding and fighting to keep enforcement, parks and other conservation positions and budget items funded in a difficult economy. Our residents’ ability to enjoy these state parks and to be protected from pollution even in difficult economic times should be a fundamental priority and right of each Tennessee citizen.

As always, we will continue furthering proposals positive to our cause and working to defeat ones harmful to our goals, not only in the five priority areas above, but also relative to: billboard regulation; recycling and solid waste reform; balanced composition for environmental boards; maintaining local options banning guns in local parks; landfill protections including radioactive waste issues and coal ash landfills; public transportation; and government authority to apply smart growth principles and efficiency.

We ask Tennesseans to work to protect our way of life for the future, one that will include positive economic growth, strong environmental protection and a sustainable life for future generations.
Ford is executive director of Tennessee Conservation Voters in Nashville. A former mainline minister and father of one daughter, he hails from ten generations of East Tennesseans in Cocke County.
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