The Greeneville Sun
Park Overall To Challenge David Hawk
Actress and environmental activist Park Overall will challenge longtime State Rep. David Hawk, R-5th, of Greeneville, when the November general election rolls around.
Overall filed her petition to run in the Democratic primary Thursday, the last day individuals could file to run for elected offices.
Overall said she was asked to run by members of the Democratic Party.
“We need to have choices for Greeneville families,” she said in a statement sent to The Greeneville Sun. “We need someone who will speak for those that don’t feel they have a voice. Families without access to health care, children whose schools aren’t fully funded, and families whose wages aren’t enough to make ends meet. Of course, I also plan to continue my fight for clean air to breath and clean water to drink for our kids and their families — that is why I am going to run. I said yes so there will be a Democrat on the ballot and people will have a choice.”
Hawk has represented the 5th District since 2002. All but a few precincts in Greene County lie in the 5th District. Hawk is currently the assistant majority leader. He is also a member of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources, House Rules and House Finance, Ways and Means Committee as well as the House Finance, Ways and Means Subcommittee.
“I renew my pledge to our citizens to support conservative policies that make our community, region and all of Tennessee one of the best places in the nation to live, work, play, and raise a family,” Hawk said in an earlier re-election campaign announcement. “I will continue my unwavering support to protect the rights of the unborn, as well as our First and Second Amendment rights. We have made remarkable strides enabling Tennessee to serve as an economic model for our entire nation to follow, and I am eager to further our efforts in future years,” concluded Hawk.
Hawk is not the only state representative facing a challenge. State Rep. Jeremy Faison represents the 11th District, which represents a handful of Greene County precincts, along with Cocke County and part of Jefferson County. He first took office in 2010.
Carl R. Eggers Sr. will run in the 11th District as an Independent candidate. He declared his intentions to run on Wednesday. The Greene County Election Commission received a certified copy of the original petitions, which was filed in Jefferson County.
Vincyl Fitzgerald II will run in the 11th District as a Democratic candidate. He filed his petition to run Thursday. The Greene County Election Commission also received a certified copy of the original petition, which was filed in Jefferson County.
The Knoxville News Sentinel
New concerns arise over US Nitrogen’s environmental impact
MOSHEIM — The ongoing saga of US Nitrogen added a chapter recently when the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation issued a letter to the company concerning several issues.
The company, a subsidiary of Cleveland, Ohio-based Austin Powder Co., is “a global leader in the manufacturing of industrial explosives used in mining operations, around the world,” according to information on its website, www.usnitrogen.com.
Environmental groups with concerns over air and water quality have been fighting the company since it first started building the $225 million ammonia nitrate facility near the Nolichucky River in Greene County more than five years ago.
According to US Nitrogen spokesman Robbie Helton, the plant achieved full production capability in January. It had begun operation of its nitric acid and liquid ammonium nitrate plants in April and May 2016, respectively. Ammonia plant operation began in late June 2016, and fully integrated operation of all operating units began in September 2016.
The startup took longer than expected, and some issues that occurred, including two accidents, have left local environmentalists furious and some government officials concerned.
“Some of it does concern me,” said Mosheim Mayor Thomas L. Gregg Jr., when asked about recent penalties the town has imposed on US Nitrogen.
A letter, dated May 1, was sent by Michelle W. Owenby, the technical secretary for TDEC’s Air Pollution Control Board, to Andrew W. Velo, plant manager of US Nitrogen LLC, dealing with issues concerning the plant.
One involved an Aug. 23 leak that released oxides of nitrogen during the startup at the site’s nitric acid plant. An orange plume could be seen over the plant that day. No injuries or health issues were reported.
In the May 1 letter, Owenby stated that US Nitrogen reported the accident to several agencies, including TDEC’s Department of Air Pollution Control (DAPC). She said DAPC did a modeling on the incident that indicated the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Ambient Air Quality Standards, or NAAQS, were “not violated and public health and welfare were protected.”
Because of these findings, DAPC closed the investigation with no penalties to US Nitrogen.
“In doing the modeling, we essentially looked at the emissions from the plant on that day and the meteorological data. The result did not exceed the NAAQS,” said Owenby, when asked by USA TODAY NETWORK – Tennessee about the letter.
Another leak occurred at the plant on April 19. US Nitrogen notified DAPC of a release and said it was caused when a head gasket failed in an acid heater. The leak produced an airborne mist.
“We have not made a final determination on that event. That event is still under investigation,” Owenby said. She added that the company had submitted its report on the accident.
The TDEC letter indicated that the leak pointed out another concern.
“The events surrounding this release underscores the need for keeping USN’s Clean Air Act Section 112(r) plan current and certifying that USN is following the plan.”
In the letter, Owenby stated that the company had not handed in an accidental release plan by Jan. 31 as required, adding that the plan was not submitted until April 21, 80 days late and only at DAPC’s prompting.
“The letter indicates their formal violation and they have 20 days to submit any information if they believe that it is not a violation,” Owenby said.
She said US Nitrogen had a deadline of May 29 to respond. TDEC said on Wednesday that it had received no response from US Nitrogen.
“The matter is still being considered for enforcement,” TDEC spokesman Eric Ward said.
In response to a list of questions from USA TODAY NETWORK – Tennessee, US Nitrogen’s Helton acknowledged the two accidents listed by Owenby and said the tardiness on the accident release report was due to “an administrative error.”
A final TDEC issue with US Nitrogen concerns the company’s request for an extension until the end of the year to do performance testing on its nitric acid plant.
According to Owenby, “TDEC determined that US Nitrogen had not provided information demonstrating that the limited circumstances that would allow for an extension had occurred” and the extension was denied.
Because of that, TDEC issued a notice of violation to US Nitrogen on April 29 for missing the April 29 deadline for some of the testing and reporting required.
“The matter is now being considered for additional enforcement, which could also include penalties, but a final decision has not been made yet,” she said.
Owenby said TDEC realizes the natural concerns any time a plant that deals with hazardous chemicals moves into the area.
“There is a lot of public concern about this particular facility,” she said. “We take public health very seriously and we have been very active at this facility.”
When asked if she had ever dealt with a facility that seems to need this much oversight, she responded: “I don’t like to compare different facilities. This is a unique facility for Tennessee, so we don’t have a lot comparable in Tennessee.”
Gregg, mayor of a town with a population of 2,335, has had issues with US Nitrogen. The town has ordered fines totaling about $18,000 against the company.
The latest involved the company exceeding nitrogen and phosphorus release levels into Lick Creek. Gregg said the town’s own samplings indicated nitrogen had exceeded its release limit six times and its phosphorus limit three times over a period from Oct. 1 to March 31. The company was fined $14,700.
Gregg said the company was mailed notification April 25 and given 60 days to comply.
Helton acknowledged the exchange with Gregg, although the dates and fine involved differed moderately.
“US Nitrogen did exceed nitrogen and phosphorus levels for discharge to the Lick Creek Valley Publicly Owned Treatment Works during the reporting period from October 2016 through February 2017,” Helton said in his emailed response. “US Nitrogen has been required to pay $13,500.
“A modification of US Nitrogen’s permit that changed the concentration limits for total nitrogen and total phosphorus to loading limits was approved in March 2017. This change did not increase the limits for these constituents, but provided more operational flexibility. US Nitrogen has achieved compliance since the permit modification.”
The company also was fined $2,700 in March 2016 for exceeding its water release limit and $1,500 in October for exceeding the phosphorus and nitrogen release limit, Gregg said.
“They are sucking the river dry,” said Ann Harris as she looked over the Nolichucky River near the historic Conway Bridge and a spot where two water pipelines 12 miles in length come into the river from the US Nitrogen plant.
In a “Notice of Determination” issued by TDEC on Oct. 3, TDEC stated: “Water withdrawal will be less than 1 percent of river flow, even during extremely dry periods.”
Harris contends the testing was suspect.
“The problem with that is that they took the river flow calculations a day after a major storm, 10 miles down river from where they (US Nitrogen) are taking it in and out.”
And that is only one of her concerns about the plant.
A longtime environmental activist, Harris joined the fight concerning US Nitrogen at the urging of actress and environmentalist Park Overall.
“She told me it would be about a year. It’s been eight years and counting,” Harris said.
The company broke ground on the Greeneville-area plant in 2012. It was planned to start production in March 2014, but it wasn’t until January 2017 that it announced it had attained full production capacity.
Harris provides a stack of documents that she said show not only a history of US Nitrogen’s disregard for the environment, but also continued effort by government officials to ignore or downplay violations in the name of jobs and business growth.
“My issues with this plant and Austin Powder are open disregard for the law, ignoring the Clean Water Act as if it doesn’t exist, ignoring rules from EPA,” Harris said.
“This is all about greed,” Overall said.
One is a document from TDEC’s Air Pollution Control Board titled “Permit to Construct or Modify an Air Contaminant Source Issued Pursuant to Tennessee Air Quality Act” that shows approval of five amendments to the original permit.
In response to questions, TDEC spokeswoman Kim Schofinski said only one of the amendments amounted to an increase in emissions.
“We consider these increases to be minor and all emission limits in the permit are still protective of air quality,” Schofinski said.
Harris said she has “no regard” for TDEC and Gov. Bill Haslam concerning this US Nitrogen issue and predicted bad things on the horizon.
“This plant is a major accident looking for a major happening,” she said.
Knoxville News Sentinel
Overall, film and TV star, threatens lawsuit
Born in Nashville and raised in Greeneville, actress Park Overall returned home a decade ago to become an outspoken opponent of water and air pollution generated by industry in East Tennessee.
“It’s scary to have to come back to this,” she said.
Overall hasn’t been shy about speaking her mind to local political and business leaders, many of whom are old family friends. As a result, she said, she’s been labeled as everything from a “squirrelly actress” to a “hillbilly Barbie.”
She has harsh criticism for state regulators and politicians who she believes have been selling the environment and the health of its residents down the river for decades by turning a blind eye to corporate pollution.
“All our regulatory agencies are lying to us,” she said.
Overall, who lives on the Nolichucky River, remembers when she swam in the river as a child there used to be lots of minnows in the water.
“I don’t see minnows anymore,” she said.
Recently, Overall has become consumed by her battle to save the Nolichucky from a controversial chemical plant now under construction.
“I first heard about U.S. Nitrogen about three years ago. The more I looked, the more frightened I became,” she said.
Her biggest concern is the plan to take the water from the Nolichucky via a pipeline that has generated as much controversy as the plant itself. The treated water would be discharged to the river via another pipeline.
“They lied about how much water they were going to take from the river,” she said.
According to Overall, the plant will use up to a million more gallons of water per day than the almost 2 million gallons predicted. When estimating the volume of water in the river, the EPA and TDEC used the highest recorded levels. In recent years the water flow has sometimes dropped dramatically, she said.
“Last summer I could walk across the river bed,” she said.
U.S. Nitrogen said in a statement it has always been open about the facility’s need for a high-volume, uninterrupted flow of water. Based on an analysis of existing water supplies, the existing water and wastewater infrastructure could not accommodate the plant’s needs, company officials said.
U.S. Nitrogen is permitted by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation to withdraw a maximum of 1.9 million gallons of water per day via the pipeline, less than 0.15 percent of the Nolichucky’s average daily flow. The company says it plans to withdraw an average of 1.45 million gallons per day.
Overall accuses the Greene County Industrial Development Board of fast-tracking the zoning approval of the plant.
She finds it offensive that the plant was granted a permit from TDEC that would regulate the amount of ammonia or nitrogen dumped into the Nolichucky. The river already has enough pollutants and any additional amount, even if sanctioned by TDEC or the U.S. Environment Protection Agency is too much, she said.
U.S. Nitrogen said in its statement that it is taking all necessary steps to ensure the environment is protected. U.S. Nitrogen’s activities are regulated by seven local, state and federal agencies and held to rigorous environmental standards, the company said.
Selling out the environment for promises of good jobs is an old story in Tennessee, Overall said.
“They know we need jobs in Appalachia. They use jobs as an excuse to bring in companies that destroy the environment,” she said.
Overall believes Greene County residents will have to rely on the federal government to get action.
“They’re going to see us in federal court,” she promised.