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Sustainability news roundup

The last few weeks have been a buzz of good news for Tennessee and the Knoxville area in general when it comes to sustainability and envrironmental awareness.  

1. More clean energy jobs

About 2,600 jobs were created last year by employers operating in the energy-efficiency, renewable-energy, clean-transportation, and greenhouse-gas management and accounting sectors -- an increase of 6.3 percent, according to the Clean Jobs Tennessee report. That's nearly triple the state's overall employment growth. Businesses told the report's authors they expect to fill an additional 2,500 positions by 2016.

2. TVA gets behind the Clean Power Plan

TVA is reviewing the more than 1,000 pages of new regulations released this month to regulate CO2 from existing power plants and a second rule that regulates emissions from new fossil plants, all part of the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan, which calls for a 32 percent cut in greenhouse gases by American power plants by 2030, compared with 2005 emissions.  

"For our coal and gas fleet, this plan really won't have much impact at all," Brooks said. "Most of our decisions on which coal units to retire, etc., are already in place and being driven by a 2011 agreement between TVA and EPA. We have already reduced our carbon emissions by 30 percent from 2005 levels. It remains to be seen what the other impacts will be."

3. A new hotel is leading its brand, and possibly the state, in sustainability

The Knoxville location of Home2 Suites is unique among hotels in the Hilton chain and a sustainability leader in the Tennessee hospitality industry due to the investment in a full-roof solar array by property owner and Oak Ridge native Chandler Bhateja. Some other measures include recycling bins in every room and throughout the hotel's public areas, the use of recycled paper products whenever possible, low-flow faucets and energy-saving LED lighting with timers.

4. Sevier County is one step closer to zero waste in landfills

Sixty percent of all trash gathered in Sevier County, as well as the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, is recycled into compost. That's the highest recycle rate in Tennessee, and one of the highest nationwide, but two multimillion dollar projects on the horizon aim to get the county to 100 percent: new sorting equipment to remove recyclables from waste and a gasification system to convert waste into fuel.

Hemp is here--for some

In early June, Washington County farmers Wayne Smith and Walt Heber started planting one of Tennessee's first hemp crops in more than 60 years.

Other participants in the state's industrial hemp program are not so lucky.

Charles Mason and his son Chuck applied to grow 60 acres of hemp on their farm in Cocke County.

Mason said the seed was to have been delivered weeks ago, but was rejected at U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Memphis and had to be shipped a second time from Canada.

The seed is again in transit, but needs to get here by next week for a successful crop, he said, because it takes about four months to grow a crop and plants will run the risk of freezing weather otherwise.

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The Tennessee Department of Agriculture has received word from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency that its registration to import hemp seed has been approved.

This follows months of discussion between the two agencies about specificts of Tennessee's industrial hemp pilot program that have farmers unsure they'll get the hemp seed in time to plant a crop. The good news is no additional restrictions have been set on the program regarding acreage or number of participants, said Corinne Gould, TDA deputy director of public affairs.

Tennessee's initial applications totalled more than 2,100 acres by 53 growers, far exceeding those from nearby states like Kentucky that have launched similar programs.

It means planting is one step closer to reality, but more approvals wrangling is ahead.

TDA should receive its registration information in the next few days, but it still has to apply for specific import permits, which also must be DEA approved, said Gould. No time frame for that process has been given. The department plans to order seed from Canada and Australia, each of which must follow particular export rules for their country. 

As such, there's still not a firm date for when the seed will be distributed, and the clock is ticking. Farmers need to plant by late May or early June for the best crop.

Photo: In this May 19, 2014 file photo, a farmer holds a handful of hemp seeds, on a day of planting in Sterling, Colo. (AP Photo/Kristen Wyatt, File)

That state of Tennessee will now share costs for farmers here to earn the USDA organic certification

Certified organic producers can apply to the Tennessee Department of Agriculture for a 75 percent cost share up to a maximum of $750 to help defray costs related to receiving and maintaining organic certification, including inspection costs. Organic operations that have achieved certification since October 1, 2014 meet the time qualification to seek reimbursement, as do organic operations that become certified between now and September 30, 2015.

Organic certification typically costs small farm producers between $600 and $1,000 annually. Costs increase based on product and sales volume.

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Starting next year, FEMA says it will only approve disaster preparedness funds to states whose governors approve hazard mitigation plans that factor in climate change.

This may put several Republican governors who maintain the earth isn't warming due to human activities, or prefer to do nothing about it, into a political bind, reports Katherine Bagley, with InsideClimate News.

Their position may block their states' access to hundreds of millions of dollars in FEMA funds. Over the past five years, the agency has awarded an average $1 billion a year in grants to states and territories for taking steps to mitigate the effects of disasters.

Photo: Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Craig Fugate speaks at FEMA headquarters in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 26, 2015. (AP Photo/Zach Gibson)

Environmental groups including the Tennessee Clean Water Network, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and others say an expansion of TVA's Kingston landfill could lead to coal waste leaking into the Clinch River.

TVA has filed for a major permit modification  with the Tennessee Department of Environment and conservation for the Kingston site and plans an expansion to store waste generated by the Kingston Fossil Plant.

Opponents say the site is unstable and not suited for a landfill due to sink holes and other karst geologic features.

As part of the permitting process, TVA submitted an updated operations manual for the site, which details preliminary expansion efforts begun in September 2013 and estimates Phase II of construction from 2016 to 2020 depending on TDEC approval.

TDEC will review public comment on the proposal through Tuesday.

Related items:

In June of this year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed new guidelines regulating emissions from existing power plants under the Clean Air Act.

The public can learn how these new regulations could affect Tennessee and the Southeast at the EPA Clean Power Plan forum, presented by the Howard Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy at the University of Tennessee 1-5 p.m. August 26.

Ed McMahon, a national consultant on sustainable development, will be the next speaker for the ETcompetes series presented by the Plan East Tennessee Consortium.

He is the author or coauthor of 15 books including Conservation Communities: Creating Value with Nature, Open Space, and Agriculture, a guide for urban planning professionals.

McMahon, senior resident fellow at the Urban Land Institute in Washington, D.C., presents "Secrets of Successful Communities" 10:30-11:30 a.m. March 27 at the East Tennessee History Center, 601 S. Gay St. He will discuss building a prosperous community and how to take inventory of community assets as part of a development vision.

Other topics include:

  • What's next in real estate?
  • Calculating the economic benefits of preserving and enhancing community character
  • Changes in the retail paradigm
  • Economic changes and effective solutions

AIA and GBCI continuing education credits available.

RSVP required to Julie.ETQG@gmail.com or dori.caron@knoxmpc.org.

PlanET is a regional planning collaboration among East Tennessee local governments and organizations that seeks to establish a framework for potential growth in the region that addresses challenges regarding jobs, housing, transportation, a clean environment, and community health.

The latest updates from the city of Knoxville's Office of Sustainability show reductions in emissions and energy use both for city operations and the community as a whole.

The city's Energy and Sustainability Initiative, now in its seventh year, measures energy savings and greenhouse gas emission reductions through sustainability improvements for Knoxville. The eventual goal is a 20 percent reduction by 2020.

As a municipality, the city reduced its energy consumption by 6.5 percent. Greenhouse gas emissions associated with city operations fell 13 percent.

At the community level, the emissions associated with energy use, transportation and waste management fell 7.8 percent from 2005 levels.

"These savings reflect the success of projects like the city's conversion of traffic signals to LED technology and energy efficiency upgrades at city buildings," said Jake Tisinger, Project Manager for the Office of Sustainability, in a press release. "Residents and businesses are using less energy than in 2005, and improved fuel economy and cleaner electricity generation have helped reduce greenhouse gas emissions."

Officials from the Town of Farragut's Community Development Department will discuss the 2012 International Energy Conservation Code March 12.

Farragut developers, designers and residents are welcome to attend and learn about the new energy code.

According to the International Code Council, the new code changes include measures to improve the thermal envelope, HVAC systems and electrical systems of residential buildings; Commercial updates include required energy savings for windows, doors and skylights; thermal envelope efficiency; and increased efficiencies for installed HVAC equipment.

Codes officials John Householder, Steve Coker and Elliott Sievers as well as an energy auditor and owner of a local building performance testing agency will answer questions including:

What is the code about?
What do the numbers mean?
Why should I have an energy compliant home/business?
What is an energy audit and what are the benefits?

The seminar will be 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 12 at the Farragut Town Hall, 11408 Municipal Center Drive.

For more information call 865-966-7057.

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