published Thursday, April 21st, 2011

Governor targets regulations

One element of Gov. Bill Haslam’s new jobs plan is to put environmental regulations — even federal ones — on a “hit list.”

“Companies need answers, and they need responsiveness. And that’s something we intend to go about doing,” state Economic and Community Development Director Bill Hagerty told the Times Free Press on Tuesday as he outlined a desire for a more “streamlined” system of permitting and regulation.

Hagerty said officials will be polling Tennessee businesses and legislators to identify “the most bothersome regulations, including federal ones.”

“We will put them on a hit list,” Hagerty said.

The staff of U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., “has advised us that there is a very receptive atmosphere in Washington right now to help us address some of these bothersome regulations,” Hagerty said.

Renee Hoyos, executive director of the Tennessee Clean Water Network, said the state already has relaxed regulation.

“I can’t imagine how much more ‘streamlined’ they could get,” she said Wednesday after hearing about the new jobs plan. “They seem to be very willing to give out permits. And it’s not like they’re out there over-enforcing.”

The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, which enforces state and federal environmental laws, already is “lean,” she said.

“I don’t think they can lose many more people or enforce less without losing some federal funds,” she said.

TDEC spokeswoman Tisha Calabrese-Benton said the agency will work closely with Hagerty and the governor.

“TDEC will continue to focus on protecting Tennessee’s air, land and water, which doesn’t exclude supporting economic development, job creation and quality of life,” she said.

Haslam said his jobs strategy changes how the state will look at growing jobs and how it can create “the right environment” for growth.

The right environment would have less red tape, he said.

“That’s one of the reasons we initially put a 45-day freeze on all rules and regulations,” the governor said at a Times Free Press editorial board meeting. “We do have a stewardship responsibility, both for safety and the environment, but we need to see what sort of things typically are coming down the pike out of these departments.”

At least three local industrial development initiatives recently have been touted by local industries and development officials as hyperstreamlined, including VW’s site preparation at Enterprise South industrial park, Olin Chemical Co.’s modernization to save 350 jobs in Bradley County and Whirlpool’s expansion and relocation, also in Bradley.

Doug Berry, vice president of the Economic Development Industrial Board of Bradley County and Cleveland, said he and Whirlpool, Cleveland’s largest employer, needed help fast and got it from state regulators.

The Whirlpool plan was put on a 90-day permitting schedule to help the company meet an opportunity to expand its product lines, according to Berry and records filed with the state.

“I can’t say ‘thank you’ enough to all the regulators and consultants who worked with us,” Berry said. “They’ve been tough on us when they needed to be, but they’ve talked with us and worked with us to get through.”

Olin Chemical, which has employed 350 people in Charleston, Tenn., for many years, announced in December that it would modernize its chlorine-making process and go mercury-free with the help of $41 million in Tennessee Recovery Zone Facility Bonds.

The bonds are funded, in part, with federal stimulus money, but their use was decided by Hagerty’s predecessor, Matt Kisber, in Gov. Phil Bredesen’s administration.

Olin is expected to supply chlorine for a business the Bredesen administration brought into Tennessee: Wacker Chemical, which is investing $1.5 billion in a polysilicon production facility that will employ 650 in Charleston.

about Pam Sohn...

Pam Sohn has been reporting or editing Chattanooga news for 25 years. A Walden’s Ridge native, she began her journalism career with a 10-year stint at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. She came to the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 1999 after working at the Chattanooga Times for 14 years. She has been a city editor, Sunday editor, wire editor, projects team leader and assistant lifestyle editor. As a reporter, she also has covered the police, ...

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