Society of Environmental Journalists bringing conference back to Chattanooga

photo Chattanooga Times Free Press reporter Pam Sohn covers a story in East Tennessee in this file photo.

Hundreds of environmental journalists will tap into the scenery of the Scenic City next year as they learn from top thinkers, scientists and journalists about the most pressing environmental stories of the day.

After coming to town 15 years ago, the Society of Environmental Journalists will bring next year's 23rd annual conference back to Chattanooga, the first time the group has returned to a city for a second go-round.

"Chattanooga is a leadership city when it comes to sustainable initiatives," said SEJ Executive Director Beth Parke. "People should realize they live in a community that people are paying attention to."

Comprising more than 1,500 professional journalists, SEJ is aimed at promoting more and better coverage of environment-related issues. The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and the Chattanooga Times Free Press will sponsor the 2013 event.

While the agenda is still in the works, attendees will spend considerable time on field trips examining the area's environmental feats and challenges.

Chattanooga has earned a reputation for grappling with the environmental issues that come with being an industrial town with a beautiful backdrop of mountains and rivers, said Times Free Press staff writer Pam Sohn, who will co-plan the agenda.

During the 1998 conference in Chattanooga, nearly 500 attendees learned about Chattanooga's smoggy past and air cleanup, Chattanooga Creek's Superfund dredging, a chip mill controversy that threatened to clear-cut forests in 42 local counties and the Tellico snail darter saga.

"This year we still have plenty of issues to explore, including energy and water quality in a changing climate with expanding populations," Sohn said.

In addition to an economic benefit of about $600,000 to the city, the program will boost Chattanooga's brand as an environmentally focused and conscious community, said Bob Doak, president and CEO of the Chattanooga Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.

"Chattanooga put a stake in the ground that we are the environmental city, and this organization clearly recognizes that," he said.

UTC Chancellor Roger Brown said the conference will bring unique opportunities to students, faculty and the community as a whole.

"Chattanooga and UTC are models of sustainability leadership, and it is quite fitting that the Society of Environmental Journalists recognizes our achievements by choosing to return to Chattanooga," Brown said in an email statement.

Staff writer Chris Vass contributed to this story.

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