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The lights of the Tennessee Aquarium and downtown Chattanooga reflect in the Tennessee River during dusk.


Most tours and events require at least a $550 day pass for those who are not students or SEJ members, but three events at the Chattanooga Convention Center have been set aside for the general public. Preregister at

• Dinner and opening reception, 5 to 9 p.m. on Oct. 2 in the ballroom -- U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell and a group of Chattanooga personalities will speak on the city's environmental history. Dinner is $35. Preregistration is required.

• Breakfast and alternative vehicle car show, 7 to 10:30 a.m. on Oct. 4 in Exhibit Hall D -- top alternative cars from Volkswagen, GM, Nissan, Toyota, BMW and others will be on display and for test driving. Two sessions on electric cars and sustainable cities will follow. Breakfast is $15. Preregistration is required.

• Free car show, 2:30 to 4 p.m., on Oct. 5 in Exhibit Hall D, for another look at alternative fuel vehicles from leading automotive manufacturers.

In 1998, hundreds of environmental journalists came to Chattanooga to learn about the city's dirty past. But next week, they will learn about its bright, clean future.

The Society of Environmental Journalists will hold its 23rd annual conference here Oct. 2-6. The conference will be a milestone for Chattanooga and the organization, according to conference director Jay Letto.

"This is our first time we are returning to a site where we've been before. Of course that's relevant to us to see how things have changed in 15 years," Letto said.

The SEJ is a 1,500-member organization made up of print, broadcast and online journalists who promote complete, thorough coverage of environmental issues.

Last time the conference was held here, the Tennessee Aquarium was brand new, and a budding movement to turn the city into an urban environmental leader and clean up its foundry-laden waterfront, was just getting started.

SEJ Executive Director Beth Parke says now Chattanooga is "a living laboratory" for this year's theme -- sustainable cities.

"The story has progressed and changed, and we thought it would be a very interesting thing to come back and see the promises [that] had been delivered on," Parke said.

Many of the events during the five-day conference are geared toward journalists, environmental nonprofits and students.

Participants will snorkel the Conasauga River, visit Oak Ridge National Laboratory, tour the Tennessee Valley Authority's Sequoyah Nuclear Plant in Soddy-Daisy and hear numerous speakers at journalism-focused seminars.

All of events are open to the public -- for a price.

Letto said there are three distinct programs intentionally being made affordable for Chattanoogans. Those include an opening dinner and reception, a breakfast and car show of state-of-the-art alternative fuel vehicles, including a first look at Volkswagen's 261-mpg XL1 Plug-in Hybrid.

Pam Sohn, conference co-chairwoman and Chattanooga Times editorial page editor, said while the conference is aimed at journalists, the issues discussed will be global.

"People are realizing that every issue and event is also about our environment -- whether it is politics, industrial recruitment, the location of a new school or a rain-swollen creek. Chattanooga has learned a lot in the decades since it was tagged as having the nation's dirtiest air. We hope to share our lessons and learn some new ones with this conference," she said.

The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and the Chattanooga Times Free Press are sponsoring the conference.

Contact staff writer Louie Brogdon at 423-757-6481 or at