Scott Banbury

Scott Banbury is the Tennessee Chapter of the Sierra Club’s conservation program coordinator and registered lobbyist. He helped form and grow organizations including the Tennessee Clean Water Network, Tennessee Forest Council, Frack-Free Tennessee and the Dogwood Alliance. 

We’ve come a long way, but slipped a little

By Updated: April 22, 2019 4:00 AM CT | Published: April 19, 2019 12:42 PM CT

Today is the 49th anniversary of Earth Day (I was still gestating when it started). On April 22, 1970, people across the United States rose up and demanded that our air, water and natural heritage be protected. By 1973, we had passed the Clean Air Act (1970), the Clean Water Act (1972), the Endangered Species Act (1973) and created the Environmental Protect Agency to enforce them.

The Clean Air Act of 1970 was passed to protect human health and the environment from the effects of air pollution. The Shelby County Health Department has the delegated authority to enforce the Clean Air Act and has largely reined in the stationary industrial air pollution sources that made Memphis the on and off Asthma Capital of the United States as recently as 2012. We’ve now dropped far down that list to 57.

<strong>Scott Banbury</strong>

Scott Banbury

Yet, while we’ve cleaned up the industrial polluters, our children still suffer disproportionately from indoor air quality issues emanating from mold, debris produced by insects and poor ventilation, most prevalently in low-income rental housing.

The Clean Water Act of 1972 gave the federal government and the states the authority to regulate the discharge of pollution to surface waters. It controls the release of contaminants from industrial point sources and wastewater treatment plants, and the degradation of surface waters and wetlands. Clean Water Act enforcement is delegated to the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC). Unfortunately, several acts of the Tennessee General Assembly have curtailed TDEC’s ability to regulate storm water and concentrated animal feeding operations, and undermined their authority to prevent surface water pollution. This year, legislators preempted local communities from enacting any restrictions on the plastic and Styrofoam that litters our waterways.

The permitting of the Memphis Regional Megasite waste-water pipeline is an example of the failing of state delegation; TDEC should not issue a permit until we know exactly what the waste effluent will contain. TDEC wants to declare that the hypothetical effluent will have  a "de minimis” (nothing to worry about) impact on the Mississippi River. Worse, Tennessee Atty. Gen. Herbert Slatery recently signed on to a group letter supporting the Trump administration’s rollback of the Waters Of The United States (WOTUS) rule.

Looking back at columns and letters to the editor that I’ve written around Earth Day the past 30 years, I am hopeful that we’re moving in the right direction. Even if government doesn’t get it, private enterprise does. More and more companies are adopting sustainability plans, demanding clean energy and reducing their environmental footprint. Municipalities across the country are doing the same, despite the current administration’s rejection of global climate accords.

Memphis is at the forefront of efforts in Tennessee to adopt clean energy, energy efficiency, climate resiliency and solid waste solutions. The University of Memphis Center for Applied Earth Science and Engineering Research efforts to protect our aquifer, the City of Memphis initiative to create a regional “Freshwater Institute” and conjoined efforts of the Memphis nonprofit community to make Memphis a sustainable city give great reason for hope. 

Happy Earth Day!   


Earth Day Sierra Club Clean Air Act Clean Water Act

Comment On This Story

Email Editions

Sign up for our morning and evening editions, plus breaking news.