- Associated Press - Thursday, February 4, 2016

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - The Tennessee Clean Water Network found the state issued 93 percent fewer enforcement orders against water polluters in 2015 than it did in 2007, the first year the nonprofit began tracking those orders.

In a report released Wednesday, network Executive Director Renee Hoyos called the decline unacceptable, saying, “These low enforcement numbers invite industry to come to Tennessee and pollute because nothing will be done about it.”

The department issues permits to businesses and individuals that allow them to pollute Tennessee waterways within certain limits. Currently there are about 16,500 active water permits statewide. Enforcement orders are issued to punish permit violations and force corrective action.

The network found the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation issued only 15 enforcement orders in 2015 compared with 219 orders in 2007.

Department spokesman Eric Ward said in an email that the nonprofit’s analysis doesn’t present a full picture. He said the department is emphasizing “stopping pollution before pollution occurs,” but is not averse to issuing enforcement orders when necessary.

Ward said the department continues to conduct about the same number of inspections as in years past, but is finding more permit holders to be in compliance.

Hoyos said there are currently 255 permit holders in violation of their permits according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which does not track all Tennessee permits.

“From our research, there is not a shortage of enforcement action requests from TDEC employees and citizens, just a low response rate to those requests,” Hoyos said in the report.

It is not clear why the number of enforcement orders has been going down. The numbers already were declining when Gov. Bill Haslam took office in 2011, but they dropped steeply in 2012 and have stayed low. The 2015 figures were even down steeply from 2014, when the department issued 53 enforcement orders.

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