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EPA Threatens Action Against State Lawmaker

Posted at 6:22 PM, May 26, 2015
and last updated 2015-09-07 14:17:56-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is threatening action against Tennessee state Rep. Andy Holt because of pollution from his hog farm.

The federal agency sent the Dresden Republican a letter last month that stated he must "arrange a meeting in this office to show cause why the EPA should not take formal civil enforcement action against you."

NewsChannel 5 Investigates reported in February that Holt's hog farm polluted a nearby creek and operated for years without a permit.

We also reported that a state inspector wrote in his notes that "enforcement action was discouraged by upper management" at the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.

The EPA letter, addressed to the Holt, listed three different times his Weakley County hog farm discharged hundreds of thousands of gallons from lagoons full of hog manure.

Two of the incidents happened on consecutive days in February 2011, when Holt's farm discharged more than 500,000 gallons.

The other unauthorized discharge was in August 2013 when Holt's farm pumped more than 200,000 gallons into a nearby field and stream. (Read the EPA letter.)

In an interview earlier this year, Holt told NewsChannel 5 Investigates it had rained heavily before each incident and the lagoons were in danger of failing.

"In an effort not to lose all the manure that's impounded in that facility, then what you do is remove a portion of that," Holt said.

He also claimed he alerted the state before each incident.

"Personally, I think regulation should be learning opportunities. Each one of those should be a learning opportunity to do better," Holt said.

Holt has been critical of the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency.

"The U.S. EPA is an entity that I think has become very politicized, much like the IRS," Holt said in the January interview.

Holt has argued that environmental regulation is best left to states.

But when state inspectors found those same violations on Holt's farm in 2011, one inspector made a point of noting that "enforcement action was discouraged by upper management" at the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.

In January, the TDEC Commissioner, Robert Martineau, said he did not know why that was in Holt's file.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked, "Is he getting special treatment because he's a state lawmaker?"

Martineau responded, "No."

He went on to defend the delays in the case.

"That's an administrative process. Sometimes cases take a while to resolve," Martineau said.

But now, months later, even after Holt said he has gotten out of the hog farming business, it is the federal government that is moving closer to taking action.

TDEC said in a statement that inspectors have not found any hogs on their visits to Holt's farm this year.

They are now making sure the lagoon full of manure is cleaned up properly.

The department said it still does not know who discouraged enforcement against Holt, but said it could have been a manager at the field office level.

Full statement from TDEC:

TDEC has been in communication with Rep. Holt numerous times over the past few months. Since there are no hogs are on the farm, he does not require permit coverage from us. There are two remaining issues that we are still working on, and those are appropriate management of the compost pile and appropriate management of the lagoon contents. In April, Mr. Holt provided TDEC with documentation of the disposition of the compost. Based on the documentation, it is our opinion that this concern has been addressed. On May 6, we talked with Rep. Holt again and affirmed that the drawdown/spray application of the lagoon was progressing. A site visit will be made when the drawdown is complete.

One thing I want to make clear as far as the reference from the staff member is that “upper management” doesn’t necessarily mean it’s coming from the Commissioner or central office level. This could have been from a field office manager. Also, this occurred shortly after the appointment of Commissioner Martineau. Over the year and a half following his appointment, the Division of Water Pollution Control was integrated with two other water programs in to the Division of Water Resources. The recently-formed Division of Water Resources, supported by a flattened management structure, accomplishes a level of accountability that serves to minimize the potential for central office/field office miscommunication.

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