Tag Archives: Ned McWherter

It’s Our Rivers And Mountaintops, Not Corporations


There is a story coming out of North Carolina about Riverkeepers who have been watching a coal ash spill on Cape Fear River. (No, really.)

Here’s a little piece of history for you: regarding how Ned McWherter and NC got into a spat back in 1988.

The controversy centered around the Champion Paper Mill in Canton, NC located ten miles upstream from the Tennessee state line in Cocke County. For over 80 years, the paper mill had discharged industrial waste into the river, destroying wildlife habitat and recreational areas downstream. Residents of Newport, TN and Hartford, TN complained about the negative economic and health consequences of the pollution, including higher cancer rates in areas along the Pigeon River.

In the late 80’s, opposition to the Champion Paper Mill in Tennessee reached a political boiling point, with newspapers and elected officials calling on Governor McWherter to deny the renewal of a water quality variance needed by the paper mill to continue operations. During the debate, Champion threatened to close the mill and layoff over 2,000 workers, which sparked heated debate across state lines.

Early one September morning, Governor McWherter, legislative aide Billy Stair and an agent from the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency loaded up in a canoe just north of the paper mill where the waters were vibrant and pristine. As they floated past the Champion operation, the clear headwaters turned into a black discharge that bubbled around their canoe. Just past the paper mill, a local sheriff stopped the group and informed them they were trespassing on “Champion’s River.” The sheriff did not realize he had stopped the Governor of Tennessee, but he did solidify Gov. McWherter’s decision to deny the variance request. On Christmas Eve of 1988, Gov. McWherter called on his Deputy Governor Harlan Matthews to deliver the news of the variance refusal to North Carolina Governor Jim Martin. Governor McWherter’s refusal of the variance request was met with much praise in Tennessee and solidified his legacy as a steward of Tennessee’s natural resources.

I realize that link is a presser but the altercation has been reported not only in Ned’s book but in Dark Waters.

We all need water and when we blow off the tops of mountains, they don’t grow back, campers. And the bottom line is that last week, a bill that would help Tennessee called the Scenic Vistas Protection Act, sponsored by Rep. Gloria Johnson and Sen. Lowe Finney had a few setbacks. I’ll let Johnson explain:

Last week, big corporate special interests unfortunately won another delay of the “Scenic Vistas Act.” This measure would protect our mountains — and thousands of tourism jobs — from the destructive practice of mountaintop removal. This legislation is supported by Republicans and Democrats, and according to polling, a vast majority of Tennesseans agree we should save our mountaintops, yet the supermajority refuses to hear our voices

Ned threw an awkward punch at NC, documented in the biography of his life in office by Billy Stair:

When the Environmental Protection Agency ordered Champion to upgrade the plant to meet Tennessee’s water quality standards, the company threatened to close the plant and lay off all 2,000 workers. East Tennessee residents held demonstrations, and asked that Governor McWherter not renew the plant’s water quality variance. Legislators from both states traded barbs, cars with Tennessee license plates were vandalized in North Carolina, and McWherter’s office was flooded with calls from angry North Carolina residents.[7] Following an unscheduled trip to Canton, where he was confronted by a sheriff who told him he was “trespassing on Champion’s River,” McWherter announced on Christmas Day, 1988, that would not renew the plant’s water quality variance.

The environment is important, folks. And having people actively watch corporate entities who are damned determined to milk our planet leaving nothing behind should be celebrated, not vilified.

It’s up to us to make our leaders accountable but to also support our elected officials fight the good fight when they are trying to take care of our state. Sadly, their biggest enemy now is that these issues aren’t always hitting the media, and the biggest enemy is not getting a bill out of committee for discussion.

Morning Coffee – Back in the Saddle Edition

Not Exactly What I Had In Mind...

Four days after the election and I’m still not sure what to think of the results here in Shelby County. This is partially because the Election Commission hasn’t released the entire participating voter list yet, and partially because the majority of the “burn down the village” analysis directed at the local Democratic Party has some elements of truth and many more elements of “I told ya so”-i-tude.

We know something’s broken. In fact, if there’s a single Democrat in Shelby County that doesn’t recognize something’s wrong, they’re blind. We all know something ain’t right, but at this point, I don’t know that we agree on what it is.

But we don’t have time to argue this. With less than 90 days before the Statewide General Election, we have to learn fast and move faster.

We have to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and get right back up in the saddle to do our part to try and keep from getting redistricted back into the stone ages.

It’s hard to get up after being knocked down so soundly, but that’s exactly what we have to do.

I’m still catching up from my weekend work on a research paper, but here are some links that I liked as I make my way through my overstocked reader.

Tom Humphrey looks at the Gubernatorial Candidate’s fathers.

Bill’s glass jaw and other musings.

More crossover? No thank you.

Reginald Milton has some thoughts on what happened here in Shelby County.

Finally, in preparation for the November election, the fundraisers begin for one of Shelby County’s own.

Have a great day. We’ll be in and out this week, and apologize in advance for the spotty posting.