The Tennessee Environmental Council (TEC) was chartered in December 1970 as an umbrella organization for groups concerned with environmental issues and as an information clearinghouse and think tank for environmental policy. Its founding leaders included Lucius Burch Jr., Lester Dudney, and Cecil Branstetter. Among the first member organizations were the Tennessee Conservation League, League of Women Voters, Tennessee Federation of Garden Clubs, Nashville Junior League, and the Tennessee Chapter of the American Lung Association. In some years, more than seventy groups have been members of TEC.
Under its first director, Ruth Neff, (1970-84), TEC established a reputation for objective environmental analysis and a sound understanding of the lawmaking and regulatory process. Members of the TEC staff and board served on the state’s air pollution and water quality control boards and took leading roles in efforts to ban billboards, create a container deposit law, promote solar energy, encourage rural land use planning, and oppose nuclear waste storage in Tennessee. TEC also led lawsuits against air pollution from TVA coal-fired power plants and against industries that would not comply with toxic waste disposal and other pollution laws.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, TEC aligned itself with emerging activist environmental groups. TEC’s criticisms of state officials, policies, and regulations, especially regarding toxic and solid waste reduction and recycling, resulted in fewer appointments from among TEC members to state regulatory oversight boards and study committees. In the late 1990s, TEC concentrated on protecting air and water quality for public health. Focused on objective advocacy based on solid technical research, TEC continues as one of the most influential private organizations shaping Tennessee’s environmental policies.