These dynamic leaders work daily to support local economic development while protecting and improving the environment. During the Opening Plenary, they will share their organization’s goals, accomplishments, and challenges. Commissioner Salyers mission driven leadership reflects his belief that Tennessee’s prosperity and economic opportunity depend on a clean environment. If we get the fundamentals right, we’ll protect today while planning for and creating our desired future. State and Federal Officials like these are necessary to create more livable and healthy communities while addressing challenges of implementing new technology and sustainability principles to long range natural resources management and environmental protection while incorporating sustainability and resiliency principles to recycling everything from paper to brownfield sites.


David W. Salyers, P.E., Commissioner

Tennessee Department of Environment & Conservation

David Salyers, P.E., was appointed Commissioner for the Tennessee Department of Environment by Gov. Bill Lee in January 2019. He previously served as Executive Director of the West Tennessee River Basin Authority for more than two decades where he was recognized as leading one of the most impactful, cost-effective agencies in state government  At WTRBA, Salyers was known for effective public-private partnerships, leveraging federal funding and advancing restoration techniques for streams and wetlands. 

As TDEC Commissioner, he has led implementation of record capital investment in the Tennessee State Park system and developed the TDEC Reimagined initiative to create flexible, accountable work arrangements to attract, engage and retain the highest performing employees in state government.  Salyers represents the Administration and department on priority interagency efforts to improve natural resource management, rural economic development, and outdoor recreation opportunities in Tennessee.  He has led high-level executive partnerships with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) on matters pertaining cleanup on the Oak Ridge Reservation and worked through a variety of multi-state issues with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  Salyers has also been a strong advocate for advancing the electric vehicle ecosystem in Tennessee, from partnerships to expand fast-charging networks to the state’s leadership in EV manufacturing and supplier infrastructure.

Prior to his executive experience in state government, Salyers worked in the private sector for more than a decade as an engineer and manager. His career and experience have informed his approach that uses facts, science and a problem-solving mentality to create options that are valid, viable and fair to all involved. Salyers maintains registrations as a professional engineer and geologist. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Murray State and a master’s degree from Missouri University of Science and Technology.


John Nicholson, Chief of Staff 

EPA Region IV

John Nicholson began his service as the Chief of Staff for EPA’s Southeast Region (Region 4) in January 2022. In this role, John is in direct support of EPA efforts to protect public health and the environment for the region spanning Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and six federally recognized tribes. 

Prior to joining EPA, he served as the Chief Deputy Secretary for the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality for five years. In this capacity John led and coordinated the efforts of the department and the senior staff in executing the department’s mission and associated goals and objectives which included securing the largest coal ash clean-up in United States history and supporting efforts to clean-up the Cape Fear River, which had been contaminated for years by the toxic chemicals per- and polyfluoroalkyl substance (PFAS). In addition to the many duties he performed, he was also tasked as the agency’s lead on disaster recovery, marine fisheries, risk and resilience planning, economic development coordination and modernizing all aspects of the department’s environmental permitting processes. 

John is a retired Colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps where he served on active duty for 28 years. Upon his retirement he assumed the role of military affairs advisor to two North Carolina governors where he was accountable for guiding the Governor’s strategic vision and execution of efforts to develop and grow jobs in NC’s $23 billion+ military and defense economy. In this role, he fostered an open and collaborative partnership with the executive leadership of NC’s military installations/commands, senior DoD/Homeland Security officials and federal, state, and community leadership focused on supporting, sustaining, and growing U.S. military presence in the state. 

John earned a master’s degree in national security and strategic studies from the U.S. Naval War 

College, a master’s degree in military studies from the U.S. Marine Corps Command and Staff College and a bachelor’s degree in political science from San Diego State University. 

A native of Sacramento, California, John and his wife Madeline have three adult children who live in North Carolina and Virginia. 


David R Lloyd, Director, EPA Office of Brownfields and Land Revitalization

David Lloyd was born and raised in Carson City, Nevada. He graduated from George Washington University in 1985 with a BA in English Literature. In 1988, he graduated from Washington and Lee University in Lexington with a specialty in Real Estate and Corporate Law. Between 1989 and 1991, David was in private law practice in Carson City, Nevada, specializing in Real Estate and Corporate Law, with some work in commercial litigation. In 1991, he returned to Washington, DC and joined the Office of General Counsel at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. He was an attorney advisor and ultimately the Assistant General Counsel for Claims and Property Law. In 2000, he became Director of the EPA’s Facilities and Real Estate Division. David became a member of the Senior Executive Service in 2003. Since 2006, he has been the Director or EPA’s Office of Brownfields and Land Revitalization. He is a proud Citizen of the Cherokee Nation and an avid equestrian. In addition to cooking and travel, he enjoys spending time with his horse, Trilby, and his dog, Quincy. David is a resident of the District of Columbia.


Cash Daniels aka “The Conservation Kid.”, David W. Salyers’ Special Guest

Commissioner Salyers’ special guest will be Cash Daniels aka “The Conservation Kid.” Cash, a 12-year old from Chattanooga, was a finalist in Time magazine’s 2022 “Kid of the Year” for his conservation work on the Tennessee River. His accomplishments include the publication of a children’s book encouraging kids to get engaged in conservation work, spearheading efforts that have led to 14,000 pounds of trash being removed from the Tennessee River, and partnering with several Tennessee State Parks to setup collection containers for fishing line which is collected and then sent for recycling. To learn more about what Cash and others in the youngest generation are doing, visit his website.


Sustainability Across the State 

Chattanooga, Nashville and Tennessee State Parks have model sweeping and sophisticated Sustainability Programs that guide these communities to create more livable and healthy communities while continuing to improve economic conditions and climate resiliency for all community members. Not only are environmental considerations paramount to a great Sustainability Program, new processes and partnerships are also required to accomplish these goals. Leaders of the Chattanooga, Nashville and Tennessee State Park Sustainability and Resiliency programs will describe their program goals, major initiatives, and challenges.

Planned Plenary Team Members: 

Kendra Abkowitz Brooks, Ph.D., Chief Sustainability and Resilience Officer  City of Nashville and Davidson County

Robin Peeler, Area Manager, Tennessee State Parks

Erik Schmidt, Director of Sustainability, City of Chattanooga

Michael Walton, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP, Executive Director, green|spaces

ModeratorLamont Price, Tennessee Department of Economic Development

Statewide leader in agency and interagency activity in the field of environmental sustainability. Senior manager with extensive experience and proven record in meeting organizational goals and objectives in park management and sustainability. Recognized as a dynamic and creative team player able to successfully oversee multiple projects, diverse teams, and effective interactions with government leadership, colleagues, volunteers, and the public. Highly dedicated leader in the areas of conservation, environmental protection and public service. 

Michael is the Executive Director of green|spaces, Chattanooga’s sustainability nonprofit. He has 17 years of experience helping communities, businesses, and buildings take practical and effective steps toward improving their own resilience and sustainability while confronting society’s greatest challenges. green|spaces’ award-winning programs focus on improving environmental and quality of life outcomes in vulnerable communities; advancing green building practices through consulting, training and workforce development; helping businesses identify and improve their triple bottom line; and coordinating long term sustainability strategies for the Chattanooga region with over 50 partner organizations.

He is a licensed architect with experience in commercial, residential, and urban design with a focus on maximizing quality of life while minimizing impacts on the environment. Michael serves as Past President of the American Institute of Architects of Chattanooga, on the boards of AIA Tennessee, US Green Building Council Tennessee, Creative Discovery Museum, ACE Mentor Program, and on advisory boards for the Interior Design, Master of Public Health, and Interdisciplinary Geospatial Technology Lab programs at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Michael studied at the ETH-Zurich as a guest student, received his Architecture degree from the University of Tennessee College of Architecture and Design and attended Harvard Business School’s Young American Leaders Program.

Dr. Kendra Abkowitz joined Mayor Cooper’s Office and Metro Nashville/Davidson County in October 2021 as the city’s Chief Sustainability & Resilience Officer, working across departments and with the community on environmental, sustainability and resilience issues. Prior to her current role, she held a variety of positions at the Tennessee Department of Environment & Conservation working on multidisciplinary environmental policy, sustainability, and strategic planning. She began her career at Vanderbilt University tackling operational and educational sustainability projects across campus and the medical center. Kendra has a bachelor’s degree in sociology and economics from Vanderbilt University, a Master’s degree in sociology from the University of Chicago, a doctorate in environmental management and policy from Vanderbilt University, and a master’s in business administration from Middle Tennessee State University.

Erik Schmidt serves as the Director of Sustainability for the City of Chattanooga. In this role within the Department of City Planning, Erik provides coordination and planning with Mayor’s Office, department administrators and operations staff to achieve greater presence and adoption of sustainable business practices; identification, planning and funding of major capital projects which address sustainability and resiliency goals and objectives; and supports planning, promotion and engagement with internal and external stakeholders such as Chattanooga’s municipal utility, the Electric Power Board (EPB), the Tennessee Valley Authority /(TVA) , the Enterprise Center, green|spaces, Southeast Sustainability Directors Network and others. During his time in this position, City government operations have reached an annual reduction in electricity consumption of 25%; become a U.S. Department of Energy Better Buildings Challenge achiever; achieved USDOE SolSmart Gold; constructed the first PV solar array at the Moccasin Bend Wastewater Treatment Plant; is nearing completion of an electric microgrid (in partnership with EPB), which will serve to provide operational continuity for the City’s main public safety complex; and has begun work in establishing EV infrastructure and conversion of medium and heavy duty vehicles to alternative fuels. Prior to working for the City, Erik served as a lead ecologist for the Chattanooga, TN office of ARCADIS, U.S, Inc. for 10 years, following working in the Georgia Department of Transportation, Office of Environmental Compliance in Atlanta, GA. 


Excellence in Environmental Management: A Reflection of 2022 TENSOS

Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) and Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) Leaders,  will describe how scientific integrity and legal principles, based on sound collaboration among professional colleagues, including those in the TENSOS community guide both project management and decision-making at TDEC and TVA. Keynote speakers will reflect on 2022 TENSOS Plenaries and Sessions and share their perspectives on how TENSOS improves communication and builds relationships among parties involved in all aspects environmental management – at all levels – professional, local, state and federal. Relationships among professional colleagues, communities and partnerships inform sound, science-based decision making and the kind of engagement/open lines of communication that produce a cleaner environment.

Rebecca Tolene, Chief Sustainability Officer

Tennessee Valley Authority

Rebecca Tolene, the Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA) Chief Sustainability Officer, has a proven track record of leading teams to develop clear strategies in order to improve business results while increasing employee engagement and stakeholder satisfaction. 

With over nineteen years of experience at the nation’s largest public power provider, she is currently responsible for the ongoing development and implementation of TVA’s sustainability strategy with a core focus on TVA’s commitment to being a national leader in leveraging technology to create the clean energy economy of the future. She is also responsible for developing TVA’s environmental policy, monitoring performance against corporate environmental goals and improving executive-level working relationships with federal and state regulators and environmental stakeholders. 

Previously, Rebecca has served as TVA’s deputy general counsel and as advisor to the TVA Board of Directors and two CEOs. Rebecca also served as Vice President of Supply Chain responsible for all aspects of TVA’s $3 billion per year spend on materials and services to optimally operate diverse generation and transmission assets. She led the development of TVA’s natural resource strategies, land policies, and oversaw projects to protect biodiversity and improve public access and recreation opportunities across TVA’s seven-state region. She has led other corporate staff functions focused on improving critical infrastructure security, reducing real property costs, implementing continuous improvement programs and negotiating retiree benefits. 

Rebecca is a strong believer in building rapport and trust and working alongside teams to deliver meaningful outcomes. 

Rebecca lives in Knoxville, Tennessee, with her husband, James, and two children, Kathryn and William.

Greg Young, Deputy Commissioner for Environment

Tennessee Department of Environment & Conservation

Greg Young became deputy commissioner for TDEC’s Bureau of Environment in February 2019, bringing 18 years of experience in practicing environmental law in Tennessee.

His practice included environmental permitting, rulemaking, compliance and enforcement cases. He has a range of expertise in matters involving water quality, air permitting, solid and hazardous waste, utility regulatory programs and more. He has also worked on conservation projects involving land donations, conservation easements, greenhouse gas credits, and stream and wetland mitigation.

Young has served as co-chair of the working group for Institutional and Legal Framework for TN H2O, Tennessee’s statewide initiative for securing the future of water resources. He was appointed in 2016 to serve on TDEC’s Water Re-Use Advisory Committee. He has also represented agencies of the state of Tennessee on environmental matters.

Legal publications have recognized Young for his work in environmental law, including listings in Chambers USABest Lawyers in America and Super Lawyers.

Young received his law degree from Tulane University in 2001 after receiving a bachelor’s degree from Mississippi College in 1998. He lives in Franklin with his wife, Lauren, and two children.