Justin P. Wilson has been named winner of the 2023 Robert Sparks Walker Lifetime Achievement Award, part of the annual Governor’s Environmental Stewardship Awards administered by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC). The announcement was made today at the annual awards luncheon.
Wilson has been one of Tennessee’s most important conservationists over the last five decades through his work and contributions in the public sector, private business, and non-profit partnerships. His knowledge in the law, public policy, people, and possibilities has made a clear, lasting difference for Tennessee.
Wilson helped establish the 300-mile Cumberland Trail, which traverses eastern Scott County, securing funding for it as TDEC commissioner and as the governor’s policy lead. It became Tennessee’s 53rd state park in 1998 and the state’s only linear park. The park is named after Wilson and continues to expand, reflecting Gov. Bill Lee’s investments in new state parks in terms of access, wilderness preservation, and enjoyment.
“We are indebted to Justin Wilson in many ways in Tennessee, and none more so than in his tireless efforts in conservation,” TDEC Commissioner David Salyers said. “This award is for lifetime achievement, and Justin has devoted a lifetime to environmental protection.”
Wilson served as commissioner of TDEC from 1996-1997 and deputy governor for policy under Gov. Don Sundquist in 1997-2003. He served six consecutive terms in 2009-2021 as Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury.
Wilson initiated a regional air quality collaboration meeting in 2001 with the governors of North Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee, leading to a regional agreement on air quality that helped avoid needless signals of conflict and policy uncertainty to the public and investors. Although these first gubernatorial collaborations focused on air quality in the Smoky Mountains, they fostered regional interest and collaboration for future low-carbon and renewable energy expansions. They were harbingers of efforts leading TVA to progressively shut down its remaining coal-fired plants.
Wilson led efforts to clean up one of the largest and severely contaminated Resource Conservation and Recovery Act sites in Tennessee – the 7,700-acre Volunteer Army Ammunition Plant in Chattanooga that became Enterprise South. In 1986, he was one of seven founding members of the Nashville Tree Foundation and served as its first treasurer.