By SAMANTHA MANNING6 News Reporter
OAK RIDGE (WATE) - Lawmakers in Washington and Nashville are battling over regulations for the use of drones on American soil, with some fearing government abuse.
6 News spoke with local and state agencies in Tennessee using drones who said they can be beneficial for the community.
Oak Ridge National Laboratory is testing out several of its own drones that are able to collect air samples if there is a health or environmental risk.
"These are an invaluable tool," ORNL research scientist Andrew Harter said.
Researchers said the small instruments, referred to as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), are meant to reach areas deemed too hazardous for people.
"Think of a power plant stack releasing chemicals. We can actually have a way to collect samples when you wouldn't usually be able to get a person up to that height to do that," Harter said.
"Our research has shown that there's a clear application here as far as the science to help humanity rather than hurt humanity," ORNL Research Scientist Brad Stinson said.
Drones aren't only being used for research in Tennessee.
Kristin Helm, a spokesperson for the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, said the TBI has used an outside contractor for drones twice in the last two years.
In one case, Helm said a drone assisted in finding the remains of Gail Palmgren, who went missing from Signal Mountain near Chattanooga in 2011.
Helm said the other investigation is still open and therefore cannot release the details.
The Metro Nashville Police Department said it has two of its own drones but said they aren't in use yet, as the policy for operation is still being worked out by authorities.
According to the FAA, any public entity can apply for a certificate of authorization in order to operate an unmanned aircraft system and it needs to be renewed every two years.
Drones are not permitted for commercial use in any way, according to the FAA.
If an average person wants to recreationally use a model aircraft, they don't need approval from the FAA but they still need to follow the federal guidelines.
The Tennessee State Senate and House passed a bill this session tightening the restrictions for the use of drones in the state.
The bill does include some exceptions such as in cases of life-threatening situations.