Faced with a loss of federal funding to clean up the state’s growing number of sites where methamphetamine is manufactured, the Tennessee Legislature appears divided over a response.

On the one hand, there is a bill by Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mount Juliet, that would establish a new tracking system for over-the-counter sales of drugs used to make meth.

On the other, there is what Sen. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, calls the nuclear option: making drugs containing meth’s main ingredient, pseudoephedrine, available only by prescription.

With vigorous enforcement, perhaps, the proposals might make a small dent in the enormous number of meth labs in Tennessee, but neither alone will solve the state’s problem without the money to prosecute meth makers and clean up behind them.

There is the possibility the Legislature will pass one of these options, declare victory over meth-making and go home.

Another option is to put state and federal heads together, discover a little humility in admitting that not all earmarks are bad — after all, they come from our tax money — and try to salvage some Drug Enforcement Administration funding to fight this scourge.

Overall, the state in 2010 had a record number of meth lab seizures with nearly 2,100, and authorities expect this year’s figure to reach more than 2,300. The average cost for cleanup ranges from $2,000 for removal to $25,000 or more for large labs.

While the two options in Nashville represent sincere efforts, Tennessee did not achieve its No. 2 distinction overnight. Meth makers are as clever as they are desperate and will find ways to skirt a prescription-only law, which will penalize law-abiding people.

Tracking appears the more sensible route. While the state requires pharmacies to report all pseudoephedrine sales, it doesn’t require they use an existing law enforcement data base. That could be remedied, allowing the state’s Methamphetamine Task Force to operate more effectively.

There are some budget cuts that carry a greater and more tragic long-range cost, and this is one. Keeping Tennessee from becoming “the meth state” makes the effort to find that funding more important than ever. TAS