The Tennessean: Sen. Lamar Alexander helps push bill for cleaner air

Posted on February 5, 2010

WASHINGTON — Sens. Lamar Alexander and Tom Carper introduced legislation Thursday to curb mercury and pollutants that cause smog and acid rain.

As the future of legislation targeting carbon emissions remains uncertain, Alexander, R-Tenn., and Carper, D-Del., said they hope to amend the Clean Air Act to reduce the three other pollutants from coal-fired power plants.

They say a legislative fix is necessary after court challenges have slowed, and in many cases invalidated, the Environmental Protection Agency's efforts to regulate such emissions since the 1990s.

Citing EPA figures, they say their legislation would save lives and more than $2 trillion in health-care costs by 2025 while costing families less than $2 a month.

"For Tennesseans, this is a bill about our health. It's about tourism in our state and it's about our jobs," Alexander said. "Our state simply cannot clean up our air all by ourselves without strong national standards to require the rest of the country to stop producing dirty air that blows into our state."

Carbon isn't in mix

Stephen Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy in Knoxville, said the senator is leaving out the "elephant in the room."

"We support his efforts to reduce emissions, but you've got to put carbon in that mix," Smith said.

"What would really be leadership is for him to reach across the aisle in a bipartisan manner and try to find the way to control not only these emissions, but carbon also."

Limits on carbon emissions would create a market that would bring new jobs in clean technology, he said.

The bill as proposed would cut sulfur dioxide emissions by 80 percent by 2018, nitrogen oxide emissions by 53 percent by 2015, and mercury emissions by at least 90 percent no later than 2015.

It would build on a national trading program for sulfur dioxide and create two regional trading programs for nitrogen oxide to make emissions reductions more cost effective.

Democrats on the Environment and Public Works Committee, on which Alexander sits, passed climate change legislation in November without any Republican votes.

Alexander said while that legislation is still being debated, "there's no excuse for waiting" to target other pollutants.