Posted on June 18, 2012
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander has been consistent in his support for clean air in Tennessee's skies, even when it has brought the wrath of special-interest groups.
The Tennessee Republican has been in exactly that situation for the past week when he said he would vote to support a new clean-air rule. The senator's stand made him the target of an advertising campaign that accuses him of "siding with (President Barack) Obama and his war on coal."
The Hill newspaper in Washington, D.C., says that $1 million is being spent on the ad campaign in four states to persuade Alexander and three other senators to vote in favor of a resolution by Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., to disapprove the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Mercury and Air Toxic Standards (MATS) for power plants. American Commitment, a recently formed conservancy advocacy group, is behind the ad campaign.
As an alternative to Inhofe's resolution, Alexander is introducing legislation, along with Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., to allow utilities six years, instead of the EPA's designated three years, to comply with the rule. Alexander said many utilities have requested the extension.
Alexander, who has a home near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, says he is taking a stand for Tennessee. Citizens of this state should stand with Alexander on this issue.
In news stories last week and in a guest column that appeared Sunday in the News Sentinel, Alexander, a two-term governor of Tennessee, successfully addressed the clean-air issues, especially jobs.
"We have 546 Tennesseans working in coal mining, according to the Energy Information Administration, and every one of those jobs is important," Alexander said. "We have 1,200 Tennesseans who work at the Alstom plants in Knoxville and Chattanooga that will supply the country with pollution control equipment required by this rule. Every one of their jobs is important, too."
What the EPA rule is requiring, he said, is the same pollution controls the Tennessee Valley Authority is installing at its coal-fired power plants.
The senator noted that clean air improves the likelihood of bringing good jobs, particularly those in the automobile industry, to the state. Moreover, Alexander said, clean air will benefit the tourism industry, which includes the 9 million tourists who visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park each year.
In his guest column, Alexander also focused attention on the health issues caused by polluted air and water. Of the five worst American cities for asthma, he said, three are in Tennessee: Memphis, Chattanooga and Knoxville. He also noted that mercury, one of the byproducts of coal-fired power plants, also pollutes streams and rivers and causes brain damage in children.
Clean air has been an issue in East Tennessee for decades, and now is not the time to relax or reverse the rules. There is too much at stake for the state's health, its economy and its future.