Maryville Daily Times: Editorial on Clean Air

Posted on June 15, 2012

Why should utilities outside Tennessee expect to be singled out for special treatment by the federal government?

American Commitment believes those power producers should be bailed out, and the advocacy group has mounted an attack on Sen. Lamar Alexander to drive the point home.

Maybe you’ve seen the TV commercial that American Commitment is spending almost $1 million to run in Tennessee, West Virginia, New Hampshire and Maine.

As is typical of the attack-ad genre, the commercial appears to be shot through a dark haze (smoke from burning coal?) and is accompanied by an ominous soundtrack. The voice-over asks, “Is Senator Lamar Alexander joining Obama’s war on coal? Looks like it.”

The commercial is referencing Alexander’s support of maximum achievable control technology (MACT) regulations for hazardous air pollutant emissions from power plants. The senator from Maryville said he will not vote for a bill to overturn the MACT rule, but instead introduce a bipartisan bill to allow violators six years to comply.

The commercial continues: “Washington special interests call it the Utility MACT, but we call it billions in new costs.”

It’s revealing that American Commitment attempts to distance itself from “Washington special interests.” Here’s what the commercial neglects to disclose: American Commitment occupies an office suite located at 1100 G St. NW, Washington, D.C. — three blocks from Pennsylvania Avenue.

Part of the cost of production is dealing with the byproducts. Air pollution is a byproduct of burning coal. The true cost of coal includes the health costs air pollution brings to a community. Don’t forget about the business prospects lost when air quality standards aren’t met. Blount County business recruiters know all about that.

Why force taxpayers living thousands of miles away to pick up the tab for pollution costs that should be reflected in a local utility’s bill? Customers pay the freight so producers can afford to operate. That’s not a new concept or one unfamiliar to Americans. It’s called capitalism.

Alexander explained his position on the floor of the Senate: “This rule requires utilities in other states to install the same pollution controls that TVA already is installing on its coal-fired power plants. TVA alone can’t clean up our air. Tennessee is bordered by more states than any other state. We are surrounded by our neighbors’ smokestacks. If we want more Nissan and Volkswagen plants, we will have to stop dirty air from blowing into Tennessee.”

Cleaner air means more jobs from tourism and a significant economic boost to Tennessee and Blount County. As Alexander said, “East Tennesseans know that 9 million tourists a year come to see the Great Smoky Mountains — not the Great Smoggy Mountains.”

Speaking of jobs, Alexander pointed out that while there are 546 Tennesseans working in coal mines, there are 1,200 Tennesseans working at the Alstom plants in Knoxville and Chattanooga. Those facilities will supply the country with pollution control equipment required by MACT.

If Tennessee jobs are of no concern to American Commitment, why should those Washington lobbyists care about the health of the state’s citizens? Clearly they don’t. Three of the five worst U.S. cities for asthma are in Tennessee. Because of high levels of mercury, health advisories warn against eating fish caught in many of Tennessee’s streams.

It’s easy for the “Washington special interests” that back American Commitment’s misguided pro-pollution efforts to point downwind and say, “It’s your problem. You pay for it.”

No thanks. Want to earn profits from energy derived from burning coal? Go for it.

But don’t deflect the true cost of turning coal into electricity onto those who suffer the byproducts but don’t accrue the benefits. And don’t expect the federal government to keep bailing you out. You’re not that “special.”