U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said today during a bipartisan roundtable he hosted with Senator Tom Carper (D-Del.) that Congress should act to protect clean air standards following a federal appeals court decision in July that struck down the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR). He said such standards would bring health and economic benefits to Tennessee communities.
“At a time of rising costs of producing electricity, this ruling sends a signal to utilities that they aren’t required to meet clean air standards,” said Alexander, a member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW). “We are sending a message to utilities that Congress is going to fix this problem, and that they shouldn’t backslide on clean air standards – they should keep meeting them. Congress needs to enact legislation in the next three weeks to set a temporary extension of the CAIR rule.”
Senators Alexander and Carper held a bipartisan roundtable discussion to examine the feasibility of a four-pollutant legislative approach to reduce sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxide (NOx), mercury and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from power plants. These air pollutants know no state boundaries and can cause serious health effects for Americans, such as asthma, chronic bronchitis, cancer and even death.
In addition to combating the health risks posed by air pollutants, Alexander said strong federal limits on the amount of pollution produced by coal plants are needed to help counties trying to recruit new manufacturing businesses. Alexander said a county striving to meet clean air standards could face economic consequences. He said new manufacturing plants might need to get an air quality permit from a state’s air quality board, and that becomes difficult if the region already isn’t meeting its air quality standards.
“That may make it harder to attract those jobs into the region,” Alexander said. “Cities like Nashville and Chattanooga have done a good job trying to stay within the clean air standards and have taken a number of steps to make sure they can recruit companies like Nissan and Volkswagen. But we want to be sure we can continue to stay ahead of the curve because the destruction of this clean air rule will mean more dirty air coming into Tennessee cities from other states, making it harder for us to have the clean air we need to attract the good supplier jobs that should be coming to Tennessee as result of the Volkswagen decision.”
On July 11th, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit struck down the CAIR rule, which set a federal requirement for power plants in 28 eastern states and the District of Columbia to reduce sulfur and nitrogen emissions by using a cap-and-trade program.
Alexander said that “TVA is already being a role model in this by continuing to implement its clean air program as planned. By installing scrubbers at the three coal plants closest to the Smokies, TVA will help reduce emissions in the area and help east Tennessee comply with smog limits. I encourage other electric companies to follow TVA’s lead in pursuing air pollution clean-up programs.”
Nationwide, two out of five Americans live in counties that have unhealthy levels of either ozone or particulate matter – both serious health hazards for people who suffer from asthma and other lung diseases, with 24,000 people dying each year from sulfur dioxide emissions alone.
Alexander sent a letter on August 12th asking Tom Kuhn, president of the Edison Electric Institute (EEI), to work with member utilities to “prevent unnecessary pollution from harming our communities.” The letter was also signed by Sens. Tom Carper (D-Del.), Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), and Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.).
CAIR would have reduced sulfur dioxide emissions in the participating states and D.C. by over 70 percent and nitrogen oxide emissions by over 60 percent from 2003 levels. EPA predicted that by the year 2015, CAIR would have provided $85 to $100 billion in annual health benefits and cost approximately $4 billion. EPA also estimated CAIR would have annually prevented 17,000 premature deaths, millions of lost work and school days, and tens of thousands of non-fatal heart attacks and hospital admissions.