Alexander: This Thanksgiving, Tennesseans Can Be Grateful for New Smokies View and the Clean Air to See It
Posted on November 20, 2018
Says in the 1990’s, on clear days, you could see 50 miles in the Smokies; today, you can see 90 miles
“If you are looking for something else to be grateful for this Thanksgiving, try being grateful for the many visionaries, park officials, road builders, engineers, scientists, editors and political leaders who had the foresight to have made it a priority to build the Foothills Parkway and clean up the air so we can see the view.”—Lamar Alexander
*Click here for video of the senator’s remarks.*
MARYVILLE, Tenn., November 20, 2018 – In an address on the Senate floor, United States Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) suggested two things that Tennesseans can be grateful for this Thanksgiving: One, the views from the new 16-mile section of the Foothills Parkway; and two, because the air is cleaner, you can actually see the Great Smoky Mountains.
“The new section of the Foothills Parkway between Walland and Wears Valley that opened this month is one of the prettiest drives in America. If you want the best view of the highest mountains in the eastern United States, you’ll drive the Foothills Parkway,” Alexander said. “When my wife and I drove the parkway on a clear, sunny day, it was packed mostly with local people taking in a view so magnificent that is surprises even those of us who grew up admiring the Smokies, but two decades ago, these visitors did not have such a fine view.
“In the 1990’s, on the clearest of days, you could see for around 50 miles in the Smokies. Today, you can see over 90 miles on the clearest days. And even on the haziest days, visibility has improved. In the 1990’s, visibility was less than 10 miles; today, you can see over 30 miles on the haziest days. While that’s still less than the natural visibility of 150 miles on the clearest days and 90 miles on the haziest days, we’ve made great improvements in the last two decades and visibility is continuing to improve in the park.”
Alexander continued, “In 2002, a report by the National Parks Conservation Association, Appalachian Voices, and Our Children’s Earth ranked the Great Smoky Mountains National Park as ‘America’s most polluted national park.’ During summers, when over 3.5 million people visited the park, the air was hazardous to breathe and views were extremely limited due to pollution. Instead of the blue haze about which the native Cherokees sang, there was smog. The Great Smoky Mountains had become the Great Smoggy Mountains. Then, a lot of people went to work.”
Alexander discussed how federal clean air regulations helped lower emissions and how the Tennessee Valley Authority [TVA] began installing pollution control equipment on some of its coal-fired power plants near the park to reduce emissions. Alexander also said he worked with mayors in the East Tennessee counties surrounding the Smokies to clean the air. Because of each of these factors, Alexander said “ground level ozone pollution, which is what creates smog that is harmful to human health and the environment and reduces visibility, has improved by 36 percent according to the Great Smoky Mountains Association, and all of the counties in the region meet the EPA’s environmentall quality standards for ozone pollution.”
“In 1944 when Congress first authorized the Foothills Parkway, Allied Forces were invading Normandy beach, Franklin D. Roosevelt was president, and Bing Crosby was singing, ‘I’ll be seeing you.’ In 1960, when construction actually started on the parkway, Dwight D. Eisenhower was president, Elvis had just come home after two years in the Army, and America women were wearing beehive hairdos. When I became governor in 1979, the state had acquired the right of way, but construction came to a halt in 1989 because of environmental and engineering challenges. By the time I came to Congress in 2002 – the same time the Smokies were declared the most polluted park – all parties had agreed upon a plan to build bridges to complete the so-called 1.65 mile “missing link” on the parkway. Then President Bush’s administration and the 2005 federal Highway Bill, President Obama’s administration and Governor Haslam’s state administration all chipped in time, effort and taxpayer money to finish the job – after 50 years and $200 million of construction.”
Alexander concluded, “Since it was first authorized, it has taken 75 years to build the parkway and two decades to make the air clean enough so that visitors can see the mountains for 90 miles. If you are looking for something else to be grateful for this Thanksgiving, try being grateful for the many visionaries, park officials, road builders, engineers, scientists, editors and political leaders who had the foresight to have made it a priority to build the Foothills Parkway and clean up the air so we can see the view. It has taken 75 years, but the views are so picturesque that it is worth the wait.”
Click here to watch Alexander’s full remarks on the Senate floor.