Senator Alexander Calls For Cleaner Air In The Tennessee Valley And Great Smoky Mountains

Posted on April 25, 2003

KNOXVILLE — U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander today told the "Regional Clean Air Action Summit" of local East Tennessee officials that "it is time for all of us to get busy making sure that the Great Smoky Mountains don't become the Great Smoggy Mountains for our grandchildren." "The condition of the air in the Tennessee Valley and Great Smokies is completely unacceptable," Alexander said.
  • Knoxville is showing up on lists of cities with the most polluted air.
  • According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), only Los Angeles and Houston had more days of ozone air violations than the Great Smokies in 2002.
  • And finally, park officials say the natural condition of the park would be an annual average visibility of 113 miles. Today the annual average visibility is only 25 miles. "This is damaging our health, damaging our economic growth and damaging the natural beauty of East Tennessee - which is what most of us who grew up and live here are most proud of," Alexander continued. Alexander, who is chairman of the Senate Energy Subcommittee, said TVA should seriously consider replacing some of its coal-fired power plants with coal gasification plants, using a process successfully used by Eastman Chemical Company in Kingsport. The senator said legislation he is co-sponsoring would provide federal incentives to make such coal gasification cost competitive. Alexander said, "For too long we have thought of cleaner air as the enemy of better jobs. That's not necessarily so. Clean air is the number one priority of the Pigeon Forge Chamber of Commerce because it means more tourism jobs. Eastman and TVA will create more good jobs if they can clean the air with coal gasification. And Knoxville's IdleAire Corporation creates new jobs by creating products that give truckers an alternative to idling their engines while parked. Alexander warned that "there is no silver bullet here and no quick solution, and clear air is only one leg of a three-legged stool. The other two legs are good jobs and efficient energy, and we must keep all three in balance." The senator had this to say about various solutions to the clean air problem:
    • "Long term, President Bush's hydrogen car initiative - which I am sponsoring in the senate - shows real promise. Cars would run on fuel cell engines using hydrogen instead of internal combustion engines using gasoline. This would reduce our dependence on foreign oil and clean the air since the only emission from a hydrogen car is water. Tennessee brainpower at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Nissan and Saturn all can help play a role in this exciting mission."
    • "The hydrogen car initiative includes a demonstration project for hydrogen vehicles in three national parks. One of those parks should be the Great Smokies."
    • "For the next twenty years we need to rely much more on newer, cleaner forms of energy, including natural gas, nuclear power, coal gasification, and wind power."
    • "If we want good jobs and low electric rates for the next twenty years, we are going to need to continue to explore for more oil and natural gas and burn more coal. There is no way around this. We have to be realistic."
    • "TVA can play a major role in cleaning the air, but I'm not yet convinced its current clean air proposals are ambitious enough or yielding results soon enough. Coal gasification may be a better option."
    • "President Bush's "Clear Skies" proposal is a good framework for building the most comprehensive clean air legislation in a dozen years, but, as written I am not convinced that it does enough to clean the air in the Tennessee Valley."