Statement of Senator Lamar Alexander on letter to TVA

Posted on December 22, 2004

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Maryville) today asked TVA to commit "in concrete" to install by the year 2010 state-of-the-art emissions control technology (specifically, scrubbers) on each unit of its three coal-burning power plants closest to Knoxville and the Great Smoky Mountains. Unless TVA does so, the senator said he does not believe counties in the Knoxville and Chattanooga areas will be able to meet federal clean air requirements. Last Friday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said that several East Tennessee counties are in violation of air quality standards for particulate matter, as well as for ground ozone. "TVA is only one part of this problem, but TVA can do more about the problem than any other single entity in Tennessee," said Alexander, who is chairman of the TVA Congressional caucus. Alexander said that the three plants - John Sevier, Bull Run and Kingston - "pour about 210,000 tons per year of sulfur dioxide (SO2) into our air. Such SO2 emissions chemically combine in the atmosphere to form particulate matter. SO2 emissions are also the primary reason why visibility on a hot summer day in the Smokies averages - according to the National Park Service - 15 miles instead of the natural condition of 80 miles. No other source of SO2 emissions in East Tennessee comes remotely close to the combined SO2 emissions of these three plants." "The quality of our air is unacceptable," he said. "It is damaging to the health of East Tennesseans, to the scenic beauty of the Smokies and - because of federal environmental requirements - to our ability to recruit good jobs and to build good highways." Following is the text of Sen. Alexander's letter to TVA chairman Glenn McCullough: Dear Chairman McCullough: Last Friday the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said Knoxville, Chattanooga as well as Blount, Roane, Loudon and Anderson counties are in violation of national standards for particulate matter or soot, a form of air pollution which aggravates respiratory and cardiovascular disease and triggers asthma attacks. Earlier the EPA said Knox, Anderson, Blount Jefferson, Loudon, Sevier, Hawkins and Sullivan counties and a portion of Cocke County do not meet federal standards for another kind of air pollution, ground ozone. TVA is only one part of this problem, but TVA can do more about the problem than any other single entity in Tennessee. Therefore, I am writing to urge that TVA commit now to install by the year 2010 state-of-the-art emissions control technology (specifically, scrubbers) on each unit of its three coal-burning power plants closest to Knoxville and the Great Smoky Mountains. These three plants - John Sevier, Bull Run and Kingston - pour about 210,000 tons per year of sulfur dioxide (SO2) into our air, according to the EPA. Such SO2 emissions chemically combine in the atmosphere to form particulate matter. SO2 emissions are also the primary reason why visibility on a hot summer day in the Smokies averages - according to the National Park Service - 15 miles instead of the natural condition of 80 miles. No other source of SO2 emissions in East Tennessee comes remotely close to the combined SO2 emissions of these three plants. One way to clean the air is strong national legislation that reduces pollution blowing with the wind into the Tennessee Valley. To do this, I have supported legislation that goes farther and faster than President's Bush's proposals. A second way is the Bush Administration's new requirement that large trucks use low-sulfur diesel fuel, which is an important step forward. A third way is to reduce emissions from automobiles. The most significant remaining way to reduce particulate matter in the Tennessee Valley is for TVA to reduce SO2 emissions at its power plants. The place to start is with the three power plants closest to the Smokies. According to air modeling performed by the University of Tennessee, these power plants significantly impact not only the air in Knoxville, but Chattanooga and the Tri-Cities and Upper East Tennessee as well. I salute TVA for reducing nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions at its plants by installing the latest technology (specifically, selective catalytic reduction). This will help to bring ground ozone to acceptable levels. Now is the time to take the same strong steps to control SO2. In fact, I do not believe counties in the Knoxville and Chattanooga area and other counties near the Great Smokies will be able to meet federal requirements for healthy air unless TVA puts scrubbers on each unit of the John Sevier, Bull Run and Kingston plants. I know TVA now has plans to install scrubbers at Bull Run and Kingston by 2010. What I am asking is that TVA put these plans in concrete by amending its operating permits - and that it do the same thing with the John Sevier plant. According to the American Lung Association, the Knoxville metropolitan area is one of the three metropolitan areas outside California with the most severe air quality problems. According to the National Parks Conservation Association, the Smokies have become the most polluted national park in the country. The quality of our air in the Tennessee Valley is unacceptable. It is damaging to our health, to the scenic beauty of the Smokies and - because of federal environmental requirements - to our ability to recruit good jobs and to build good highways. Thank you very much. Sincerely, Lamar Alexander Chairman, TVA Congressional Caucus