Statement Sen. Alexander - Clean Air And Health And Scenic Beauty In Tennessee

Posted on December 2, 2003

Governor Bredesen, as he is required to do by law, has submitted to the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency 18 Tennessee counties that are becoming so polluted by ground ozone, or smog, that they are likely to be in violation of the new federal clean air standards by 2007. These counties include the largest counties in Tennessee, in all five largest population areas. About 65 percent of us live in these counties. In April, the EPA will decide whether it agrees with the governor. It might add additional counties. Then, all of the identified counties will have not more than three years to try to meet the federal standards. The state will go through the same sort of process again next year on a different source of pollution — particulate matter. The governor will advise the EPA about which counties are likely to be in violation of the particulate matter standard — a pollutant made up of ozone and sulfur dioxide — in the year 2004. East Tennessee could really struggle with this new particulate matter standard. The consequences of being in violation of the federal clean air standards are severe. To begin with, ground ozone — the kind of smog that Los Angeles is famous for — is damaging to our health, especially the health of children, the elderly and the chronically ill. Ozone is a clear, odorless pollutant. You would have no idea you were inhaling it, just as you would have no idea of the damage it was doing to your lungs. Second, ground ozone combined with other pollutants, including sulfur dioxide and particulate matter, damages the scenic beauty of our state, one of the principal reasons most of us like to live here. The Great Smoky Mountain National Park has become the most polluted national park in the country. The natural visibility in the Great Smokies should be an average of 113 miles. Instead, today, the average visibility is 13 miles. Finally, polluted air means that it will be harder to attract new businesses with better paying jobs to Tennessee because it will be harder for those new or expanding businesses to comply with clean air requirements. To put it another way, cleaner air means better jobs for Tennesseans. My responsibilities in the United States Senate include chairmanship of the Senate Subcommittee on Children and Families and the Subcommittee on Energy. Today in Knoxville, I am gathering information on how the polluted air in Tennessee affects health and scenic beauty. Two weeks ago in Nashville, we discussed how polluted air affects job growth in Tennessee. I intend to use this information in subcommittee hearings and in working with Governor Bredesen, local officials, and other members of the Tennessee Congressional delegation to help clean the air in our state. The condition of the air in Tennessee today is completely unacceptable to me and ought to be completely unacceptable to every Tennessee citizen. We have a short period of time during the next two to three years, working together, to meet the federal clean air standards. The situation is urgent. But we can not do it alone. We need help from our neighbors because a significant amount of our air pollution problem comes from dirty air that the wind blows into Tennessee from the South and the North. That is why I have chosen to co-sponsor legislation proposed in the Senate by Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware, which builds on President Bush's Clear Skies proposal but goes farther, faster than the president would to require the reduction of four major pollutants poisoning our air: sulfur, mercury, nitrogen and carbon. In some ways the air in Tennessee has become cleaner since the passage of the Clean Air Act in l970. However, some of our ozone reductions have been offset because we are driving our cars more. Also, air pollution standards are stricter today than they were and will become even stricter in 2007and 2009. The standards are getting tougher because we better understand how damaging these pollutants can be to our health. Coal fired power plants and emissions from cars and trucks are the major sources of air pollution in Tennessee. In other hearings, I have focused on coal-fired power plants and how they contribute as much as 50 percent of the particulate matter pollution and 85 percent of the visibility problem in the Great Smokies. Today, I want to learn more about the health and visibility problems caused by such pollution. In order for Tennessee to successfully address these serious clean air problems, we will need to be focused on reducing pollution, especially sulfur dioxide, from both power plants and transportation sources. This is a regional problem and it will require national legislation to help Tennessee.