Alexander Introduces Legislation to Improve Air Quality in Tennessee

Goes Farther and Faster in Controlling Health-Damaging Pollution

Posted on May 3, 2006

Washington, D.C. — U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Sens. Tom Carper (D-DE), Judd Gregg (R-NH), and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and Lincoln Chafee (R-RI) today introduced a new version of their "Clean Air Planning Act" which Alexander says goes "farther and faster than new Bush Clean Air proposals in controlling health-damaging pollution from coal-fired power plants." “Give the Bush Administration credit: its new clean air rules are important steps forward in reducing air pollution from power plants. But those rules do not go far enough, fast enough to ensure that Tennessee counties come into compliance with federal clean air standards,” said Alexander at a press conference on Capitol Hill today. “Our legislation puts stricter standards on sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, cuts mercury emissions by 90 percent and addresses climate change by placing a modest cap on carbon emissions. “My main concern is the threat to the health of Tennesseans caused by ozone and fine particles and mercury,” Alexander continued. “According to the American Lung Association, pollution levels in Tennessee may increase lung cancer risks as much as breathing second-hand smoke at home. Reducing fine particles and ozone can lower lung cancer risk as well as risk of heart and asthma attacks from excess levels of fine particle pollution.” Alexander said mercury contamination is also a problem for East Tennessee, which has mercury “hot spots” due to emissions from coal-fired power plants both within and outside of Tennessee. “Our legislation will drastically reduce this potent neurotoxin, which is especially dangerous to developing fetuses,” Alexander said. “The good news is that during the last few years the air in Tennessee is becoming cleaner,” Alexander said, “But Knox County was recently ranked as the 15th most polluted city for fine particles and in the top 10 per cent of ozone polluted areas. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is still the most polluted national park in America. Current visibility on the haziest days in the Smokies is 15 miles when natural visibility on those days should be 77 miles.” Alexander praised East Tennessee county mayors who he said have been meeting together once a month for the last 28 months to take local steps to control air pollution, saying, "Their work is crucial but they will not be able to succeed unless the federal government does its part with stricter standards of pollution produced by TVA plants in Tennessee and blown by the wind into Tennessee from other states.” Power plants are the single greatest industrial source of four air pollutants, emitting 67 percent of the United State’s sulfur dioxide, 23 percent of nitrogen oxides, 37 percent of mercury, and 35 percent of carbon dioxide. The administration’s Clean Air Interstate, Mercury, and Visibility Rules (CAIR, CAMR, and CAVR) are aimed at reducing regional air pollution that is transported into states and helping states meet current national air quality standards for ozone and fine particles. The Clean Air Planning Act of 2006 (CAPA) introduced today goes a step beyond the administration's clean air rules. Specifically, it would: Cut sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions by 82 percent by 2015. CAPA would reduce this acid rain causing pollution from 11 million tons today to a total limit of 4.5 million tons in 2010 and to a total limit of 2 million tons in 2015. Cut emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) by almost 68 percent by 2015. Ozone pollution will be cut from 5 million tons to a total limit of 1.9 million tons in 2010 and to a total limit of 1.62 million tons in 2015. Cut mercury emissions by 90 percent in 2015. A stringent, yet achievable, goal that would greatly reduce the risks this neurotoxin poses to human health, particularly pregnant women and developing children. Begin the first-ever national cap on carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Emissions would be capped at today's levels in 2010 and then power plants would have to reduce their emissions to 2001 levels in 2015. It is important that the U.S. regulate CO2 from power plants, because CO2 emissions from U.S. power plants equal 10 percent of global CO2 emissions. Alexander said the most innovative feature of CAPA is that it contains a modest cap on carbon emissions and allows offsets. One example of an offset would be if TVA were to purchase a CO2 or greenhouse gas emission reduction from an industrial company in Tennessee. This lets TVA meet their emissions requirement cost-effectively and provides income for the company. He said a second example would be if TVA were to purchase a reduction from a farmer who plants new trees, because trees capture CO2, or agrees to farm in a way that captures carbon.