Speeches & Floor Statements

Floor Remarks of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) -- Opposing Overturning Clean Air Rule

Posted on November 10, 2011

    Mr. ALEXANDER.  The Senator from Kentucky wants to overturn a clean air rule which would limit the amount of soot and ozone, the pollution that causes smog, from blowing from Kentucky and other states into Tennessee, or that blows from Tennessee into North Carolina.  This is no solution to a serious problem. 

    I want to give the four reasons why I am going to vote no, and why I believe Senator Pryor of Arkansas and I have a better solution, which is to put the rule into law and give the utilities enough time to comply with it. 

    Reason No. 1, auto jobs.  The first thing Nissan did when it came to Tennessee 30 years ago was to go down to the Air Quality Board and get an air quality permit so it could operate its paint plant.  Fortunately, our air was clean enough to allow that to happen.  Nissan came, and so did tens of thousands of jobs.  If it had not gotten the permit, the jobs would not be there. 

    Volkswagen has come to Tennessee.  We want to make sure  its suppliers can get an air quality permit so they do not have to go to other States.  So the first reason we need to stop air from blowing into Tennessee from other States is auto jobs. 

    Second, the Sevier County Chamber of Commerce, right next to the Great Smoky Mountains -- that is where Dolly Parton grew up -- I walk in to see them, and they say their

No. 1 goal is clean air.  That is because 9 million tourists come to see the Great Smoky Mountains, not the Great Smoggy Mountains.  This is not a group or a hotbed of liberal regulators.  These are the most Republican counties in Tennessee.  Where I come from, which is the next county over, we have not elected a Democrat to Congress since Abraham Lincoln was President, but we like to breathe clean air.  Our tourists do as well.

    Tourist jobs are the second reason I am going to vote against the Paul amendment and why I support the Alexander-Pryor amendment. 

    Three, the American Lung Association tells us that dirty air blowing into Tennessee makes us unhealthier,   and that some of us will die, especially children and our older citizens.  No. 4, this is no solution.  It has no chance of succeeding.  It will not pass the Senate.  The President will veto it if it does.  And what will it do?  It will throw it back to bureaucrats and lawyers and bureaucracy and uncertainty and delay.  That is not a solution.  So the only reason for it is as a political message.  What kind of message is it, that we favor dirty air blowing from Kentucky into Tennessee or Tennessee into North Carolina?  That we favor not doing our job, but turning it back to bureaucrats, lawyers, uncertainty and delay?  That is not a solution.

    If we want a message amendment, there are many better choices.  The Obama administration, particularly the EPA, is a happy hunting ground of unreasonable regulations.  There is the boiler MACT rule, which must have been created on another planet.  There is the cement MACT rule, which would increase the amount of pollution in the air.  There is the ozone rule, which the President himself had to withdraw.  There is the power plants coolant rule, which seems to have no benefits.  There is even talk of a farm dust rule, which Senator Johanns is talking about.  So why aren't we talking about those rules instead of a proposal to make it easier for dirty air to blow into our State, make us unhealthier, drive away tourists, and cost us auto jobs?  The Senator from Kentucky says it will cost.  His sources say 2 percent.  The Tennessee Valley Authority, the largest public utility in the country, says it is $1 to $2 a month -- $1 to $2 a month.  That is a reasonable cost for what we are getting. 

    TVA has said they are closing 18 coal-fired units, but will continue to operate 38 coal-fired units.  They are putting pollution control equipment on all of them.  That means we are healthier, that means more jobs, that means more tourists.  The Senator from Kentucky says emissions are declining.  That is true, except in Kentucky they are not declining.  Soot went up by 20,000 tons in Kentucky, according to the EPA, between 2009 and 2010.  Some of that might blow into Tennessee, drive away jobs, drive away tourists, and make us unhealthy.

     The Bush administration had a similar rule to this in 2005. That rule required nearly identical reductions in these two pollutants.  Utilities have known since that time -- for 6 years -- these reduction were coming.  Most utilities, like TVA, have complied with it, or are beginning to comply with it.  If we overturn the rule, it is no solution at all.  I am ready for Congress to step up and accept its responsibility and do its job. 

    Someone said to me:  Is that part of your new independence?  No.  I have had bipartisan clean air legislation in this Congress every year since I have been here, because I think it is our job, not the bureaucrats' job.  I was elected to work on jobs and health, not pass the buck to the bureaucrats and lawyers.  So I invite my colleagues to join Senator Pryor and me.  Let's put the rule into law.  Let's give utilities enough time to comply.  They do not have to comply on January 1, 2012.  They have to comply 15 months after that in March 2013.  We would extend it that time another year giving them two years to comply. 

    We are going to have a President elected next year. Whoever it is, his or her EPA will write new rules for communities across the country about how clean their air needs to be.  If we make it harder for them to do their job, by allowing dirty air to blow into Nashville and Chattanooga and Memphis and Knoxville from other States, then when Volkswagen suppliers come to the State office to get their clean air permit, they will not get it, and those jobs will go somewhere else.

    There is a lot I admire about our neighbors in Kentucky, including their two distinguished Senators.  But I do not want their dirty air blowing into Tennessee.  And I know North Carolina does not want our dirty air blowing into North Carolina, because they have been suing us for several years about it. 

    The American people are tired of messaging.  I want to see the Great Smoky Mountains, not the Great Smoggy Mountains.  I want tourists to come to Tennessee, admire the mountains, and leave their money.  I want the Volkswagen suppliers to be able to locate their plants in Tennessee.  I want all Tennesseans to be able to grow up healthy and not have to worry about dirty air blowing in from other parts of the country. 

    The Alexander-Pryor amendment would limit that dirty air.  It would help our communities.  It would make us healthier.  It will create jobs.  Let's do our job.  I ask my colleagues to vote no on the Paul amendment and become a cosponsor of the Alexander-Pryor amendment to clean up the air and do it in a way that helps utilities provide electricity at the lowest possible cost to the ratepayer.