Speeches & Floor Statements

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

Posted on June 20, 2012

I would agree the EPA has become a happy hunting ground for goofy regulations. But as the late William F. Buckley once said, even a stopped clock is right twice a day. And on this rule -- this clean air rule and the earlier interstate rule -- I believe EPA is right.

The effect of upholding this rule will be to finally require that most coal plants in America will have to install two kinds of pollution control equipment: scrubbers and SCRs. This will basically finish the job of capturing sulfur and nitrogen oxides, fine particles, and the 187 toxic pollutants that were specifically identified by Congress in the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments.

The Tennessee Valley Authority has already committed to install this equipment by 2018. But TVA alone can't clean up Tennessee's air, because dirty air blows in from other States. So let me say what upholding this rule will do for the people of Tennessee.

First, it will hasten the day when Memphis, Chattanooga, and Knoxville are not three of the top five worst asthma cities -- which they are today -- and Nashville is not competing to be in the top 10.

Madam President, I ask unanimous consent to have printed in the Record at the conclusion of my remarks an article, which appeared in the Tennessean this week, by Dr. William Lawson of Vanderbilt University, who treats patients with respiratory diseases in Nashville.

In the article Dr. Lawson says: “Pollution from these power plants means my patients suffer more. Pollution increases their chances of being hospitalized. Some of these toxic emissions even cause cancer and can interfere with our children's neurological development.”

Secondly, upholding this rule means that visitors will soon not even think of calling the Great Smoky Mountains the Great Smoggy Mountains because it is one of the most polluted national parks in America. We want those 9 million visitors to keep coming every year with their dollars and their jobs.

Instead of seeing 24 miles on a bad air day from Clingman's Dome, our highest peak, this rule should mean we will gradually move toward seeing 100 miles from Clingman's Dome as the air cleans up and we look through the natural blue haze.

Third, this rule should mean fewer health advisory warnings for our streams that say "don't eat the fish because of mercury contamination." Half of the manmade mercury in the United States comes from coal plants, and as much as 70 percent of the mercury pollution in our local environment, such as streams and rivers, can come from nearby coal plants.

Fourth, we have seen that had Nissan been unable to get an air quality permit in Nashville in 1980, it would have gone to Georgia. And if Senator Corker had not, as mayor of Chattanooga, improved the air quality in that city in the mid 2000s, the Volkswagen site there would be a vacant lot today.

We know every Tennessee metropolitan area is struggling to stay within legal clean air standards and we don't want the Memphis mega-site to stay a vacant lot because dirty air blowing in from Mississippi and Arkansas makes the Memphis air too dirty for new industry to locate there.

We know these rules will add a few dollars to our electric bills, but in our case, most of that is going to happen anyway because the Tennessee Valley Authority has already agreed to put this pollution control equipment on its coal-fired power plants. We know we can reduce the effect of these expenses on monthly electric bills because States may give utilities a fourth year to comply with the rule, and the President may, under the law, give them a fifth and sixth year. And Senator Pryor and I intend to ask the President to give that fifth and sixth year to reduce costs on electric bills.

We know long term this rule will secure a place in America's clean energy future for clean coal. For example, the largest public utility, TVA, the largest private utility, Southern Company, both plan to put pollution control equipment on their coal plants and to make at least one-third of their electricity from coal over the long term.

In 1990 -- 22 years ago -- Congress told the EPA to make this rule when it passed the Clean Air Act amendments. In 2008, the Court told the EPA to make this rule.

Over the years, I have learned that cleaner air not only means better health, but also means better jobs for Tennesseans, and I am proud to stand up on behalf of the people of Tennessee to uphold this clean air rule.