Weekly column by Senator Alexander: “They're the Great Smoky Mountains, Not the Great Smoggy Mountains”

Posted on November 14, 2011

Weekly Column by Sen. Lamar Alexander

This week the Senate voted on a proposal offered by Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky to overturn a Clean Air Act rule designed to limit the blowing of power plant pollution from one state to another, a proposal that I urged my colleagues to oppose. 

Tennesseans admire much about our Kentucky neighbors.  We admire their bluegrass, we admire their basketball, we admire their distinguished Senators.  But Tennesseans don't want Kentucky's State income tax, and we don't want Kentucky's dirty air.  We also know our neighbors in North Carolina don't want Tennessee's dirty air blowing into North Carolina because they have told us that through lawsuits in the courts, which they have won.    

I joined Senator Mark Pryor of Arkansas in introducing bipartisan legislation that will provide what we believe is a better approach, and that approach is to enact the clean air rule into law but give utilities one additional year in which to comply with it.  Our approach would provide certainty and cleaner air at the lowest possible cost to ratepayers. 

There are four reasons that I oppose overturning this cross-state air pollution rule.

Reason No. 1 is 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. 

The second reason is tourism jobs. When I visit the Sevier County Chamber of Commerce, right next to the Great Smoky Mountains I walk in to see them, and they say their No. 1 goal is clean air.  That is because 9 million tourists [a year] come to see the Great Smoky Mountains, not the Great Smoggy Mountains. 

In the county where I come from, 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.

Three, the American Lung Association tells us that dirty air blowing into Tennessee makes us unhealthier, especially children and our older citizens. 

The fourth reason is that overturning the rule was no solution.  What will it do?  It will throw it back to bureaucrats and lawyers and bureaucracy and uncertainty and delay.  That is not a solution. 

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. 

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. 

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