For a city that has tried more than once to improve its image as a environmental leader and sustainable city, the residents of metropolitan Chattanooga continue to leave a larger and larger carbon footprint.
The 2008 State of Chattanooga Region Report on Environment, released today by the Ochs Center for Metropolitan Studies, finds local energy use up, regional sprawl increasing and the use of public transportation virtually non-existent.
At the same time, according to the report, the region’s air quality is worsening, and three quarters of the region’s assessed streams and rivers have been found to be impaired — half with E. coli.
David Eichenthal, president and CEO of the Ochs Center, said the report is a beginning for regional officials and policymakers to “connect the dots.”
“Clearly there is a relationship between land use, open space and transportation patterns that gets translated into air quality and even water quality in our region,” he said.
The report puts an emphasis on urban sprawl as a contributor to the growing carbon footprint, a measure of how human activity contributes to climate change by increasing the amount of carbon dioxide released into the earth’s atmosphere. According to the report, sprawl now includes more of the greater Chattanooga region — the six-county metro area, not just Hamilton County.
Mr. Eichenthal said the Ochs Center report is important because it is the first of its kind that takes a regional approach, describing conditions within Hamilton, Marion and Sequatchie counties in Tennessee and Catoosa, Dade and Walker counties in Georgia.
“This really is a regional issue,” he said. “Political boundaries don’t work very well when it comes to clean air or clean water, so the only way to really think about the environment is not just within the bounds of a particular city or county, but really across, at a minimum, the six-county region.”
Gene Hyde, Chattanooga city forester and the chairman of the city’s Green Committee, said he hasn’t seen the report, but it sounds like a good beginning and probably “a lot of it should be factored into our sustainability initiative” to be finalized later this year.
“I’m hearing these numbers for the first time,” he said. “It shows there’s work to be done for sure. I’m sure there are some positive sides, too.”
But in Georgia, Dade County Commission Chairman Ben Brandon said the report didn’t say much to him — especially since he didn’t get a opportunity to preview it.
“I do not believe in man-made global warming, so right off the bat I’ll tell you that anything with carbon footprint in it is baloney,” he said Tuesday.
INSIDE THE DATA
The report, to be released to the public today at 11 a.m. at Greenspaces at 63 E. Main St., picks up on the findings of a recent study by the Brookings Institution and a Chattanooga Green Committee report.
The Brookings findings ranked the Chattanooga region as the 12th worst per capita greenhouse gas emitter — with 3.1 metric tons per year — of the 100 largest metropolitan areas in the United States.
The Green Committee report, which also looked at commercial and industrial emitters rather than just residential emitters, was even harsher. The Green Committee stated that Chattanooga alone emitted 6.1 million tons of carbon dioxide in 2006, a 23 percent increase from 1990.
The Ochs Center report looked further, linking the carbon emissions with sprawl, air and water quality and commuting issues.
“The size of the regional carbon footprint is the result — in large part — of the interplay between land use and transportation,” the report states.
In Hamilton County alone, the report said open space increasingly is being subdivided, and much of it is being developed into residential areas at the fringe edges of the county. Altogether, the report said, 4,800 acres of parcels that were 100 acres or more in 2001 were converted to smaller lots and, by 2005, the number of parcels with 15 acres or less had increased by more than 7,600 properties.
Meanwhile, between 2005 and 2007, the number of air-quality days in the region measuring less than “good” increased from 50.9 percent to 61 percent, the report showed.
Comparing the local region to 13 other midsize regions, the Chattanooga area ranked No. 2 for the most days not meeting federal ozone pollution standards and No. 4 for the most days not meeting federal particulate matter standards.
In another comparison with 13 other midsize regions, the Chattanooga/Hamilton County area had the sixth longest commute time — 20.8 minutes. The county also tied for No. 3 in the percentage of residents driving alone to work.
About a dozen Chattanooga and Hamilton County officials had a chance recently to preview the report, but no leaders from outlying counties had the opportunity.
Karen Hundt, director of the Planning and Design Studio, a division of the Chattanooga and Hamilton County Regional Planning Agency, said the report is a good indicator of the times.
“You can’t just look at this report as being about the environment,” she said. “You have to look at the overall economy of the area and at health. I just came from a Chattanooga Manufacturers Association annual meeting and luncheon, and the speaker’s message to all manufacturers was, ‘You’ve got to be green, and you’ve got to do it because it is going to impact your bottom line in the future.’”
Catoosa County Commission Chairman Bill Clark said he couldn’t comment on the report without seeing it.
Hamilton County Mayor Claude Ramsey has been in Germany for meetings with Volkswagen officials.
Jeannine Alday, Hamilton County chief of staff, attended the preview meeting, according to center officials. But on Tuesday, according to her secretary Debbie Garvich, Ms. Alday, “said she didn’t have time to comment.”
Mr. Eichenthal said he hopes the report “feeds into a good and important conversation” regionally.
“Before you can have a good prescription, you have to have a good diagnosis,” he said. “These starting points are as important as the prescriptions that will come out of it.”
Pam Sohn has been reporting or editing Chattanooga news for 25 years. A Walden’s Ridge native, she began her journalism career with a 10-year stint at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. She came to the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 1999 after working at the Chattanooga Times for 14 years. She has been a city editor, Sunday editor, wire editor, projects team leader and assistant lifestyle editor. As a reporter, she also has covered the police, ...