Cutting air pollution from coal-fired power plants is needed for both the physical and fiscal health of East Tennessee, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said Thursday.
But getting Congress to maintain pollution controls rejected this summer by a federal court may be hard in the waning weeks before the election, Sen. Alexander said.
A federal appellate court in July vacated the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Air Interstate Rule, which would have required reductions in smog-causing pollutants from power plants in Tennessee and 27 other states.
“The destruction of this rule means there could be more dirty air flowing into Chattanooga from other states and less pressure on TVA to clean its plants,” Sen. Alexander said. “It could make it harder for Chattanooga to have clean air and to attract more jobs.”
By the numbers
* 35,000 — Estimated number of deaths the Clean Air Interstate Rule might end
* $3 billion — TVA cost to comply with Clean Air Interstate Rule
* 28 — Number of states affected by Clean Air Interstate Rule
* 54 — Number of days before November election for Congress to take up vacated rule
But Bob Colby, executive director for the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Air Pollution Control Bureau, said the planned $1 billion Volkswagen automobile assembly plant — as well as VW suppliers expected to locate in the region — “should have no problem” securing required air permits for new facilities.
The air pollution board plans an Oct. 10 public hearing on VW’s air permit. Mr. Colby said automotive plants today are relatively clean industries and shouldn’t significantly raise pollution levels significantly above current levels, which now meet most EPA standards.
“While the CAIR (Clean Air Interstate Rule) may have been put on hold, there are still other state and federal regulatory actions and other actions in the region that should continue to clean up our air while EPA decides what to do next,” Mr. Colby said.
The Tennessee Valley Authority will continue to install scrubbers and selective catalytic reduction devices to limit sulfur and nitrogen oxide emissions from its coal plants, TVA environmental manager John Myers said.
“We were surprised by the court ruling, but we have decided to continue our clean air projects and continue our program we developed to meet the CAIR standards,” he said.
TVA is installing scrubbers at its Bull Run, Kingsport and John Sevier plants in East Tennessee over the next five years as part of a $3 billion program to comply with the Clean Air Interstate Rules.
Sen. Alexander, who is chairman of the TVA congressional caucus, said he is glad TVA has made that commitment. But he said TVA and other utility officials facing higher costs for fuel and new plant construction may be tempted to scale back their pollution controls without the EPA mandate.
The EPA estimates the Clean Air Interstate Rules should cut air pollution enough to save 35,000 lives in the affected 28 states.
“East Tennessee, and the area around the Smoky Mountains, has a bad problem with dirty air and the respiratory and health problems that it causes, including heart attacks, strokes and even lung cancer,” Sen. Alexander said.
House Democrats, including Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell, D-Mich., have drafted a bill to reinstate many of the Clean Air Interstate Rules until the next Congress considers legislation next year. But there are only a few weeks left before the Nov. 4 election.
“If the House can get a solution to us, we’re going to do our best to pass it this year,” Sen. Alexander said. “If we can’t, we at least want to send a signal to TVA and other utilities that they should continue on the path of complying with the rule or something stricter.”