published Friday, June 15th, 2012

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander parts with GOP, backs tighter coal regulation

Wayne Cropp , former director of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Air Pollution Control Bureau, stands with U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., during a news conference in front of the Volkswagen plant today.
Wayne Cropp , former director of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Air Pollution Control Bureau, stands with U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., during a news conference in front of the Volkswagen plant today.
Photo by Doug Strickland.

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., today defended an EPA rule to require stricter pollution controls of coal plants, claiming the new requirements will be good for the environment and economy of Tennessee.

Despite a $400,000 television ad campaign in Tennessee urging Alexander to oppose the new EPA rules, the Tennessee Republican said he plans to vote against a measure by Senate Public Works Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe, R-Okla, to overturn EPA's new Maximum Achievable Control Technology (MACT) rules for coal plants.

Alexander said the Tennessee Valley Authority is already committed to meeting the standards "and we shouldn't be punished for the dirty air that blows into our state" from other utilities that continue to burn coal without scrubbers or other control devices.

Alexander, who was Tennessee governor in 1980 when Nissan was recruited to the state, said the new EPA rules will help bring more manufacturers to the state by helping Tennessee clean up its air and meet federal air standards.

Standing in front of the $1 billion Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Alexander said he wants more VW suppliers to come to Chattanooga and more Nissan suppliers elsewhere in the state. He said that can only happen if such businesses are assured they won't be in danger of pushing smog and other toxic air emissions above allowable limits.

Coal plants need to be cleaned up to improve air quality and allow for more industrial expansion, Alexander said.

Only 546 Tennesseans still work in coal mines, Alexander said.

"There are also 1,200 Tennesseans who work at the Alstom plants in Knoxville and Chattanooga that will supply the country with pollution control equipment required by this rule," he said.

Alexander is the lone Republican in the Senate to publicly come out against Inhofe's bill, which is scheduled for a vote next Wednesday. AmericanCommitment, a newly formed political action committee, is spending $400,000 on television ads asking "why is Sen. Alexander supporting Obama's war on coal."

Alexander said his experience living close to the Smoky Mountain National Park and recruiting auto manufacturers to the state convinced him of the environmental and economic value of the proposed rule.

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