A letter from Sen . Lamar Alexander

Dear Editor:

Never would I have imagined that the first newspaper to accuse me of a felony would be the Free Press, which has a distinguished reputation for high standards and fairness.

Your editorial ("Lamar sells out," July 9) charges that I "traded" my clean air vote in return for $200,000 in television ads. If you have evidence, let's have it. If not, the honorable thing to do is retract it. Your charge is harmful, malicious and untrue.

The truth: When the U.S. Senate voted on clean air on June 20, the only ads running that I knew about were attacking me as "anti-coal." Later, two groups ran ads thanking me for supporting clean air. One of these was a conservative group, one an environmental group. I did not coordinate with any of these groups on their ads.

Your editorial not only is untrue. It is inaccurate, reckless and misleading.

• "Alexander was one of two Republicans" who voted to uphold the clean air rule, you say. FACT: Five Republican senators voted to uphold it, including conservative New Hampshire Republican Sen. Ayotte whose state, like Tennessee, is cleaning up its own coal plants and is the victim of dirty air blowing in from other states.

• Power plants produce "one half of one per cent of the mercury in the air we breathe," you say. FACT: According to the National Emissions Inventory Database, coal-fired power plants produce half the manmade mercury in the U.S. A University of Michigan study concluded that as much as 70 percent of the mercury pollution in local water can come from nearby coal plants. This mercury is then ingested by fish and then by humans. That is why you see warning signs on many Tennessee streams saying: "Don't eat the fish."

• The goal of the rule is to reduce mercury, and it's not worth the cost, you say. FACT: Local research might have led you to Chattanoogans who could explain that the rule's purpose is to implement a 1990 law reducing 187 toxic pollutants, including mercury and arsenic. These pollutants were recommended to Congress by a national committee of local air quality supervisors chaired by Chattanoogan Wayne Cropp.

• You say that the rule "will cost Tennesseans billions" in electric bills. FACT: We residential ratepayers will pay a few more dollars a month, whether or not there is a rule, because TVA already has agreed to install the necessary pollution-control equipment by 2018. To spread out costs, I am one of 11 senators urging the president to give utilities the law's full six years to comply.

Your editorial sounds like it was written in Washington. Real Chattanoogans know how hard they have worked to clean up the air since 1969 when the then-U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare declared Chattanooga America's dirtiest city.

Last month Chattanooga's air quality supervisor, Bob Colby, said that the Volkswagen site would today "be a vacant lot" if local officials hadn't earlier taken difficult steps, such as checking vehicles' emissions, to stay within clean air standards.

Without national rules that reduce the dirty air blowing into Tennessee from other states, Chattanooga risks staying among the nation's worst asthma cities. According to the Allergy and Asthma Foundation of America, Chattanooga now is fifth, Memphis is first, and Knoxville is third. Industrial sites in Chattanooga could remain vacant lots as Volkswagen suppliers ignore them because of difficulty getting air quality emissions permits.

I agree that the EPA has become a happy hunting ground for goofy regulations, but even a stopped clock is right twice a day. EPA's two reccnt rules to help reduce dirty air blowing across state lines are right.

Over the last 40 years, few cities have worked harder to clean up its air than Chattanooga. That environmental progress is one reason Volkswagen is here.

As governor and as senator, I have tried to help level the playing field so utilities in other states don't undermine Chattanooga's good work.

I am glad Volkswagen did not read an editorial like yours before deciding whether to come to Chattanooga.


Lamar Alexander