Open letter to Alexander

Dear Sen. Alexander,

On July 8, this page published an editorial titled "Lamar sells out." In it, the devastating costs of Mercury and Air Toxics Standards are outlined, and you are roundly criticized for your economically reckless vote against overturning the burdensome regulation. The editorial candidly reflects many concerns that this page has about the MACT regulation.

No one likes to receive criticism for choices they make. Still, this page was saddened and disappointed to receive the letter -- printed elsewhere on this page -- that you authored in an attempt to silence criticism of you.

In your letter, you claim the Times Free Press' "distinguished reputation for high standards and fairness" is somehow tarnished because it included an editorial outlining a reasonable criticism of one of your least popular votes. You then ask that the paper retract the critical editorial.

The day after the criticism of your MACT vote appeared on the free market-oriented Free Press page, the Times Free Press' liberal Times editorial page published an editorial that was so laudatory of your support of MACT that it all but demanded that you immediately be installed King of the Universe -- as is well within that page's prerogative. Of course, your letter fails to mention any concerns you had with that editorial.

I would like to take this opportunity to address several of the points you raise in your letter.

First you claim that the editorial "accuse(s) you of a felony," namely selling your vote in exchange for $200,000 in television ads from an extremist environmental group. The editorial never intended to allege that the money spent by the Environmental Defense Fund applauding your MACT vote was coordinated in any way before the vote. In fact, the editorial acknowledges that the ads were a way of patting you on the back after the fact.

Second, and importantly, you correctly note that the editorial contained one factual error. The piece stated that you were one of only two Republican senators to vote in favor of keeping the job-killing legislation intact. In truth, you were one of five. The Free Press editorial page regrets this mistake and, in keeping with this page's -- and the paper's -- commitment to accuracy, we have issued a correction to address that issue. Whether two Republicans voted to uphold MACT or five, you were in a very small minority of GOP senators supportive of the regulation. This might give you an indication as to why your vote was contrary to the wishes of most Tennesseans.

Next, you attack the fact noted in the editorial that power plants account for only "one half of one percent of the mercury in the air we breathe," but you do not dispute the accuracy of the number. Instead you cite research that "coal-fired plants produce half of the manmade mercury in the U.S.," which, if anything, highlights that most airborne mercury comes from natural sources like forest fires, geysers and volcanoes and indicates that manmade mercury is a very small threat to air quality.

The editorial's assertion that the MACT regulation will "cost Tennesseans billions" in increased electric bills is then questioned. This is particularly surprising since you do not deny that, "residential ratepayers will pay a few more dollars a month." Projections assume that the average Tennessee household can expect a $13 increase in their monthly electric bill as a result of MACT. Since there are 2.5 million households in Tennessee, it will take only 30 months for MACT to cost Tennesseans more than a billion dollars -- and that only considers residential customers. When you factor in the cost to businesses, which your letter conveniently ignores, the price tag further skyrockets.

According to you, the "editorial sounds like it was written in Washington." If, by that, you mean that it relies on empirical evidence to assess policy, rather than just blindly assuming that anything you vote for is good, then this page takes that comment as a compliment.

You then admit "the EPA has become a happy hunting ground for goofy regulations." If you believe that, then why do you continue to blindly fund the EPA, showering billions of tax dollars each year on an invasive bureaucracy without attempting to overhaul the agency or eliminate many of these "goofy regulations?" Instead, you protect the status quo, occasionally articulating your frustrations, but never acting on them in a meaningful way.

Finally, your letter concludes by stating, "I am glad Volkswagen did not read an editorial like yours before deciding whether to come to Chattanooga."

Do you honestly imply that if leaders of a company were to read an editorial criticizing an elected official, the company might go elsewhere? It is difficult to believe that muting the freedom of the press is an especially useful tactic to lure businesses to a city.

Besides, the $500 million in taxpayer-funded incentives that were used to pay off Volkswagen to locate their facility in Chattanooga was likely a much more powerful enticement than whether one of the local paper's two editorial pages had nice things to say about a career politician, wouldn't you agree?

Your passion for the environment, while at times noble, has come at a great expense to taxpayers and electric consumers in Tennessee and across the nation. That you often put the interest of radical environmental groups above the concerns and needs of Tennesseans is alarming and worthy of discussion. This page is proud to facilitate such discussions.

Your letter makes you appear a spoiled, entitled, petulant bully. Despite living at the expense of taxpayers as a coddled government official for almost your entire adult life, you apparently believe you are beyond reproach -- even to the point of demanding an opinion page be silenced for criticizing you.

This page won't be silenced, Mr. Senator.

The Free Press editorial page will be the first to applaud when you advance free market or conservative policy proposals. However, when you fail to live up to the standards of fiscal conservatism and limited government expected of a Republican senator from this state, as was the case with your vote to uphold MACT regulation, this page will hold you accountable.


The Free Press editorial page