Tennessee Republican Opposes Bush's Clear Skies

By J.R. Pegg

WASHINGTON, DC, July 15, 2003 (ENS) - Senator Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican, told Senate colleagues Monday that he will not support the Bush administration's air pollution plan - known as "Clear Skies" - because it does not "go far enough, fast enough" to solve his state's air pollution problems. Instead of backing the Clear Skies plan, Alexander has signed on as a cosponsor of a competing bill known as the "Clean Air Planning Act," which was introduced by Senator Tom Carper, a Delaware Democrat.

"This legislation is the best balanced proposal because it would reduce pollution emitted by power plants while permitting the maximum possible economic growth and energy efficiency," Alexander told Senate colleagues Monday.

Alexander's support of a rival plan is another blow to the Bush administration, which has found its Clear Skies initiative on the end of increasing criticism. Clear Skies is a cap and trade program that aims to reduce emissions of mercury, nitrogen oxides (NOx) and sulfur dioxide (SO2) by 70 percent over 15 years. Alexander

Tennessee's Republican Senator Lamar Alexander has thrown his support behind an air pollution bill that addresses sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, mercury and carbon dioxide. (Photo courtesy Senator Alexander's Office)
Critics say enforcing current law would result in more rapid emissions reductions and contend that the Bush plan is filled with loopholes that would delay efforts to reduce the nation's air pollution.

There is, however, growing belief that the 30 year old Clean Air Act - although successful in cleaning the nation's air - has become too unwieldy for industry and that a multipollutant plan is the best way to build on the

The Clean Air Planning Act builds on this sentiment and is similar in its aims to Clear Skies, but achieves quicker reductions of the three pollutants in the President's plan and also includes limits on carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. The Bush administration is adamantly opposed to any mandatory reductions of C02, believed by many to be the leading contributor to global warming.

Under Carper's bill, power plants would have to reduce C02 emissions by 2013 to 2001 levels.

"It goes farther, faster than [Clear Skies] does in reducing pollutants from sulfur, nitrogen and mercury," Alexander said. "It places modest controls on carbon. And it does not weaken the existing clean air law."

Other cosponsors of the Carper bill include Republican Senators Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island and Judd Gregg of New Hampshire.

Analysis by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) shows that the Carper bill would annually cost some $2.5 billion more to implement, but would provide $50 billion more in health benefits than Clear Skies.

Environmentalists, who are steadfast in their opposition to Clear Skies, are also a bit wary of Carper's bill, which they believe would roll back pollution standards for new power plants, weaken the New Source Review program and would eliminate some of the current health protections for local communities from power plant emissions.

Much of the power plant industry supports Clear Skies and contends that Carper's bill is too aggressive and will prove too costly for the industry. smokies

Only Los Angeles and Houston have worse ozone pollution than Tennessee's Great Smokey Mountains National Park.(Photo courtesy National Parks Conservation Association)
Alexander noted the air pollution problems in his home state as a key reason for his decision to back the Carper bill.

"The condition of the air in my state, Tennessee, is completely unacceptable to me and ought to be completely unacceptable to every Tennessee citizen," he said.

Tennessee's Great Smokey Mountains National Park has the worst air quality of all the national parks and the city of Knoxville is on the American Lung Association's list of top ten cities with the dirtiest air. The state's two largest cities - Memphis and Nashville - are on the top 20 list.

Air pollution problems are affecting Tennessee's public health, scenic beauty and its economic growth, Alexander told Senate colleagues, and solving these problems requires a "national solution."

Alexander noted that much of the state's air pollution comes from within its borders - emissions from cars and trucks and from the coal-fired power plants of the Tennessee Valley Authority - but added that as a third of Tennessee's air pollution comes from outside the state.

Clear Skies would prevent the state for ten years from going into court to force another state to meet the federal clean air standards, Alexander explained, and would remove the right of the National Park Service to comment on the effect of power plant emissions more than 30 miles away from a national park.