Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tn.) on Tuesday said he would vote to uphold a new federal clean air rule “because healthier air means better jobs for Tennesseans—every one of Tennessee’s major metropolitan areas is struggling to meet standards that govern whether industries can acquire the air quality permits to locate here.”
In remarks delivered on the floor of the United States Senate, Senator Alexander said, “This rule requires utilities in other states to install the same pollution controls that TVA already is installing on its coal-fired power plants. TVA alone can’t clean up our air. Tennessee is bordered by more states than any other state. We are surrounded by our neighbors’ smokestacks. If we want more Nissan and Volkswagen plants, we will have to stop dirty air from blowing into Tennessee.
“Here’s why: The first thing Nissan did when it came to Tennessee in 1980 was apply for an air quality permit for emissions from its paint plant. If Nashville’s air had already been too dirty to allow these emissions, Nissan would have gone to Georgia, and one third of Tennessee’s manufacturing jobs today would not be auto jobs.”
The senator also noted that cleaner air means more jobs from tourism. “East Tennesseans know,” he said, “that nine million tourists a year come to see the Great Smoky Mountains—not the Great Smoggy Mountains.” He said the Great Smokies is one of the nation’s most polluted parks.
“We have 546 Tennesseans working in coal mines, according to the Energy Information Administration, and every one of those jobs is important,” the senator 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. Every one of their jobs is important, too.”
He cited the health advantages of the new rule, pointing out that “three of the five worst U.S. cities for asthma are in Tennessee” and that, because of high levels of mercury, health advisories warn against eating fish caught in many of Tennessee’s streams. The new rule would require coal-fired power plants to put on advanced pollution control equipment to control mercury emissions along with 186 other pollutants, including arsenic, acid gases and toxic metals, as required by the Clean Air Act amendments passed by Congress in 1990.
The senator said that he will vote against a resolution by Oklahoma Senator Jim Inhofe disapproving of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Utility MACT rule.
To reduce costs, Senator Alexander introduced legislation with Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) to allow six years to comply with the rule, a timeline many utilities have requested. He and Pryor also urged President Obama “to exercise his already existing authority to allow six years.”
Senator Alexander's full remarks follow:
Mr. President, I wish to speak for a moment about clean air.
Over the last several years, first as Governor of Tennessee and later as a U.S. Senator, I have learned that healthier air also means better jobs for Tennesseans. That is why I intend to vote to uphold a clean air rule that requires utilities in other States to install the same pollution control equipment the Tennessee Valley Authority is already installing on coal-fired power plants in the TVA region.
TVA alone can't clean up our air. Tennessee is bordered by more States than any other State. We are literally surrounded by our neighbors' smokestacks. If we in Tennessee want more Nissan and Volkswagen plants, we will have to stop dirty air from blowing into Tennessee, and here is why. Back in 1980, I was Governor and Nissan came to Tennessee. The first thing the Nissan executives did was to go down to the State air quality board and apply for an air quality permit for their paint emissions plant. If the air in the Nashville area had been so dirty that Nissan couldn't have gotten an air quality permit for additional emissions, Nissan would have gone to Georgia and we would not be able to say today that one-third of our manufacturing jobs in Tennessee are auto jobs.
Every one of Tennessee's major metropolitan areas is struggling today to meet the standards that govern whether industries can acquire the air quality permits they need to locate in our State.
I once asked the Sevierville Chamber of Commerce leaders to name their top priority. They said to me: Clean air. Now, Sevierville is not necessarily a hotbed of leftwing radicals. Sevier County is the most Republican county in the State. It is nestled right up against the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is where Dolly Parton was born. I live in the next county, right up next to Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
East Tennesseans know that 9 million visitors come each year to see the Great Smoky Mountains, not to see the Great Smoggy Mountains, and we want those tourist dollars and the jobs they bring to keep coming.
Despite a lot of progress, the Great Smokies is still one of the most polluted national parks in America. Standing on Clingman's Dome -- our highest peak, about 6,643 feet -- you should be able to see about 100 miles through the natural blue haze about which the Cherokees used to sing. Yet today, on a smoggy day you can see only 24 miles.
There are 546 Tennesseans who work today in coal mining in our State, according to the Energy Information Administration. Every single one of those jobs is important. This has been an important tradition in a few counties in East Tennessee. At the same time, there are 1,200 Tennesseans who work at the Alstom plants in Knoxville and Chattanooga that will supply the country with most of the pollution-control equipment required by this rule. Every one of those Tennesseans’ jobs is important too.
Of the top five worst cities for asthma in the United States, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, three are in Tennessee. They are Memphis, Chattanooga, and Knoxville. Only last year Nashville dropped out of the top 10 worst U.S. cities for asthma. Because of the high levels of mercury, health advisories warn against eating fish caught in many of Tennessee's streams.
According to the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, nationally mercury causes brain damage in more than 315,000 children each year. It also contributes to mental retardation. Half of the manmade mercury in the United States comes from coal-fired power plants. This new rule requires removing 90 percent of this mercury. The rule also controls 186 other hazardous pollutants, including arsenic, acid gases, and toxic metals.
Utilities have known this was coming since 1990 because these 187 pollutants, including mercury, are specifically identified in the 1990 amendments to the Clean Air Act as air pollutants that need to be controlled by utilities. Now the Federal courts have added their weight and ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to control these pollutants.
An added benefit of the rule is that the equipment installed to control these hazardous pollutants will also capture fine particles, a major source of respiratory disease that is primarily regulated under another part of the Clean Air Act. This new equipment will add a few dollars a month to residential electric bills. The EPA estimates a 3-percent increase nationwide. But because the Tennessee Valley Authority has already made a commitment to install these pollution controls, the customers of TVA will pay this rate increase anyway -- with the rule or without the rule. To reduce the costs, the Senator from Arkansas, Senator Pryor, and I will introduce legislation to allow utilities 6 years to comply with the rule, which is a timeline many utilities have requested.
Earlier today the Senator from Oklahoma, who is sponsoring a resolution to overturn the rule, referred to the legislation Senator Pryor and I offered as a cover amendment and suggested in some way that it wasn't a sincere effort. I greatly respect the Senator from Oklahoma. Sometimes we have different points of view, but I have different points of view with the Senator from Minnesota, the Senator from Arkansas, not to mention Senators from almost every place in the country. But I respect those different points of view just as I respect Senator Inhofe's different point of view, and I hope he will respect mine. Here is my point of view: Ever since I have been in the Senate, I have introduced legislation to clean up the air in Tennessee. Why have I done that? Because we don't want the Great Smoggy Mountains, we want the Great Smoky Mountains. We don't want to perpetually have three of the top five asthma cities in the country. We don't like health advisory warnings on our streams so we can't eat our fish.
We especially don't want the Memphis Chamber of Commerce to recruit another big auto plant to the big Memphis megasite and then learn that they can't come here because the Memphis area has dirty air and the auto manufacturer can’t get a necessary air permit. It would be even worse if that dirty air is blowing in from another State.
So what this rule is about is requiring our neighbors, and the rest of the country, to do the same thing we are already doing. If they don't do it, we have no chance in the world to ever have clean air in Tennessee. Also, if we don't, we will have worse health and fewer jobs.
Now as far as the 6 years goes, the law gives States the right to add a fourth year to the 3 years the utilities have to comply with the law. Today Federal law gives the President of the United States the right to add 2 more years to that, so that is 6 years. In the law today the President and the States could make sure utilities have 6 years to comply with this rule. I believe that makes sense.
If I were the king and could wave a magic wand, that is what I would do. Why would I do that? Because we will be getting environmental benefits from utilities’ efforts over the 6 years. So what will happen is utilities will assess their coal plants, decide which ones are too old or too expensive to operate, decide within 3 years to close those they will not continue to operate, and then they will have 6 years to spread the costs of implementing the expensive pollution-control equipment -- most of it is called SCRs and scrubbers -- on their coal-fired power plants.
Most of the utilities have suggested this 6-year timeline as the single best way to clean the air and to do it in a way that has the least impact on electric bills.
So we will introduce our legislation to give utility executives 6 years to implement the rule, but we will also write President Obama a letter and urge him to grant the 6 years so utility executives can have that certainty. Some are saying this rule is anti-coal. I say it is pro-coal in this sense because it guarantees coal a future in our clean energy mix. As I have said, the Tennessee Valley Authority has decided to put the pollution control equipment it needs to make coal clean on all of the coal plants it continues to operate. That doesn't count carbon; that counts all of the hazardous pollution. It counts sulfur, nitrogen, sulfur, mercury, and those sorts of things.
That means, long term, the TVA will be able to produce more than one-third of its electricity from clean coal. That guarantees its future for the foreseeable future in our region, and this is the largest public utility in the world. The rest of our electricity in the Tennessee Valley will come from even cleaner natural gas and from pollution-free nuclear power and hydropower.
Ever since Tennesseans elected me to the Senate, which was about 10 years ago, I have worked hard to clean up our air. Tennesseans know that. Most of them agree with me. They thank me for it when I go home on weekends. They do that because they know if I do not help clean up our air in Tennessee, and if I don't stop dirty air from blowing into our State from other States who don't have pollution controls on their coal plants, that it jeopardizes our health and it jeopardizes our opportunity to continue to be one of the Nation's leading States in attracting auto jobs and in attracting tourists.
I notice on the Senate floor the Senator from Arkansas, Mr. Pryor, and I thank him for his leadership on the issue and for his practical attitude. I believe we have the same goals, which are, No. 1, clean the air but keep the electric bills down at the lowest possible cost, and we believe we have the most constructive proposal to do that. We hope President Obama will agree with us.
First, we hope the Senate will agree with us and uphold the rule; second, that the President will agree with us and grant 6 years; and, third, if he does not, that the Congress will agree with us and pass a law giving utilities 6 years to spread out the costs.