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Tennessee achieves air quality milestone

(TDEC/staff reports) The Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, announced this week that the entire state of Tennessee is now in compliance with federal air quality health standards for particle pollution, also known as particulate matter or PM2.5.

The agency finalized its official redesignation of all of Anderson, Knox, Blount and Loudon counties and the remaining part of Roane County as “attainment,” in the Federal Register, which means the areas now meet federal particle pollution standards. Those counties were the last remaining areas in Tennessee to achieve the designation.

“Today, Tennessee’s air is as clean as it has been since the beginning of the modern industrial era,” Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam said in a release announcing the milestone. “We are a state that protects the environment while growing our economy – it is not an ‘either, or’ scenario in Tennessee. Today’s announcement is another indicator that we can achieve both.”

Officials say that protecting air quality has not come at the expense of Tennessee’s economic prosperity, pointing out that this week’s announcement comes on the heels of Tennessee recording its lowest unemployment rate since the state began keeping score. Since 1991, economic output in Tennessee has nearly tripled to $300 billion while, during that time, Tennessee’s air quality continued to improve, even as the state’s population increased by a third. Formally achieving an attainment designation from EPA not only means air quality is measuring and meeting federal standards, but, according to state leaders, it also removes a potential barrier to economic development, growth and expansion.

“This decision means more good jobs and healthier air for East Tennesseans as well as better views of the Great Smoky Mountains. Receiving federal attainment for particle pollution further shows that the air is demonstrably cleaner in Anderson, Knox, Blount, Loudon and Roane counties, and will attract more industries to East Tennessee,” U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn) said. “It also means all 95 of Tennessee’s counties are now in attainment for particle pollution. This cleaner air is directly attributable to federal clean air legislation which I voted for, TVA’s decision to put pollution control equipment on all its coal plants and years and of work by state and local leaders and industries in these counties. This designation sends a signal that the air is clean, and Tennessee is open for business.”

For decades, local, state and federal governments have been monitoring, measuring, and working to reduce the air pollution to benefit public health. The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) has played a key role in this effort, as Tennessee has seen nearly a 25 percent reduction in ozone pollution from 2000 to 2016 and a 50 percent reduction for particle pollution over the same period. Last year, Tennessee was also designated by EPA as attaining federal ozone standards statewide. This is the first time since air quality modeling and monitoring started in the 1970s that Tennessee has been designated attainment statewide for both ozone (smog) and particle pollution (soot).

“This accomplishment represents a lot of work and commitment by so many people, from the State Air Pollution Control Board and our four local air programs to an array of individuals and industrial sources, but I am especially proud of our staff,” said TDEC Commissioner Bob Martineau. “Clean air is essential to our health and quality of life, and many of our staff members have dedicated their careers to this effort. I am honored to work alongside them every day.”

Over the years, private sector employers and TVA have invested in pollution controls to reduce oxides of nitrogen from both industrial sites and electric power plants to help reduce ozone formation; scrubbers on power plant smoke stacks are removing particles before release into the atmosphere; and conversions to natural gas as a fuel supply are keeping air clean by reducing the amount of pollution formed in the first place. Today, TVA’s generating fleet is emitting significantly less pollution while providing safe, reliable, and affordable power for Tennessee and parts of six other states.

Actions by local communities and individuals have promoted and sponsored a variety of emission reduction activities such as driving and idling less, using public transit, combining trips, switching to cleaner fuels, lowering truck speed limits and driving more fuel efficient cars. Improvements in fuel economy and engine efficiency have reduced mobile source emissions from cars and trucks, even though vehicle miles traveled in Tennessee have increased by more than 50 percent over the past 25 years.

According to EPA, particle pollution contains microscopic solids or liquid droplets that are so small that they can be inhaled and cause serious health problems. Fine particles less than 2.5 micrometers (PM2.5) are the main cause of reduced visibility (haze) in parts of the United States.

For more information on particle pollution designations, visit https://www.epa.gov/particle-pollution-designations/learn-about-particle-pollution-designations#basis.

(Senator Lamar Alexander press release) U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today said that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to designate Anderson, Knox, Blount, Loudon and Roane counties as in attainment for particle pollution – also known as particulate matter or PM2.5 – shows the air is cleaner for those of us who live there and will help grow East Tennessee’s economy. It also means the entire state of Tennessee is now in compliance with federal air quality health standards for particle pollution.

“This decision means more good jobs and healthier air for East Tennesseans as well as better views of the Great Smoky Mountains. Receiving federal attainment for particle pollution further shows that the air is demonstrably cleaner in Anderson, Knox, Blount, Loudon and Roane counties, and will attract more industries to East Tennessee,” Alexander said. “It also means all 95 of Tennessee’s counties are now in attainment for particle pollution. This cleaner air is directly attributable to federal clean air legislation which I voted for, TVA’s decision to put pollution control equipment on all its coal plants and years of work by state and local leaders and industries in these counties. This designation sends a signal that the air is clean, and Tennessee is open for business.”

Under the federal Clean Air Act, counties must show they’ve met the National Ambient Air Quality Standards to achieve attainment status. Counties that have not attained clean air under federal guidelines must comply with more stringent air emission standards. Higher standards mean companies looking to build new manufacturing plants or expand existing facilities must use more pollution control equipment, which makes it more expensive for companies to locate within nonattainment counties and create jobs.

About Jim Harris

Jim Harris has been WYSH's News & Sports Director since 2000. In addition to reporting local news, he is the play-by-play voice for Clinton High School football, boys' and girls' basketball and baseball. Catch Jim live weekdays beginning at 6:20 am for live local news, sports, weather and traffic plus the Community Bulletin Board, shenanigans with Ron Meredith and more on the Country Club Morning Show on WYSH & WQLA. Jim lives in Clinton with his wife Kelly and daughter Carolina, his mother-in-law and cats Lucius and Oliver.

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