Friday, June 01, 2001

Governors hold pollution summit in Appalachians

Interstate cooperation seen as vital

By Duncan Mansfield
The Associated Press

        GATLINBURG, Tenn. — The governors of Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia and Kentucky meet today to discuss a growing concern that pollution is ruining the once pristine air of the southern Appalachians.

        This is the governors' third annual summit on mountain air quality and the first held in the Great Smoky Mountains, the most visited national park in the country and one of the most polluted.

[photo] Visitors to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park travel through Pigeon Forge, Tenn. In the distance is Mount LeConte, seen through a haze.
(Associated Press photo)
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        The Smokies, a barometer for the region, already have experienced three days of unhealthy ozone this season. The source is pollutants from cars, industry and power plants both nearby and from hundreds of miles away.

Memorandum of understanding
        The first summit in 1999 produced a memorandum of understanding between Tennessee and North Carolina pledging to protect the air quality of the Smokies and other sensitive areas through their industrial permitting process.

        The accord, still awaiting other states to sign on, will expire July 31 unless extended.

        The Smokies cover parts of both states.

        Meantime, interstate efforts to work together have come amid occasional flare-ups of provincial finger-pointing.

        “There is both of that going on, and I think that is appropriate,” said Justin Wilson, Tennessee Gov. Don Sundquist's chief environmental policy adviser.

        The North Carolina Senate recently passed a resolution blaming Tennessee Valley Authority power plants for polluting North Carolina's mountains.

        However, a congressional study requested by U.S. Rep. Charles Taylor, R-N.C., suggested most of the pollutants come from the Midwest.

"In this ... together'
        “We are all in this boat together and we all recognize this,” Mr. Wilson said.

        “What we are doing now is having frank and honest discussions, and working commonly toward a solution.”

        Cari Hepp, communications director for North Carolina Gov. Michael Easley, said the whole point of the summit “is to make progress on a regional strategy to improve air quality in North Carolina as well as the Southeast.”

        “It is clear that air quality issues don't respect state borders.”

        The U.S. Supreme Court in March upheld Environmental Protection Agency rules requiring 22 states to submit plans to reduce nitrogen oxide, an ingredient in smog. Among them were: Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.

        Joining Mr. Sundquist and Mr. Easley at the summit will be Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes and first-time attendee Kentucky Gov. Paul Patton. South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Alabama, Arkansas and Louisiana sent delegations.

        TVA Director Skila Harris, Oak Ridge National Laboratory Director Bill Madia and House Energy and Air Quality Subcommittee chairman Joe Barton of Texas were scheduled to participate in a panel discussion on striking a balance between energy needs and air quality.

        “I think that is our biggest fear,” Smokies park spokesman Bob Miller said.

        “With the energy crunch appearing, there will be pressure to roll back progress that may have been made and to not go forward in cleaning up and maintaining air quality even as good as it is.”

        Environmentalists said they hoped the summit would produce results.

        “We want less rhetoric and more action,” said Danielle Droitsch of the National Parks Conservation Association. “We need clean air, not hot air.”


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