Governor's Summit on Mountain Air Quality
By Don Gasper
"Here, in Asheville, in the beautiful mountains of western North Carolina we are hosting the first Summit of Governors and their representatives from the states of North Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, South Carolina, Virginia, Alabama, Kentucky and West Virginia."
Thus began the welcome by Governor James B. Hunt Jr. to the April 7 gathering of 200 or so agency officials, environmentalists, and industry representatives. The meeting was entitled, "The Governor’s Summit on Mountain Air Quality, Clearing the Air, a Regional Responsibility."
This summit is intended to be only the first; nest year it will be held in Georgia and then in Tennessee the year after. This should sustain the dialogue and move clean air forward. "We’ve got to take strong action to do something about this, and I want that action to begin today," said Gov. Hunt, referring to dwindling mountain views and rising smog levels that threaten an $800 million a year southeast tourist industry.
Governor Leavitt from Utah told how they were able to coordinate a clean-up of Grand Canyon air by eight Western states, when diverse interests embraced the goal of moving forward with balance, using markets before mandates, "good science," and stewardship.
Tennessee Governor Sundquist had just signed a memorandum of understanding with Governor Hunt to clean-up the air in the southern mountains. He urged other governors to do so. He said governors have a responsibility for citizen health, and environmental restoration on which a healthy economy depends. He will seek "good science" for guidance. We must clean-up our air for the quality of life we all seek for ourselves and also for our future.
Governor Barnes of Georgia spoke of the mountains of north Georgia, their value, and the danger growth poses for them. The 13 counties around Atlanta will July 1 be coordinated to facilitate "smart growth" and improve air quality. They will work to meet ozone standards. Georgia will use gas with lower sulfur content, and would like other states also to keep a level playing field.
Another speaker noted how important industry, big industry, was in solving the world’s environmental problems. Only they could move quickly and effectively in the marketplace to solve them. More and more of them are doing this because they see that their future does depend on sustainability of well functioning ecosystems.
The Center for Environmental Medicine and Lung Biology gave a presentation on human health and on tourism. The Park Service talked on the expectations of their 30 million visitors, the recent reduced visibility of nearly 30 miles from what used to be nearly 100, and ecosystem damage. The U.S. Forest Service spoke of these visibility reductions (most are caused by sulfur in the air). If sulfur were reduced 90% we could see 75 miles. Sulfur reductions would also reduce nitrogen emissions which forms ozone and causes forest tree growth loss and decline -- as do these acids themselves. All these states are working with stakeholders in a "Southern Appalachian Mountain Initiative," backed by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to use "good science" to develop the best reductions of emissions (power plants, cars, etc.) to protect the environment and ourselves. The state’s role and responsibilities were explained by the Tennessee delegation as was the need for regional cooperation and solutions. EPA personnel explained their role as partners with the states in achieving air quality goals. Representatives from the electric power industry also explained their views. They recognize protecting environmental and economic resources and cheap power is important and they are working with others to find cost effective solutions. The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) as a power producer had much the same to say; as a land manager TVA studies the injury to forests and streams and is cleaning up its messes.
Environmentalists noted that pollution generated haze, that acid rain and clouds harmed trees and stream life, and discussed ozone -- its effects on plant growth and health and its effects on human health. Coal burning electric power plants, particularly the old, dirtier ones, which have been exempted from clean-up, are causing much of this damage. Of course, citizen action to clean-up our air was detailed.
In another talk, the staggering growth in South Carolina was noted. It causes irreversible changes in landscape and can cause severe damage to the environment. To "have it both ways" will be the greatest challenge SC and other southeastern states have ever faced. This population growth and even greater growth in automobile use will pose great air quality problems unless auto emissions are controlled. They now account for half the nitrogen that contributed to ozone and acid rain. The problem and solutions, including natural gas cars, were detailed.
Finally, the wisdom of Dr. Ellis B. Cowling must be reported. He says, "Science provides the power to understand natural phenomena, and then to expand the range of choices for management of nature and human institutions. Technology harnesses the power of science to provide new products, processes and services to drive the economic and social systems of our society. We need not only scientists who discover and describe the facts and their uncertainties; but also policy analysts, who consider these in light of values held dear by different sectors of society, and propose alternatives. A preferable future can only be achieved by compromise and negotiation and well disciplined efforts to fulfill mutually agreed upon goals that are compatible with the natural and human resources and values and aspirations of society."
Governor Hunt, just before ending the conference, noted that the EPA was driving states pretty hard; but that they are just carrying out Congress's mandate, and that they are just responding to the will of the people. Citizens of the East want clean air.
[Editor’s note: So where was our governor, or did he choose to boycott the proceedings? We know Underwood has no sympathy for folks who want clean air!]