Breaking with his party's efforts to overturn a costly EPA clean air regulation once more, Sen. Lamar Alexander said Tuesday he would plan to vote against a bill that would end a mandate on pollutant emissions and introduce new legislation of his own.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., would overturn the Environmental Protection Agency's rule regulating the release of mercury and other hazardous emissions from coal-fired plants.
Along with Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., Alexander introduced a bill that would allow states up to six years to comply with the EPA's current clean air rule, similar to the timeline given to utilities such as TVA.
“This rule requires utilities in other states to install the same pollution controls that TVA already is installing on its coal-fired power plants," Alexander said. "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.”
Last year, Alexander introduced a bipartisan bill that would put into effect a rule intended to control the amount of polluted air that can blow across state lines, while extending an additional year to utilities in order to ease the adjustment to new standards.
In his remarks on the Senate floor, Alexander offered similar reasoning for ensuring that air flowing from the seven states bordering Tennessee remains clean.
"East Tennesseans know that 9 million visitors come each year to see the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, not to see the Great 'Smoggy' Mountains, and we want those tourist dollars and the jobs they bring to keep coming," he said. "Despite a lot of progress, the Great Smokies is still one of the most polluted national parks in America. Standing on Clingmans Dome—our highest peak—you should be able to see about 100 miles through the natural blue haze, which the Cherokees used to sing. Yet today, on a smoggy day, you can only see 24 miles."
The senator also cited clean air as a key factor for attracting major job providers, such as the recent Nissan and Volkswagen manufacturing plants.
Despite Alexander's efforts, the bill is thought to have little chance of passing. Also, according to a report from Washington, D.C., newspaper The Hill, Alexander is partially the target of a $1 million ad campaign sponsored by a conservative advocacy group seeking to build support for overturning the EPA rules. The ads will reportedly begin airing on television stations in four states this week, including Tennessee.
Updated @ 11:02 a.m. on 06/13/12 to change Inhofe's political affiliation to Republican after we mistakenly identified him as a Democrat.