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 United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) yesterday in the Federal Register finalized its official redesignation of all of Anderson, Knox, Blount and Loudon counties and the remaining part of Roane County as “attainment,” which means the areas now meet federal particle pollution standards. These areas 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. “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.”
Indeed, protecting air quality has not come at the expense of Tennessee’s economic prosperity. Today’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. Yet, during this same time period, 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 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 nearly five decades, local, state and federal governments have been monitoring, measuring, and working to reduce the air pollution to benefit public health. TDEC has been on the vanguard of 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 Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation 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.”
The effort required to make statewide attainment a reality for Tennessee has been a true leadership relay across generations. In 1970, U.S. Sen. Howard Baker was a primary author of the seminal Clean Air Act – the framework that enabled the United States to address air pollution both then and now. As Governor in the 1980s and a U.S. Senator today, Lamar Alexander has been an effective, responsible force to promote clean air and reduce the impact of pollution all across the state, including special places like the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. As Mayor of Chattanooga in 2004, current U.S. Senator Bob Corker was a regional leader for community action to help achieve cleaner air sooner – and an attainment designation from EPA that helped make it possible for Volkswagen to eventually bring more than 10,000 jobs to Hamilton County and Tennessee.
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.