Fri
Dec 8 2006
01:23 pm

The Knoxville News Sentinel has an editorial today entitled "Knox County must do more for air quality." It's pretty hard to argue with that.

The editorial refers to the recent news that Knox County, previously declared by the EPA as being in "non-attainment" status, says it is now in compliance. The EPA has not verified the numbers yet. This will indeed be good news, assuming the EPA certifies the numbers.

But the editorial starts out by saying that "The improvement in air quality is largely due to the Tennessee Valley Authority's emission policies," and goes on to say:

[..] it is TVA that has made the most significant changes. The agency spent about $300 million from 2004 through September 2006 to reduce its emissions of nitrogen oxide, which contributes to ground-based ozone or smog.

That sounds pretty good. But according to EPA data for the three nearest coal-fired power plants (Bull Run, John Sevier, and Kingston, all upwind from Knoxville), NOX emissions have in fact gone up 5%, from 33,618 tons in 2004 to 35,427 tons in 2005.

Results for 2006 are not available, but hopefully they will show some of the improvement mentioned in the editorial. Otherwise, something doesn't add up.

TVA also likes to talk about how much they spend on emissions control, and the KNS likes to repeat it. $300 million in two years sounds good, but it's practically a rounding error in the big scheme of things. TVA revenues totaled about $15 billion for 2004 and 2005.

On the bright side, Sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions, the primary component of acid rain, were reduced by 11% at these plants, and TVA has reduced system-wide NOX emissions by 4% from 2004 to 2005. But carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, the greenhouse gas that causes global warming, went up by 8% to 23 million tons at these three plants, and system-wide were up 2% to 105,587,825 tons.

The editorial also talks about all the other things Knox County is doing, such as free bus rides for seniors, lower speed limits, and electrically powered comfort facilities at truck stops to reduce idling. It's doubtful that these measures had much of an impact.

A query of the EPA 2002 National Emissions Inventory (the most current year available) for Knox County, where two of the most heavily traveled Interstates in America intersect downtown, shows that NOX emissions are 18,844 tons per year for all mobile on-road sources.

Compare those emissions from millions of cars and trucks to the 35,427 tons from just three TVA power plants and make up your own mind where we can get the most bang for our buck in reducing emissions. Hint: it's not free bus rides. Or TVA PR puff pieces in the KNS.

138
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WhitesCreek's picture

I just don't believe the

I just don't believe the reporting from the EPA anymore. I seem to recall that the number of air quality measurements has been drastically reduced during the last few years, with any number of measuring stations being taken off line.

Anybody got a better source than my memory?

Steve

Number9's picture

Which is worse, the little

Which is worse, the little statistical games TVA plays or the delay to low sulfur diesel we can thank Jim Haslam for? The 55 mile an hour speed limit for trucks is laughable. It does nothing except give plausible deniability to the usual suspects so they claim victory and ask to be removed from the non-attainment list. Big deal, it is a lie.

This is another advertorial editorial from the Sentinel and is close to yellow journalism.

Can a newspaper be both a public relations firm and a newspaper at the same time?

Ask Bruce Hartman and Jack McElroy, they seem to be pulling it off.

Factchecker's picture

Thanks for your excellent

Thanks for your excellent posts about TVA and air quality. You put their feet to the fire better than any of the other local media.

#, I agree with you 100% about Pilot and low sulfur fuels. Why weren't they out in front, if not just to be a good citizen? It could have been a PR bonanza for them, setting the bar by example and all. But they'd obviously rather concentrate on their core businesses: beer, tobacco, junk food, and lottery tix. I'm surprised they're not patting themselves on the back, TVA-style, for their cleaner fuels, now that they're required everywhere by the EPA.

Number9's picture

#, I agree with you 100%

#, I agree with you 100% about Pilot and low sulfur fuels. Why weren't they out in front, if not just to be a good citizen? It could have been a PR bonanza for them, setting the bar by example and all. But they'd obviously rather concentrate on their core businesses: beer, tobacco, junk food, and lottery tix. I'm surprised they're not patting themselves on the back, TVA-style, for their cleaner fuels, now that they're required everywhere by the EPA.

To hear Pilot today they lead the way. Give them a medal and the keys to the City.

History however, tells a different story. But they did it to protect the older trucks, their valves would fry with low sulfur diesel. Unless of course additives were put in the fuel which is what eventually happened. So why did we have to wait an additional five years?

rikki's picture

If I'm reading the editorial

If I'm reading the editorial correctly, Knox County reduced the number of smog-alert days this year.

EPA non-attainment is linked to much more than just smog-alert days. Our region is in non-compliance on several counts, ozone and smog being but a small part of the equation.

Smog alert days per year is surely one of the crudest and least sensitive indicators of air quality, with fine particulates (smoke), NOx, sulfur compounds, metals and volatile hydrocarbons all regulated. In terms of health impacts, long-term measures are far more important than daily statistics like alerts.

Federal monies are restricted in non-attainment zones according to a complex statute that takes much more than just smog alert days into account, and I seriously doubt this modest achievement has done enough to free up federal highway dollars.

Reaching federal limits on smog-alert days is like stopping the bleeding. Our air still has plenty of healing to do, and Knox County is doing little to achieve real compliance with federal limits.

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