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.
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