Tennessee Governor Talks of Revolt on EPA Rules

Copyright 1998 The New York Times
March 15, 1998

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The battle over new clean air requirements has turned nasty here in the South.

Upset at the Environmental Protection Agency's call for Tennessee to reduce smog emissions that harm Northeastern states, the governor of Tennessee said the changes would reduce jobs in his state and questioned whether federal data proves that the changes would result in significantly cleaner air downwind.

The proposal amounts to "big brother coming down here and throwing a bunch of data at us that will harm our state," said Gov. Donald Sundquist, a Republican. He said his state should treat the proposed requirements like American revolutionaries treated British tea in the 1773 Boston Tea Party and "dump in the harbor the data that's questionable."

The heated words amount to the latest skirmish in a long battle between Northeastern states and those in the South and Midwest over an EPA proposal to use a regional approach to reduce smog.

Earlier last week, Sundquist and nine other governors sent a letter to President Clinton objecting to technical merits of the agency's approach and asking for more time to study local pollution patterns. The letter was also signed by the governors of West Virginia, Alabama, Kentucky, South Carolina, Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan and Illinois.

The agency defended its proposal. "Our agency and the states conducted more than 1,000 hours of public meetings and we conducted more than two years of technical analysis," said David Ryan, an agency spokesman. "We think it is a good proposal."

Environmentalists said Tennesseans would be hurt most by the state's resistance because many benefits of cleaner air would be felt close to home. "What they're doing is really shortchanging their own citizens and the health of their own population," said Mamatha B. Gowda, a specialist in the ozone transport rules at the Sierra Club in Washington.

Sundquist's top policy aide, Justin P. Wilson, elaborated on Tennessee's objections, saying, "We don't need an arbitrary government promulgating intolerable acts for economic protection of a New England that can no longer compete."

He accused Northeastern states of unfairly trying to shift expensive environmental clean-up responsibilities to other states to protect local companies. "They see electric deregulation coming and know their power companies can't compete" with the Tennessee Valley Authority, Wilson said.

The EPA disputed Tennessee's contention that the proposed changes favor New England states. "We did not let the Northeastern states off the hook," Ryan said. "We're not out to get any states."

The agency in November called for 22 states and the District of Columbia to make plans to meet the Clean Air Act's requirements that the states and the District reduce smog-producing emissions. Tennessee would be required to reduce nitrogen oxides emissions by 35 percent under the proposal. Reduction targets for the other states and the District of Columbia would range from 9 percent to 44 percent. The main sources of smog, or ground-level ozone, are emissions from automobiles, power plants and factories.

While both Sundquist and Wilson said the plan would cost jobs for Tennesseans, neither said he could estimate how many. But Wilson said complying with the agency's call for changes would halt the state's economic growth after 2007.

Wilson and the governor stopped short of saying they would refuse to comply with the agency's proposed requirements, and stressed that they do plan to improve air quality in the coming years. "We don't have any problem with complying with the law," Wilson said. "When they behave the way a government should behave, then we'll do it."

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