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Tennessee agrees to air quality plan: state, NPS approve a new process for permits affecting the Smokies.

State, NPS approve a new process for permits affecting the Smokies.

Gatlinsurg, Tenn.--The search for solutions to the air pollution plaguing Great Smoky Mountains National Park should accelerate, thanks to the cooperation of the state of Tennessee. The memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the state and the U.S. Department of the Interior, which oversees the National Park Service, is intended to improve the permit process for new pollution sources that could affect the park and other Class I areas under the Clean Air Act.

"This agreement improves coordination, not air quality," says NPCA Southeast Regional Director Don Barger. "But it's a great step forward toward the regional cooperation needed to protect air quality in the Smokies."

NPCA was instrumental in negotiating an earlier version of the MOU, which the state of Tennessee unilaterally rescinded a year ago in response to pressure from business interests.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which sits astride the Tennessee-North Carolina border, faces air-quality problems that rival those of major industrial and urban areas. According to the park's air resource specialist Jim Renfro, Great Smoky Mountains has the highest concentrations of nitrogen-oxide pollution of any region in North America. In the summer of 1996, the park also recorded its highest-ever levels of sulfur-dioxide pollution.

Topography and meteorological forces often combine to leave the park with ground-level ozone pollution twice as high as that of lower-elevation cities, such as Knoxville and Nashville. Prevailing winds carry industrial pollutants such as nitrates and sulfates toward the Smokies, where they are intercepted by ridge tops and deposited in park soils and waters.

Although air quality in Great Smoky Mountains still meets guidelines established by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), it has approached the limit for human health three times in the last two years, Renfro says. If new, stricter air-quality standards proposed by E,A are approved, he adds, most of the Smokies would become a "nonattainment area," meaning the park would no longer be in compliance with the Clean Air Act.

The MOU, which must be approved by the Tennessee Air Pollution Control Board, will provide the Park Service with earlier notification of potential new sources of pollution. The agreement also will establish a more predictable process for those applying for emissions permits.

Tennessee Gov. Don Sundquist (R) anticipates that the new procedures will benefit the state and the park and result in "fewer delays, last-minute surprises, and lawsuits."

One of the more innovative features of the agreement would enable permit applicants to offset their projects' impact on park resources by purchasing pollution credits from other companies. The MOU calls upon the Southern Appalachian Mountain Initiative (SAMI), an eight-state regional air-quality effort, to establish a nitrogen oxide emission-offsets market.

At press time, a biannual SAMI meeting was scheduled for April. The initiative's member states may address Tennessee's draft MOU and the possibility of signing onto the agreement.

"Tennessee is taking the lead when other states have refused to do so," Barger says. "NPCA applauds its effort and joins in asking other states in the region to get beyond rhetoric and start taking positive steps to protect our national treasures."
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Title Annotation:National Park Service and state sign memorandum of understanding
Author:Heinrich, M. Kathrine
Publication:National Parks
Date:May 1, 1997
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