Polluted East Tennessee Counties Face Losing Federal Highway Funding

Wed September 01, 2004 - Southeast Edition

KNOXVILLE, TN (AP) Local leaders are working on a way to deal with an upcoming announcement from federal authorities that is expected to label nine counties as polluted.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has told nine East Tennessee counties they likely will be out of compliance with tougher fine particle standards for air quality when the official list comes out in November.

The state has been given until today to respond. Counties on the list face losing federal money for highway construction and face restrictions on new industries.

The local governments affected by the designation are talking to the state Department of Environment and Conservation, hashing out options such as opposing it or proposing a compromise.

“This is the first step in discussing strategy,” Tennessee Environment and Conservation Commissioner Betsy Child told county mayors and others Aug. 16 in Knoxville.

Local county officials appear to be spoiling for a fight, especially since one three-year study period shows only Hamilton and Knox counties don’t meet the new standard.

And Roane County Mayor Ken Yeager said he is not interested in a settlement that would lead to just partial designation of his county, because that still might interfere with road projects.

“There’s no benefit to Roane County from partial designation. The impact is just as great,” Yeager said.

New standards focus on airborne particles such as soot that are smaller than 1/30th the diameter of a human hair. They are small enough to enter the bloodstream and cause heart problems –– as well as irritating respiratory conditions like asthma.

Power plants and vehicle emissions are the biggest producers of fine particle pollution.