Republican Senator’s Principled Stand On Clean Air

BY ON June 20, 2012

Lamar AlexanderThis post was written by David Jenkins, VP for Government and Political Affairs at ConservAmerica, formerly Republicans for Environmental Protection:

Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) has always been a strong advocate of clean air and protecting his home state of Tennessee from smog blowing in from upwind states—which creates what Ronald Reagan called “the destructive trespass of pollution.”

So, it is perfectly consistent, and in keeping with the Clean Air Act’s legacy of Republican support, that Senator Alexander would defend an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rule imposing limits on mercury emissions similar to limits he has long advocated.

Alexander is opposing a resolution by Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe that would overturn the EPA rule.

Unfortunately, Alexander is being attacked in television ads for his principled stand by a mysterious and radical entity called “American Commitment.”

Although this organization—if you can call it that—professes to be conservative, every indication is that it is little more than a one-man front group for special interests. Whether its motivations are profit-oriented or ideological, they are not rooted in traditional conservative values or even based in fact.

The attack ads erroneously claim that the EPA rule would raise electricity prices on Tennesseans and cost them jobs. The truth is that the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) coal plants that supply electricity to Tennessee and other Southeastern states has already committed to meeting these standards. Far more jobs in the state would be at risk if the rule were blocked.

As Senator Alexander correctly points out, thousands of Tennessee manufacturing jobs depend on the state having clean enough air for industrial plants to receive air quality permits.

Clean air standards are necessary to protect vistas in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most heavily visited national park in the U.S. As Alexander noted, tourists visit the park to enjoy its mountains, forests, and streams, not to feast their eyes on smog.

The Beltway outfit running these shameful attack ads is not looking out for the needs of Tennesseans. It’s looking out for the special interests that want to bully Senator Alexander into abandoning his principled stand for clean air.

The real travesty is that “American Commitment,” and its founder, Phil Kerpen, professes to be conservative.

Don’t be fooled by “American Commitment’s” distortions. There is nothing conservative about peddling the notion that coal-fired power plants should be free to pollute the air and endanger the health of those who live, work and play downwind—especially when technology exists to cost-effectively reduce that pollution.

Real conservatives know that conservatism is about being responsible and practicing good stewardship. The costs of pollution should be shouldered by those who produce it, not passed on to others in the form of smog and health problems.

Richard Nixon, the Republican president who signed the Clean Air Act into law, wisely pointed out that the air we breathe is not free to be abused by anyone without regard to the consequences, stating “we are no more free to contaminate (the air) than we are free to throw garbage into our neighbor’s yard.”

Alexander’s commitment to clean air follows in the footsteps of another famous Tennessee Republican, former Senator Howard Baker, who was instrumental in passing the Clean Air Act and calls it one of his proudest accomplishments.

The attack ads running against Senator Alexander flip reality on its head by claiming that a vote for the Utility MACT rule will “hurt Tennessee families.” How do Tennessee families benefit from having poorer air quality imposed on them by coal-fired power plants in upwind states?

Why shouldn’t these power plants be required to put in the same protective pollution control technology that TVA is doing?

Senator Alexander is a thoughtful conservative who is practicing responsible stewardship and looking out for the true interests of Tennessee families. For that he deserves a hearty thank you, not a dishonest smear campaign by radicals shilling for out-of-state special interests.

David Jenkins is Vice President for Government and Political Affairs at Republicans for Environmental Protection (REP), a national grassroots organization dedicated to strengthening the Republican Party’s commitment to responsible environmental stewardship. David can be reached at


TOPICS: Coal, Mercury Poisoning, Politics, Pollution, Tennessee