View of Smokies shows air quality improving in East Tennessee

Don Barger can tell from his commute to work that air quality in East Tennessee has improved in recent years. Barger, the southern regional director for the National Parks Conservation Association, said the views of the Great Smoky Mountains on his way to work from Norris to Knoxville are evidence enough without the need to consult any data.

“We’ve got our mountains back,” said Barger, whose NPCA serves as an environmental park-protection organization. Barger said that faraway points in the Smokies — including the 6,593-foot-elevation Mount LeConte — are more often than not almost crystal-clear on his morning drive.

Litigation filed by NPCA and others against the Tennessee Valley Authority more than 10 years ago resulted in a historic settlement agreement in 2011. The resulting Clean Air Agreement created an enforceable strategy to retire 18 of 59 of TVA’s coal-fired boilers, and ensure that 36 others are brought up to modern standards by 2021. That will result in a systemwide reduction of 67 percent in sulfur dioxide and 69 percent in nitrogen oxides by 2021, according to NPCA. “Big coal-fired plants were the big culprits,” Barger said.

TVA spokesman Jim Hopson said TVA power plants have reduced sulfur dioxide emissions by 95 percent from peak levels in 1977, curbed various forms of nitrous oxide by 91 percent since peak levels in 1995 and reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 32 percent since 2005.

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