May 15, 2003

I Can't See Clearly Now

A thousand years ago on a day in May, a non-European pair of eyes surveyed the skyline from atop the mountain peak we now call Rocky Knob on the motor road called the Blue Ridge Parkway. For a few days after the occasional cold front would slide down from Canada, it would be clear and Spring-crisp; those eyes could clearly see the skyline thirty miles away standing razor-sharp, in indigo blue against the brilliant cerulean sky. Other times in the spring and summer, the ridges would appear smudged and fading into the distance, their blues softened and edges blunted by a diaphanous vapor of 'plant breath'-- what we now call transpirational water vapor. It rises in clouds from the wooded valleys, given off as a product of photosynthesis by the sea of broadleaved trees in the Appalachian Forest. For eons, our ridges have been blue', our mountains 'smoky' from a billion breathing leaves.

We've just had a wonderful visitation by cool, clear air, and the world had edges that almost hum with energy. As that giant air mass moves on, plant vapor will accumulate and the distant ridges grow blue and smoky. But then, a few days later and for much of the summer, those landmarks beyond two or three miles away will disappear in a blue-gray photochemical smog. The two million visitors that travel along the high country on the edge of Floyd County every year will, for months, see only the ridgetop they are driving on and little more beyond. This is an aesthetic tragedy to be sure. But more than that, when I comprehend all that I cannot see in the polluted air, it brings to mind the real tragedy: the death of the southern forest. In my lifetime. Remember the canary in the cage... a harbinger of what was happening unseen in dangerous places? Our canary is unwell. You should care.

Posted by fred1st at May 15, 2003 06:28 AM | TrackBack

This is a bit dated since this Southern Governors Conference in Asheville(1999), but nothing has changed significantly, far as I can tell:

The organizations scored the Governors based on support for four major clean air initiatives including: (1) Support for closing a loophole in the Clean Air Act that exempts older coal-burning power plants from meeting modern pollution standards; (2) Support for EPA’s “SIP Call” regulations that will dramatically reduce nitrogen oxide pollution from power plants in 22 eastern states; (3) Support for proposed federal visibility regulations to address the problem of pollution-generated haze; and (4) Willingness to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (“MOU”) between states and the Department of Interior to involve federal land managers in the permitting process for proposed projects that have the potential to diminish air quality in the national parks. Each Governor received a “pass,” “fail,” or “incomplete,” for each of the four initiatives.

Of the 32 scores given to the eight Governors, 26, or 80% were failing or incomplete. The Governors of West Virginia, Alabama, South Carolina and Virginia received all failing or incomplete scores. The Governors of Tennessee, Georgia and Kentucky have supported and complied with the EPA’s regional smog rule, while the Governors of North Carolina and Tennessee have signed the Memorandum of Understanding giving federal land managers a voice in air permitting proceedings. Finally, the Governor of North Carolina has pledged his support for the EPA’s proposed regional haze regulation.

“Air quality in the Southern Appalachians is getting worse,” said Jonathan Birdsong of the Izaak Walton League of America. “It is time to stop talking about clearing the air and really start doing it.”

Posted by: fredf at May 15, 2003 07:37 AM

Your beloved Smokies were a new experience for me as a 14-year-old when our family took a trip from Missouri to Ohio, by way of Virginia and Pennsylvania. We had our bedrolls for sleeping along the side of the road, and a coal oil stove to cook breakfast. It was peaceful, clean, and beautiful. I'm sorry that it is no longer so (or, perhaps, I didn't know the difference back then.) Unfortunately, folks in Kansas believe the illusion of clean air fostered by the prevailing winds (not too different from the illusion of Oklahoma folk who sing about the wind that "...comes sweeping down the plains.") But, I, the canary, perceive the fog. Having survived a few years in the smoggy bottoms of Los Angeles and Orange Counties in California, I know the smell; and, when an inversion is present, the atmosphere in the south central area of Kansas is staggeringly smoggy. Even on "clear" days, I see a yellow stain extending from the distant horizon, upward--much like the yellow haze in a smoky bar--and shudder, inwardly. But, we are so independent in these parts that no one can convince us that we need not an SUV or a monstor truck or an ATV. "We have met the enemy...." It wrenches my heart to see the money and effort we spend to close the barn door behind terrorists that would save more lives were it spent in advancing medical and environmental improvements. But that extends the discussion beyond bounds.

Posted by: Cop Car at May 16, 2003 11:59 PM

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