Sierra Club’s “Bike Against Bad Air”

–my comments at the public hearing –

Good morning. Thank you for setting aside time in your schedules to listen to the public on this issue.

I’m dressed a little differently than the rest of you because I just biked here. Several other riders and I started in Durham this morning to ride here and show our commitment to clean air in North Carolina ? as part of the Sierra Club of North Carolina’s ?Bike Against Bad Air.?

I’m not a policy expert, nor am I a scientist. So, I won’t speak to the specific nature of either the causes of the problems or the solutions.

I am, however, a North Carolina resident and someone who cares deeply about the natural environment of this state. It’s no accident that I do. I’ve been spending vacation time in the mountains of North Carolina since I was very young.

I grew up camping and hiking in the mountains of Pisgah National Forest. In high school, I started mountain biking, rock climbing, and backpacking through the Nantahala National Forest as well as Pisgah. The challenges unique to being in the mountains helped shape my values of respect and care for the natural environment.

I still visit the mountains as often as I can. But the mountains I visit today are different from the ones I visited as a kid.

The Appalachians are some of the oldest mountains in the world, withstanding the wind and rain for millenia. But thanks to acid rain, the face of the mountains has changed more in the last twenty years than in the last twenty-thousand.

In 1996, I hiked the Appalachian Trail through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. At that time, the observation deck at Clingman’s Dome stood among a dying forest. The delicate spruce-fir ecosystem was finally succumbing to years of acid rain attributable to the emissions of outdated power plants in Tennessee and Georgia.

There is simply no reason why power plants in our neighboring and upwind states cannot comply with stricter air-quality standards ? standards that at least match those of North Carolina.

As of 2002, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most polluted National Park in the country. The Smokies suffer from some of the worst acid-deposition in North America. Clouds enshrouding the mountains regularly have acidity levels as high (or as low) as vinegar.

Today, Clingman’s Dome is a spoiled vista. The surrounding forest is a shell of what it used to be. Under normal conditions, one should be able to see for 100 miles. During the summer months, average visibility is a mere 14 miles. Visibility is impaired by the unnatural smoke that mixes with the natural blue haze that originally gave the mountain range its name.

I mountain biked out at the Tsali National Recreation Area twice this summer. Tsali is situated on the southern shores of Lake Fontana, looking across the lake to the Smokies. You can begin to see the same effects of acid rain taking root at Tsali.

You shouldn’t have to risk ozone poisoning to visit a National Park. Since this is an interstate problem, North Carolina can’t force Tennessee or Georgia to clean up their power plants. The EPA, however, can. I hope you will.

Thanks to Christa Wagner of the Sierra Club for organizing this event and to Victor D’Amato for the photos.

 

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