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Clearing the Air

New state office focuses on air quality.

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Air pollution from cars and trucks is lingering in Tennessee. In a report released in March by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, Memphis ranked 17th in the nation for pollution from vehicle emissions in large cities. Nashville topped the list at number one. Now, the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) is attempting to regulate the problem with a new office devoted to improving air quality.

TDOT's Environmental Policy Office, formed last month, was established to work with local, state, and federal governments to address transportation-related air-quality issues through various measures. The office is currently planning public awareness campaigns as well as looking at ways to reduce pollution by lowering speed limits for large trucks and encouraging the use of biodiesel technology in diesel vehicles.

"We want to work with road-building contractors to reduce emissions from road construction equipment, and we're going to encourage employers to establish ride-sharing programs and commuter benefits for employers," said Alan Jones, TDOT's air-quality policy supervisor.

He says the group also is working with the Shelby County Clean Air Coalition on public education and outreach. Shelby County and Crittenden County in Arkansas recently sent a petition to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to get both areas taken off the nonattainment area list. The nonattainment classification means air-pollution levels consistently exceed national air-quality standards.

In the petition, Shelby County pledged to reduce interstate speed limits for trucks to 55 mph. The EPA is set to make a decision on the county's request in mid-September, and the Environmental Policy Office is awaiting that decision to implement the new strategy.

"Reducing truck speeds would significantly reduce oxides of nitrogen. That's an ozone-forming pollutant," Jones said.

As for long-term goals, Jones says the office is working with local governments to encourage growth patterns that would make mass transit more efficient so communities are less dependent on automobiles. n

E-mail: bphillips@memphisflyer.com

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