Cleaner air is good news

Apr 03, 2014

The cleaner air in Western North Carolina is good news on many fronts. In addition to the health benefits from having reduced levels of pollutants in the air we depend upon for our very survival, cleaner air is just plain good for the tourism business.

The split-image photograph on Wednesday’s front page provides the classic “a picture is worth a thousand words” moment.

The cloudy image on one side of the photo represented what visitors in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park saw on a typical day from the North Carolina-Tennessee state line 15 years ago. The much clearer image on the right side — which represented a typical day in 2012 — showed distant mountain ranges that were obscured in the earlier photo. The visibility measured in miles improved from an average of 8 miles to in the late 1990s to an average of 47 miles in recent years.

Much of the Haywood County economy is now tourist-driven, and many of those tourists find their way to the region while visiting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway or nearby state and national forests.

Visitors can end up being disappointed when they visit the area and can’t experience the majestic views because of bad air days.

Thankfully, those days appear to be in the past.

Both federal and state laws requiring tougher air quality standards have made significant impacts, and it was good to hear about that success story during a regional ozone kick-off season event last week.

It is also worth noting that the North Carolina Clean Smokestacks Act — legislation that received bipartisan support, as well as industry support, was credited for a large portion of the improvements. A Duke Energy/Progress spokesman noted the company reduced nitrogen oxide emissions by 77 percent and cut sulfur dioxide emissions by 73 percent.

That’s a significant number and is one that can be celebrated by all.

The next round of regulations is aimed at reducing the hazardous, or toxic, chemical emissions. While the tonnage reductions won’t be as significant, using existing technology to reduce the amount of arsenic, acid and heavy metal particles being released into the air will only enhance our quality of life.