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Is Air Pollution Killing Our Forests?

The greatest long term threat to our pastoral lifestyle in the southeastern U.S. is air pollution. Sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxides produced by the burning of fossil fuels has contributed to acid rain, haze and smog. The largest source of these pollutants is automobile emissions. Improving the fuel efficiency of our automobiles would be a major step to improving air quality. The sulfur in diesel fuel is also a major contributor to smog. Also many coal fired power plants emit 4 to 10 times as much pollution as modern power plants equipped with the latest air pollution control equipment.

The Great Smoky Mountain National Park in Tennessee and North Carolina is now the most polluted national park in the U.S. This park violated air quality standards one out of every three summer days. Poor air quality leads to dying forests, reduced survival rate of tree seedlings and increases plant and forest susceptibility to disease, pests and other environmental stresses. Fir forests in high elevations of the park are now dead.

Air pollution is not just a metropolitan problem. Haze has reduced visibility in some beautiful scenic and recreational areas to less than two miles. Entire forests of southern pine are dead across east Tennessee. Smog concentrations have increased at most national parks and ozone levels in rural areas were greater than average daily levels in urban sites.

The 2003 Energy bill introduced by Senator Domenici threatens the environment and increases our dependence on polluting sources of energy such as oil and coal. President Bush's "Clear Skies" plan would actually result in more air pollution than under current law. A better proposal is the bill introduced by Senator Carper, that would impose tougher emissions limits and result in better air quality, while allowing industry to continue production.

Solutions to our air quality problems lie in increasing energy efficiency to make the energy we use last longer; boosting our use of clean renewable sources such as wind and solar; raising the fuel economy of automobiles and trucks to 40 mpg; developing cleaner methods of transportation, such as hybrid cars, hydrogen engines and mass transportation and replacing older power plants with more energy efficient, less polluting plants.

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