KINGSPORT - Partnership, determination and a "whole picture" approach are some answers to address the state's environmental concerns, attendees of the 6th annual East Tennessee Environmental Conference were told in closing comments Friday.
Paul Sloan, deputy commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC), used statistics and anecdotes to illustrate the point that "We've got to be smarter about how we manage our waste."
Progress on that front, he said, is being made across Tennessee.
But sustaining a better environment for the future "depends on each and every one of us," Sloan said.
He told of an open-water swimmer who one day encountered a baby whale - and it began to follow the swimmer as if she were its mother. The swimmer knew if she swam to shore, the baby whale would follow until it beached itself - unless the swimmer could keep swimming in the open water until she could locate the mother whale.
Sound sort of impossible?
That's the point.
The swimmer did reunite the baby whale with its mother, Sloan said, and she went on to use the story to teach others what she'd learned.
"The impossible isn't impossible at all," Sloan said. "The only way we're going to get there is through partnerships."
Sloan urged conference attendees to take a new look at the environment - don't just see a tree, but envision its extensive root system reaching layers beneath the ground.
"We need to look at these challenges in a new way," Sloan said. "We need to remember to look at the system, the whole system."
This year's conference drew more than 330 participants from 10 states, organizers said.
Earlier Friday, the Ozone Action Partnership (OAP) recognized six individuals and organizations that are supporting efforts to prevent the formation of ozone in Northeast Tennessee or Southwest Virginia.
The "Ozzie Awards," named after the partnership's mascot Ozzie the Ozone Owl, were presented during the conference, which was held at MeadowView Conference Resort and Convention Center.
"It's critical to the physical health and economic well-being of the region that we continue to reduce ozone levels," said Bill Sorah, deputy city manager of operations for Bristol, Tenn., and chair of the OAP steering committee. "The individuals and groups recognized are taking actions that support efforts to meet ozone standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency."
The 2007 Ozzie Award winners are:
•TVA Fossil Power Group, for its decision to install sulfur dioxide scrubbers and advanced nitrogen oxide control technology on its John Sevier Steam Plant, located in Hawkins County. These air pollution controls will reduce the ambient air concentrations of sulfur dioxide and ground-level ozone and help local counties continue to attain all federal clean air standards.
•Sullivan County Commissioner Joe Herron, for his assistance and leadership in obtaining Sullivan County Commission approval of a resolution for the Tennessee Department of Transportation to lower interstate truck speed limits in Sullivan County. The OAP believes this action, which has since been implemented by TDOT, is a wise and prudent decision to assist with ozone attainment goals.
•Sorah, for his leadership in securing Sullivan County endorsement of the lowering of interstate truck speed limits to help secure clean air and a strong economy in the Tri-Cities.
•Richard Venable, chief of NETWORKS – Sullivan Partnership and former Sullivan County executive, for outstanding leadership and work with the OAP to secure approval of the Ozone Early Action Compact with the EPA. The Early Action Compact has allowed Sullivan and Hawkins counties to avoid ozone non-attainment.
•St. Mary's Catholic School, for its use of geothermal energy to heat classrooms and other structures, and for students' efforts to promote the importance of clean air and clean energy.
•Johnson City for converting its diesel fleet of mass transit and school buses, solid waste vehicles, fire engines, and maintenance and service equipment to biodiesel. By converting to biodiesel, Johnson City is effectively reducing low-level ozone and helping improve the region's environment.
Regions that do not meet EPA ozone standards may be designated as non-attainment.
Non-attainment status carries serious consequences that can result in more stringent permitting standards that can make it difficult for existing businesses to expand and new businesses to build facilities. Potential penalties also include the loss of federal highway funding and state-imposed actions, such as mandatory car inspections.
Ozone is created by the combination of pollutants from many sources. Utility companies, industry, cars, gasoline-powered lawn equipment, paints, solvents, and even plants and trees all contribute to the formation of ozone. Ozone can cause a number of respiratory effects - especially for children, the elderly and people with existing respiratory disease.
"Weather is a major factor in the formation of ozone. Typically ozone forms on cloudless days when temperatures are high and winds are stagnant. Our region usually experiences high ozone levels between the months of May and September," said Sorah.
The Ozone Action Partnership - the first of its kind in the state of Tennessee - involves representatives from regional industry, government, academia and the medical community. The group was established in 2001 to come up with a voluntary plan that would help the region keep ozone levels down during the hot summer months. As a result, Ozone Action Days are now being forecast and publicized the day before ozone is likely to form. Anyone can sign up for these forecasts via the EPA's Enviroflash program at www.airnow.gov.
The OAP also encourages individuals and businesses to help out on Ozone Action Days by taking certain steps or implementing their own plans.