editorial (2006-50)

Breathe a Little Easier

But take nothing for granted as air pollution eases bit by bit

Leaves of Crass

Breathe a Little Easier

Air quality in Knoxville and surrounding counties has been a consistent bugaboo for a number of years, contributing to the area’s high rate of asthma and lung ailments and resulting in an EPA citation in 2004.

Now it is learned that the pollution rate has come down into federal compliance, which may serve to lift the EPA designation of the region a “non-attainment” area, if it holds through a 2007 EPA review. Besides being vital to those who have to breathe, that’s important for industrial recruitment, as non-attainment means no new pollution-source industries unless other sources close down.

So everybody and his brother are taking some of the credit for the air’s improvement. There have certainly been a number of factors that led to the current pollution reduction, including TVA powerplant programs, KAT transit programs, Idle-Aire’s offerings, which reduce diesel transport trucks’ engine idling, and reductions in the speed limits on some federal highways in the area.

But the biggest single factor may well be the effects of pollution reduction mandates on automobiles, coupled with the attrition rate of older, high-polluting vehicles that have come off the streets and roads and ended up in junkyards.

Authorities on the subject with the Knox County Air Pollution Control Board predicted three years ago that the federal requirements on auto manufacturers, new diesel technology and the vehicle attrition rate would combine to bring the region into federal compliance in five years. The other factors have worked to speed up that schedule.

Even TVA, which has been spending heavily on pollution controls at its coal-fired plants, should concede that motor vehicle improvements have been the most important contributor to better air quality, as its officials have always maintained that car and truck exhaust were the major culprits in the pollution equation.

The return to attainment status will be welcome, if it comes next year, but Knoxville’s air still has a lot of pollution problems, and the more those contributing sources can be brought under control, the more likely it will be that the breathability index will improve. People’s lives are still more important than their livelihoods.

Leaves of Crass

You see it all over the city, but maybe nowhere in sharper relief than last week, up and down Cherokee Boulevard. Nobody wants their leaves sitting on their own property. It looks unsightly, they think, it inhibits the vista, and eventually it kills the grass. So they have their yardmen pile the leaves in great heaps across the street, on the grassy city-maintained median.

Recently we had to wait patiently while yardmen with industrial-strength blowers herded the leaves like sheep, across the road. The delay, for one property owner’s lawn project, was annoying enough, but moreso were the implications of what they’re doing. The destination for the leaves was a public space, a grassy strip whose upkeep is paid for by taxpayers across the whole city, from Vestal to Burlington to Lonsdale—some of whom don’t have parks and medians whereon to pile their leaves.

It happens everywhere, but based on the spectacle of Cherokee Boulevard this week, it would seem that the wealthier you are, the more likely you are to use public, taxpayer-maintained property as a place to heap your leaves.

It’s only natural that they’d prefer their leaves leave a brown patch on city grass than on their own lawn. The practice has been so common for so long, that they may not even be aware of what an arrogant thing it is to do. Maybe their daddies did the same thing.

Perhaps worse is the habit of piling leaves and brush on public sidewalks. In their quest to get leaves and brush off their lawns, some property owners have found it convenient to pile it on the adjacent pedestrian thoroughfare, sometimes forming a great long heap that makes the sidewalk useless for any other purpose. As a result, pedestrians—be they children, students, elderly bus riders, etc.—are forced to walk around leaf piles, usually into automobile rights-of-way, sometimes in hazardous circumstances.

In some American communities, property owners are required to maintain the sidewalks in front of their homes. If it snows, they’re required by law to shovel it. If tree limbs fall on the sidewalk, they’re required to clear it.

We don’t expect Knoxville will ever enact and enforce any such laws. Here, it’s understood, our fellow man is expected to fend for himself. But the property owner who willfully causes a burden to the pedestrian, or to the taxpayer, is harder to understand.