UT Report: State’s Environmental Challenges Impact Economy

KNOXVILLE — Air pollution, water pollution and the preservation of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park are among the leading environmental concerns facing Tennessee.

The environment was the subject of a special supplement to this year’s Economic Report to the Governor of the State of Tennessee prepared by the University of Tennessee’s Center for Business and Economic Research (CBER).

“The goal of continued improvements in environmental quality is consistent with the goal of increased standards of living,” said Mary Evans, assistant professor of economics, who specializes in environmental and resource economics. Evans authored the environmental chapter.

The report also highlights the importance of recognizing the geographic diversity within the state and how this diversity affects environmental quality across the state.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park encompasses more than 800 square miles. More than 10,000 species have been documented in the park, and scientists believe the total number of species in the park could exceed 100,000.

The park sees millions of visitors per year; more than 10 million visitors were logged in 2000, according to one study.

The economic impact of the park to Blount, Cocke, and Sevier counties in Tennessee, and Graham, Haywood and Swain counties in North Carolina is estimated at more than $600 million. Researchers have estimated that more than 15,000 jobs are at least indirectly supported by the park.

“Currently several factors including air pollution, water pollution and the introduction of non-native species threaten the viability of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and therefore also the contributions of the park to (these) local economies,” the report states.

Air Pollution

The Clean Air Act requires the EPA to set maximum standards for six air pollutants — carbon monoxide, lead, nitrogen dioxide, particulate matter, ozone and sulfur dioxide. Counties that fail to achieve these standards risk loss of federal highway funding and may face challenges attracting new businesses. Several counties in Tennessee currently fail to meet the standard for ozone and/or particulate matter.

Water Quality

Tennessee has more than 60,000 miles of rivers and streams and nearly 538,000 lake and reservoir areas. Tennessee surface water resources are divided into 55 watersheds.

A 2006 report from the Division of Water Pollution Control of Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation provides data on 30,245 miles — about half of the miles of streams and rivers in the state. Of those 30,245 miles, about 63 percent were rated as fully supporting of all or some of their designated uses. The remaining 37 percent were considered impaired.

The report cites sediment and silt deposits, habitat alteration, and the presence of pathogens as major contributors to water quality impairment in Tennessee. These result from activities that disturb land or otherwise contaminate water sources, such as urban development and agricultural activities.


Contacts:

Matt Murray, (865) 974-6084, mmurray1@utk.edu
Mary Evans, (865) 974-1700, mevans12@utk.edu
Amy Blakely, (865) 974-5034, amy.blakely@tennessee.edu