The Fayette Citizen-Opinion Page

Wednesday, July 4, 2001

Where does a 500-lb. canary put a runway?


Have you noticed the deafening silence of the Sierra Club and the federal Environmental Protection Agency concerning Hartsfield Airport's fifth runway?

The Sierra Club, a huge, nationwide group of environmental activists/lobbyists, has spent untold amounts of money over the last couple of years and caused the state to spend quite handsomely as well in legal attempts to keep roads from being built in the Atlanta area.

The arguments sound amazingly reasonable, and go something like this: The air in the Atlanta area does not meet federal quality standards, and too many people driving cars too many miles is at least a major contributing factor. The state and local governments have responded to increasing traffic by building too many roads and have not provided enough alternative transportation options to reduce pollution. Therefore, the governments should not be allowed to build anymore roads until they come up with a plan to provide more trains, subways, buses and bike paths so that the air quality standards are met.

After losing the latest lawsuit recently, a Sierra Club spokesman went onto a panel TV show and repeated several times that the state needs to come up with a transportation plan that meets air quality standards.

Again, that sounds reasonable. But there's a giant flaw, a catch 22. The transportation plan that would cause Atlanta's air to meet the federal standards is an impossibility. You could pass a law today that provides the death penalty for increasing the number of cars on our roads, and you could plow up half of the roads and put subway stations every half mile on every thoroughfare in the entire 13-county region, and we still wouldn't meet the air quality standards.

Setting aside, for now, the fact that the standards themselves are flawed and based on voodoo environmentalism, two major culprits in the Atlanta area's air quality are sacred cows that will defeat any effort to create cleaner air: the area's abundant plant life, and Hartsfield Airport.

Don't start throwing eggs. It's true. People have asthma and other respiratory problems because of the intense concentration of pollen. When other regions of the country are whining about high pollen counts, like 250, our counts are running three or four thousand. That's why the environmentalists' use of statistics on the number of asthma cases and other respiratory problems as proof of air quality problems is so ridiculous.

Why do you think Doc Holliday went west?

Perhaps the Sierra Club should file suit against the metro counties that have tree protection ordinances.

Hartsfield is the other big contributor. Don't misunderstand ... the airport is revered as a dynamic economic generator for the south side, and nobody wants it to go away. But further expansion is environmentally, socially, economically insane.

It's time for this 500-pound canary to lose some weight.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency proved its great love of the environment by forcing Georgia to create a huge bureaucracy (GRTA) designed to spend a boat load of money without actually doing anything. EPA delayed approval of road-building plans and made the state jump through all sorts of hoops to finally get a transportation plan approved.

But EPA approved the fifth runway with barely a raised eyebrow at the additional pollution that will bring.

And now Atlanta wants to add 3,000 more feet, which will multiply the ill effects exponentially. And EPA will approve that, too, with nary a stumbling block, you watch.

The solution, of course, is to build another airport somewhere else, preferably the north side, and cut back on the number of flights out of Hartsfield.

Not likely? Agreed.

But if the Sierra Club is sincere about wanting to improve air quality in the region and not just getting high on the power of being able to force people to change their life-styles, the very least it could do is stand behind the folks in south Fulton who are trying to stop the extension of the fifth runway.

Cleaner, more breathable air, is a worthy goal, and if we provide more trains and subways, maybe eventually people will actually choose to use them, and that will certainly help move us toward that goal.

But if we want to make real progress, we're going to have to carve up that sacred cow.

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