Neighbors opposing natural gas compressor: Let Nashville protect its air

A large crowd turned out to ask for local control over air permits for massive polluting gas compressors proposed in Nashville. (© Mike Mather/SELC)

They streamed into downtown Nashville in a pair of buses and packed a hearing room so thoroughly organizers had to retract a room divider to offer more seats.

More than 150 people from Nashville’s Joelton and Antioch communities massed at a public hearing to support the city’s efforts to keep its air healthy.

But oddly, the emotional comments and strong sentiments delivered one-by-one over several hours didn’t reach the intended target.

The Tennessee Air Pollution Control Board will make a decision perhaps in December on whether to include a Nashville clean-air ordinance in the State Implementation Plan, but the board itself was not present. Instead the board “punted” the public hearing to the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, according to a TDEC official.

The state air board will later get a transcript of the meeting, a strange circumstance that confused and upset some who wanted the board to hear their words.

Nashville leaders are trying to control the clarity of the city’s air through zoning ordinances and construction permits. The city’s ordinance would effectively block a pair of proposed massive natural gas compressors – totaling 100,000 horsepower – from being built near parks, neighborhoods and community centers.

The gas companies that want to build the compressors near neighborhoods and parks are arguing Nashville can’t restrict them through zoning.

No other major metropolitan city in the Southeast has been forced to accept such large compressors.

The compressors emit fumes that can be harmful to anyone with breathing issues or asthma. The neighbors told state officials that they should let Nashville to make decisions that are best for the city and its residents.

“We urge the board to include the change, and thereby affirm Nashville’s right to protect its air quality and its citizens health,” SELC attorney Anne Passino told state officials at the hearing. “The unhealthy air in and around Nashville the past couple of days is an unfortunate reminder that we cannot take our air quality for granted.”

The haze from southern wildfires had descended into Nashville’s bowl-like topography ahead of the public meeting. It was an illustration to many that, while Nashville can’t control soot from forest fires, it should have the right to control what industries vent into the city’s air.

Only one person at the hearing asked the state to reject Nashville’s ordinance. He was an attorney representing one of the gas companies.

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