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Something In The Air 

Mayoral candidates have different approaches on environment

Even though air pollution has become one of the city's most urgent issues, the candidates in the current mayoral race haven't said much about it. As reported in the September 12 CL ("Homegrown Heath Hazard"), numerous studies show that the Carolinas, and specifically Charlotte, suffer from some of the most polluted air in the country, resulting in an increased number of health problems and fatalities.

When asked, both incumbent Pat McCrory and Democratic challenger Ella Scarborough, when asked, say they have a multi-pronged approach to addressing the city's environmental woes.

"First, we must get some of the cars off the road," said Scarborough. "We do that through light rail, the trolley and some of those transit areas that impact air quality. We need to stop all the endless talking and studies about transit. We've been talking for years and have spent millions conducting studies and we still haven't put one train on the track."

Second, Scarborough says, something must be done about rampant development.

"That's one of the things McCrory has not and cannot do," she said. "We have to hold their feet to the fire as it relates to green space in the city. Just go up I-85 and take the exit going to UNC-Charlotte and look at all those houses -- they tore down every tree. It's ludicrous. And if you look at McCrory's fundraising list, all you see are developers. We have to have a mayor who is willing to put the people first. That includes saving our green space."

Finally, Scarborough said that if elected mayor, she'll take a tougher

stance regarding power plants and public safety, something she says her opponent -" an employee of Duke Power -- is unable to do. (Note: Scarborough herself was an employee of Duke Power for 22 years in the human resources department.)

"McCrory can't even talk about safety," says Scarborough, "particularly regarding the nuclear power plants -- because he's already in their (Duke Power's) pockets. I will say this, as a previous employee of Duke Power, they do take the environment seriously. But I don't think they've put anything in place to deal with the safety of the citizens of Charlotte in light of the nuclear plants being so close, particularly given the dangers of a terrorist attack. McCrory cannot deal with that. If he did deal with it he'd be fired. . .The mayor is out of touch with the needs of the citizens of this community. The citizens of Charlotte need to be assured that with me as mayor, the quality of our air and water is going to be great."

McCrory said he's focusing on three basic areas when it comes to Charlotte's environment, the first being to clean up existing land and encourage infill development.

"A perfect example of this is the success we've had in the South End area and in and around Third Ward," McCrory said. "I worked very hard to get federal grants to help clean up those areas. As mayor, I will continue with these efforts along the North Tryon corridor, Wilkinson, Freedom and the inner city corridors."

Second, McCrory says he intends to continue to address land-use and planning issues. "This has a tremendous impact on air and water pollution," he said. "I'm the one that's demanding we design good land use around our 32 outerbelt interchanges so we don't have just more strip malls and traffic lights. I don't want our outer beltway to become another area of sprawl. I also just got a $100,000 grant from the EPA to get other counties such as Stanly, Lincoln and Union more involved in land use planning. If they repeat the mistakes that Charlotte made in the 70s, our air is going to get worse."

Finally, McCrory said the fruition of Charlotte's transit plan holds great promise and will do wonders for the environment.

"We initiated the campaign and pushed for the transit system. We now have an innovative 25-year transit plan that includes both buses and light rail."

McCrory added that he's also focusing on additional pedestrian-friendly measures, including requiring all new developments to include sidewalks on both sides of the road, and that he plans to have a regional plan to combat air pollution ready by December.

"I've concentrated more energy and effort on environmental issue than any other," McCrory said. "For the past four years I've been named environmental chairman of the US Conference of Mayors."

It was in this capacity that McCrory went to Capitol Hill in 1997 and, in a move that raised eyebrows among supporters of clean air, testified before members of the House Commerce Committee regarding stringent new EPA rules. The new federal mandates were designed to reduce the amount of smog- and ozone-forming emissions produced in the eastern US, including Charlotte, by 32 percent by the year 2005. (These mandates are currently being held up by numerous lawsuits).

The kinds of restrictions and costs the EPA proposed have worked elsewhere to improve air quality. But the measures cost. Compliance with the pollution-control standards could cost NC drivers and industries hundreds of millions of dollars annually. Drivers statewide could pay an additional $300-800 million a year for specially reformulated gasoline, state officials say. Duke Energy could expect to spend about $600 million for new emission controls on its plants.

During his 1997 testimony, McCrory talked about the new EPA regulations having a severe impact on Charlotte's economy and quality of life. The mayor also criticized the EPA for targeting cities like Charlotte, which often have to deal with pollution from areas beyond their control, including federal highways that run through the city. McCrory added that the federal government needed to do more research to determine whether these proposed standards are necessary or beneficial, and that they should help cities pay the costs of meeting any new standards.

McCrory caught some heat for his testimony from environmental groups such as the Sierra Club. McCrory defends his actions.

"What I was telling Congress was that the air quality rules they had were actually encouraging more air pollution," McCrory said. "The attainment areas were too small. You don't want the attainment areas to be just around the cities, because then businesses and people are just going to move across the border and county lines. In the long run the policies are actually going to cause more dirty air and bad economics because they encourage things like a Concord Mall to be built outside our attainment areas. So yes, I spoke against the EPA regulations, because they were contradictory. I was saying make your policies more comprehensive so they work together. That's the dilemma you have if you criticize existing regulations. People go, 'Oh, you must be against clean air regulations.' It's just the opposite. We're saying don't enact regulations that are counter-productive."

When asked about a possible conflict of interest arising from his appearance on Capitol Hill as Charlotte's mayor to testify about a matter that would directly affect his employer, Duke Power (where he serves as manager of business relations), McCrory replied, "No, in fact it's quite beneficial because I'm very knowledgeable on the subject. But the fact of the matter is that power plants are regulated by the state and federal government. City government doesn't have input into that process."

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