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March 6, 2001

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Newsmaker Interview

The following interview with Steve Perry of The Forum was conducted via email last week.

Harbinger: Can you tell our readers something about The Forum, its history and purpose, and how did you get involved?

Perry: The Forum, Industry Partners in Environmental Progress is an organization of major industries in southwest Alabama with a focus on health, safety and environmental issues. It was organized about eight years ago to address several needs of its members. These needs led to three areas of focus - (1) sharing information and education between the members, (2) serving as a resource for information to governmental agencies, and (3) being a resource to and interacting with communities in which the members operate.

Because we are a local organization, we can concentrate on the things that impact where our members' employees live, work and raise their families. Speaking of employees, the members of The Forum provide a livelihood for about 7,500 people, cumulatively earning over $330,000,000 each year. These people all live in our area, pay their taxes and support our communities and economy.

In these communities, the members of The Forum have established good relations with their near neighbors, and several groups have regular meetings with nearby citizens to keep them up to date on the companies, answer any questions and discuss issues of concern.

I have been involved with The Forum since its inception. My background includes growing up and being educated in Birmingham, Alabama, where my father was a schoolteacher and my mother a homemaker who also worked to allow my brother and me to attend college. I was a co-op student while I attended Auburn University, working every other quarter at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville to help defray the cost of college. When I graduated in 1965 with a degree in Chemical Engineering, I came to work for Stauffer Chemical in Axis and ended up spending my entire career at that location, serving as Plant Manager for 15+ years. During that time I attended Spring Hill College and earned an MBA in 1992.

When the time finally came to relocate, I decided I had invested too much of myself in Mobile to leave, so I made a career change. Staying in Mobile allowed me to continue my community activities, working with Junior Achievement (I currently serve as Chairman of the Board of Directors), the Private Industry Council where I was President for two years focusing on Workforce Development, and my involvement teaching youth at my church.

This decision to make a career change occurred at the time The Forum was forming. I was able to dedicate a good part of my time to getting that organization off the ground. As it has developed, I spent more time on its activities. It has become a common voice for industry and heightened industry's involvement in many activities in the area. For example, I co-chair a National Estuary Program committee, work on the Air Quality Study, am involved in the watershed management group for the southwest Alabama watershed and serve on the Board of Legacy, the statewide Environmental Education organization.

I feel it's important to give back to this community for having provided my wife, a high school English teacher, and me a great place to live and raise our family.

Harbinger: It is mentioned by you as well as many others that the amount of TRI pollutants have decreased from over 60 million pounds a decade ago to less than 20 million pounds in 1998, excluding emissions from Alabama Power Company, as a measure of progress of area industries in protecting the environment. What would you say to those who would rather look at these figures as glass-half-empty rather than glass-half-full, that is, for years Mobilians were exposed to more than 60 million pounds of toxins and that 20 million pounds of toxins are still too much -- remember, Alabama Power Company was exempted from reporting TRI until very recently.

Perry: First, let me say that the results speak for themselves -- there has been a dramatic reduction in air emissions over the past several years. To try and downplay these improvements would do a disservice to our employees who have worked very hard to make those reductions happen. It is also worth adding that most of those reductions were not driven by regulations, but were in fact voluntary. The second key point is that all emissions are permitted and those permits are based on achieving and maintaining health driven standards.

The bigger question seems to be are these emissions doing harm? Most people believe that the bigger the number relative to emissions, the greater the risk. That quite simply is not correct. That's not just my opinion, but it is fact, borne out by regulators, doctors, epidemiologists, and other health professionals. We have for years heard that Mobile was in the top "some small number" of counties relative to total TRI emissions, but there was no discussion of risk. I refer your readers to the Environmental Defense Fund's Scorecard website ranking system (http://www.scorecard.org/ranking/). There they can compare Mobile to the entire US in terms of the Health Risk from all sources of emissions and find in most cases Mobile County is not even in the top 100, although for one area it did rank number 29. Similar more recent data will be posted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) later this year.

Harbinger: What was your reaction when it was reported by the daily newspaper that the Alabama Power Company has created income by selling some of the electricity generated in the Barry Plant to neighboring states and letting Mobilians to absorb the cost of air pollution?

Perry: Alabama Power is a member of The Forum. Alabama Power generates electricity as a product, just like automobile manufactures produce cars, farmers grow crops, and universities educate students. I think what you are asking me is do I believe we should have an economic system where goods are freely traded throughout the system. I do believe in our free market system. We as a society developed beyond the self-sustaining community early in our history. This occurred when we discovered some individuals had particular skills and some areas had resources that were well adapted for certain functions. For example, cotton was grown in fertile areas caused by river floodings, but it was processed and woven in areas where mechanical power could be generated by running water. Would I want to return to days when we had to live on what could be produced and consumed only in Mobile -- the answer is no. Do I want to live only using electricity generated in Mobile and doing without when there wasn't enough (as has been the case recently in California) -- again the answer is no.

I prefer to enjoy my vegetables raised in Florida, my car made in Wisconsin, my tires made in Tennessee and to have the ability to sell products made in Mobile back to folks living in those places. And to do that with the environmental management system that we have in place that offers the proper protection to people living in all of those places.

Harbinger: Could you speculate why opinion makers in Mobile like to attribute the source of air pollution, including ground level ozone, to automobiles, when figures by ADEM and EPA showed that point sources like industries contributed three times as many air pollutants for the latest period when data were available. For example, data showed that in 1996, 102.6 million pounds of nitrous oxide, 42.28 million pounds of VOC's, and 20.28 million pounds of TRI air pollutants were due to point sources, while automobiles contributed 32 million pounds of nitrous oxide and 25.2 million pounds of VOC's.

Perry: First of all, I choose not to speculate on why other people think what they do. I do believe, however, I need to address the two underlying issues of your question separately. First, when people speak of air pollution, there needs to be a difference drawn between what are called Hazardous Air Pollutants (HAPs) and Criteria Pollutants. When they talk about air pollution, they may be speaking about either or both. And it is not up to them to draw a distinction; they are only concerned about something "in the air." I do, however, have to make the distinction when I talk about them because in many cases the sources are different and the way the pollutant acts is different.

In Mobile, the criteria pollutant of concern is ozone. Without getting into a long discussion about ozone, remember it is not emitted by any source, but is formed by the reaction of nitrous oxides (NOX) and volatile organic compounds (VOC). Several weather factors influence how much ozone is formed, where it forms and where it goes. These factors are sunlight, humidity, atmospheric mixing and wind speed and direction.

Currently the states of Alabama, Florida, Mississippi and Louisiana are doing a study of ozone across the gulf coast (The Gulf Coast Ozone Study or GCOS). This will give them a better understanding of how and where ozone is formed along the coast so if it is necessary to develop a reduction strategy, they will have a basis for evaluating control strategies. The study looks at reductions in NOX from mobile, low level and elevated sources. This would include cars, area sources such as boilers and utility and other facilities with tall stacks. It also looks at reductions in VOC, but those have been demonstrated to be of little effect because of one major source you excluded from your list -- biogenic sources of VOC. These are various plants, but predominately pine trees.

Preliminary results, according to those involved in the study, indicate that in some cases, reducing elevated emissions gives the best ozone reduction and in other cases, reducing mobile emissions does. Mobile sources are a major contributor to ozone formation.

Another often overlooked sequence of events was that during the time Mobile was seeing its first dramatic rise in ozone, 1998, Barry Electric Generating plant made about a 30% reduction in its NOX emissions. That may lead a reasonable person to look for additional sources for major NOX contributions.

The net result is that ozone formation is a complex, chemistry and weather driven phenomena that needs substantial science applied before anyone can say, "There is the cause."

Relative to HAP emissions, the issue is which HAPs are emitted and where do these occur. As noted in an earlier answer, the risk created by an emission is what must be considered. In all cases, thus, the closer the actual emission point is to the receptor (us) the greater is the risk. Therefore logic would say that emissions at ground level should have a quicker, more dramatic impact on people than those from a distant source. By way of example, a recent data from the EPA projects in that in Mobile County the contributors to average annual ground level concentrations of benzene (a known carcinogen) are,

If one were to look at this information, the conclusion that vehicles are a major contributor would be correct.

None of this is to infer that industry is not a contributor to air pollution in Mobile, but that it is but one of several sources. I am trying to convey that when looking at environmental issues, there are many factors that must be considered, and merely adding up the numbers does not tell the full story.

Finally, I'd ask you and your readers to take the opportunities offered by our members to visit and learn more about what we do. Our facilities are open for visits -- although they need to be scheduled -- and the people at the facilities are excited about having the chance to show-off their good works. If you need a contact, get in touch with me by phone at 473-3090, or write me at P. O. Box 81693, Mobile, AL 36689.


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