Yesterday at the University of Tennessee's homecoming celebration, I had a chance to visit the College of Engineering where I was able to pick up a brochure from the East Tennessee Clean Fuels Coalition. The brochure contains many statistics for the area that are quite striking; basically, their two main goals are to (1) "reduce dependence on foreign oil, and (2) improve regional air quality and sustainability." The coalition is a participant in the Department of Energy's Clean Cities Program.
Oil is only 45% produced domestically, and the search for domestic substitutes is an item high on the agenda partly due to the implications of our sending billions of dollars every year abroad to countries that are not particularly friendly, and partly because there is a question of how affordable such spending is to begin with.
In terms of regional air quality, it's hard to believe but Knoxville was recently rated 8th worst nationwide in terms of being ozone-polluted, and 8th worst in terms of urban sprawl. And seven counties (Knox, Anderson, Jefferson, Blount, Sevier, Hamilton, and Sullivan) in East Tennessee are not expected to meet the 8 hr ozone standard. Notice how Chattanooga is in the list too. Transporation is currently 97% dependent on oil; it contributes 56% to the nitrogen oxides, 25%+ of the particulates, 47% of the volatile organic compounds, and 77% of the carbon monoxide emissions nationwide. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park were rated to have the worst air pollution of any national park.
Now, there is little doubt that alternative cleaner fuels would go quite a ways toward cleaning the air and environment in general. The other item that would help would be to reduce the oil consumption to begin with. Such can take place if more people walked and biked as a means of transportation, and if people did that sprawl would become less and less attractive as well. Retrofitting current infrastructure to become biking and walking friendly is a very large task; however it can be and is being done.