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About SAMI

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The Southern Appalachian Mountains are renowned for their scenic beauty, natural resources, and opportunities for abundant recreation.
The forests and streams of the area support one of the most diverse collections of plant and animal life in the world. Tourism contributes significantly to the area’s economies. A decline in air quality now impairs this natural beauty and threatens this diverse environment.

Air quality protection in the Southern Appalachian Mountains is a particularly challenging issue.
The economies of the southeastern states are thriving and populations are growing, driving increased demand for transportation, energy, and manufactured products. Air pollutants emitted by industries, power plants, and vehicles contribute to the decline in air quality in the Southern Appalachians. Many of the pollutants reaching the mountains are transported by the wind from other parts of the country and from growing urban areas in the Southeast. Mountain communities add to these pollutants. Meteorology also plays a role in the region’s air quality. For example, the southeastern United States has more frequent episodes of air stagnation than most other areas of the country. During these periods, pollutants can remain over the mountains for several days at a time. The naturally high humidity of the area magnifies the haze generated by airborne particles. In addition, trees emit natural organic compounds that react with pollutants emitted by human activity to increase ground level ozone and fine particles.

The Southern Appalachian Mountains Initiative (SAMI) was created to identify and recommend emissions management strategies to remedy existing and prevent future adverse air quality effects in Southern Appalachia, with particular focus on the ten Class I national parks and wilderness areas. Eight southern states lead SAMI: Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia. The Environmental Protection Agency, National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, industries, academics, environmental organizations, and interested members of the public are participants. In contrast to sometimes adversarial rulemaking proceedings, SAMI states and stakeholders work together cooperatively toward common air quality objectives.

SAMI provides a forum to develop regional air quality solutions and to resolve differences among institutional priorities. Federal land managers have responsibility to protect the air quality and related values in natural parks and wilderness areas. In carrying out their responsibilities, federal land managers review state air permits for proposed new and expanding factories and power plants near Class I areas. Although new facilities employ cleaner technologies, the federal land managers are reluctant to support additional air emissions when adverse impacts are occurring due to existing emissions. Other stakeholders also have an interest in this review process. Local economic development interests generally support industrial expansions to gain the associated jobs and services. Industries are concerned that the costs of air-related controls are not well known across the SAMI region. State and federal regulatory agencies find themselves balancing the need to protect Class I areas and the need to accommodate growing economies in the Southeast. In the early 1990s FLMs recommended that several proposed state air permits be denied due to expected adverse impacts in Class I areas. SAMI was formed to understand the extent of the problem and possible regional solutions to these complex issues.

The Clean Air Act requires major reductions in air pollutants. The 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments (CAA) require major reductions in airborne pollutant chemicals, including sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, ozone and other photochemical oxidants, and volatile organic compounds. Although these reductions are expected to produce air quality improvements, there is uncertainty as to whether the results will be enough to protect and preserve the ecosystems and natural resources of the Southern Appalachians, especially Class I areas.

Since SAMI was formed, the national standards for ozone and particulate matter have been revised. Regional haze rules have been proposed. Stricter emissions controls are being implemented for utilities and industries. Additional mobile source controls consisting of tighter tailpipe standards and a reduced fuel sulfur content are expected to be proposed in the immediate future for highway vehicles and off-road vehicles. SAMI has designed an integrated assessment to characterize the costs and benefits of existing and newly mandated federal regulatory requirements. As a result, better-informed policy decisions will be made. The assessment will also examine the implications of additional management strategies that SAMI may recommend if Clean Air Act requirements do not protect the natural resources of the Southern Appalachian Mountains.

SAMI is demonstrating that stakeholders with differing policy objectives can work together cooperatively. While SAMI cannot assure that all stakeholders will agree on a single approach to regional air quality solutions, SAMI is successful in narrowing the range of the technical debate and in promoting better working relations between the stakeholders. - SAMI Interim Report, April 1999.

Figure 1: SAMI Geographic Domain

Figure 2:  SAMI geographic domain


SAMI's areas of focus is the Southern Appalachian Mountains and specifically, the national parks and wilderness areas of the Southern Appalachian Mountains designated Class I by the Clean Air Act.  Class I areas are those given the nation's highest measure of air quality protection by federal law.  The Class I areas in the Southern Appalachians are:

Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Shenandoah National Park
Cohutta Wilderness
James River Face Wilderness
Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness
Linville Gorge Wilderness
Shining Rock Wilderness
Sipsey Wilderness
Dolly Sods Wilderness
Otter Creek Wilderness

Air Pollutants Impacts of Concern:
(bullets below will become links to effects pages)

  • regional haze

  • acid deposition effects to streams and aquatic life

  • acid deposition effects to forests

  • ozone effects to forests

SAMI's History

Research and monitoring in national parks and wilderness areas of the Southern Appalachian Mountains have documented adverse air pollution effects on visibility, streams, soils, and vegetation.  Beginning in 1990, the Federal Land Managers for Shenandoah National Park, Great Smoky Mountain National Park, and James River Face Wilderness Area made several adverse impact determinations in the review of proposed air permits for major new sources. All parties acknowledge, however, that the pollution levels adversely affecting park and wilderness resources come largely from existing sources of pollution - large and small, mobile and stationary, near and distant. However, the relative contribution of each source type to the regional air pollution problem is not well quantified. Current air pollution levels are threatening the natural ecosystems, resources, diversity, and beauty of the Southern Appalachian Mountains.  In addition to the aesthetic values of this region, these areas are very important to the culture and economy of the surrounding states.

In March 1992, a conference was held in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, to examine the scientific understanding of air pollution in the Southern Appalachian Mountains and ideas for addressing it.  In response to the controversy over new source permitting and the discussion at the Gatlinburg conference, the eight states surrounding the Southern Appalachian Mountains, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Park Service, and the USDA Forest Service met in June 1992, to launch the Southern Appalachian Mountains Initiative (SAMI). -SAMI Bylaws, November 1993

About SAMI | Calendar | Integrated Assessment | Strategies | Actions | Outreach | Home


S O U T H E R N   A P P A L A C H I A N   M O U N T A I N S   I N I T I A T I V E
The Interchange Building, 59 Woodfin Place
Asheville, North Carolina 28801
828 251 6889

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Friday, October 06, 2000

Copyright 1999 Southern Appalachian Mountains Initiative