Arkansas’s top elected officials, all Republicans, are roundly denouncing the finalized Clean Power Plan announced Monday by President Barack Obama’s administration as an expensive overreach of authority, while health and environmental advocates are praising the Environmental Protection Agency rule as a needed step to combat climate change and adverse health impacts tied to coal energy production. Meanwhile, the state's governor is calling for a plan of compliance to be developed despite his opposition to the federal rule.
Attorney General Leslie Rutledge characterized the plan to lower carbon emissions based on 2005 levels 32 percent nationwide by 2030 as “unlawful” and vowed to stop it, “[my office] is prepared to take any and all appropriate legal action to prevent its implementation.”
Arkansas's carbon emission reduction target is higher than most states at 36 percent, due to a heavier reliance on coal, but that target is lower than the 44 percent reduction called for in the original draft of the EPA rule. The federal agency received over 4.3 million complaints nationally during a public comment period.
Governor Asa Hutchinson’s statement echoed Rutledge’s call to continue to litigate against the federal government. However, Hutchinson also said the state will take steps toward compliance, “While we will continue to fight the final rule, we will also work with our industries and consumers to determine a lowest cost option to compliance."
"When it comes to Arkansas’s energy policy, we must take a balanced approach in consideration of safety, reliability, cost-effectiveness and environmental impact. This is why I have directed leadership at the Public Service Commission and the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality to fully review this rule and develop the best response for our state," said Hutchinson in a statement released Monday.
The Republican governor also said he was “pleased” that the final rule extended by two years the starting line for states to begin complying from 2020 to 2022. Each state has the authority to craft its own plan, or mix of energy sources. If the EPA rule does go through unfettered by state legal challenges,the next battle may be over how Arkansas re-creates its energy mix - with coal's share likely to be shouldered by additional natural gas, hydroelectric, wind, or solar production.
Moving toward compliance is an inevitable step for industry in the estimation of one of the state’s premier environmental and conservation groups, the Sierra Club of Arkansas. The head of the state chapter, Glen Hooks, told KUAR that despite vocal opposition energy companies have already started to diversify energy production.
“That is happening all across the country, undeniably. People who say that it’s not are just not telling the truth or they’re not facing reality. The reality is that of the 500 coal plants in the country, 200 of them have been scheduled for retirement just over the last few years,” said Hooks. “People see the writing on the wall and utilities want to make sure that they do a good job of keeping the lights on. That’s why you see utilities in Arkansas not only building their own renewables but also purchasing renewable energy from out of state as part of their load here. They know what’s going."
Hooks noted four different renewable energy production sites have been launched so far this year.
While Arkansas’s top elected officials are united in opposition, primarily based on statements of concern over energy costs to rate-payers, Arkansas’s health officials point to cost benefits related to healthcare. The state Department of Health’s second-in-command, Deputy State Health Officer Joseph Bates, told KUAR that while much of the public’s attention is on rate costs and climate change, the public health benefit of curbing power plant pollution is often overlooked.
“The costs of the health effects are never computed. They compute the costs of the electricity generated since it’s the cheapest source of energy but they never compute the offsetting costs of increased health effects,” said Bates. Bates pointed to asthma, chronic obstructive lung disease, and mercury-related illnesses as particular health risks related to heavy coal use in Arkansas.
In a written statement, Rutledge said:
Today, the EPA has once again decided to move forward with a plan that goes beyond the rule of law,” said Attorney General Rutledge. “Let me be clear. I favor clean air and will do everything I can to preserve it for future generations, but an out-of-touch plan that proposes even deeper cuts than the original 2014 version is not a balanced approach. In 2013, Arkansas received over half of its electricity from coal-fired power plants, and if this plan is fully implemented, Arkansas rate payers will certainly see their energy rates increase. The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality, the Arkansas Public Service Commission and other State stakeholders are in a much better position to protect the State's clean air. Today's plan is simply the wrong direction and completely ignores the concerns that have been raised over the past several years about anticipated cost increases. My office continues to review the unlawful Clean Power Plan and is prepared to take any and all appropriate legal action to prevent its implementation.
Governor Hutchinson issued the following statement:
While I was pleased that the final rule extended the deadline and provided some relief, it is clear that the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan could still result in significant electric rate increases for middle-class ratepayers while having a minimal impact on global temperatures. My administration will do everything it can to protect ratepayers. This includes continuing to work with the Attorney General and urging Congress to act to protect ratepayers and to continue to pursue litigation in opposition to the burdensome regulation. While we will continue to fight the final rule, we will also work with our industries and consumers to determine a lowest cost option to compliance. When it comes to Arkansas’s energy policy, we must take a balanced approach in consideration of safety, reliability, cost-effectiveness and environmental impact. This is why I have directed leadership at the Public Service Commission and the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality to fully review this rule and develop the best response for our state.
Audubon Arkansas Executive Director Brett Kincaid applauded the action, saying in a statement:
The time for solutions is right now. Climate change threatens birds and people, and we need to take action. The Clean Power Plan gradually moves the country to a more sustainable energy future, significantly reduces pollution, and allows the state of Arkansas and our utilities the needed flexibility to create a pollution reduction plan unique to the Natural State. “Audubon welcomes any serious effort to reduce the greenhouse gas pollution that is driving climate change. Inaction is no longer an option.
A statement from Glen Hooks with the Sierra Club of Arkansas called the Clean Power Plan "the most significant single action any President has ever taken to tackle the most serious threat to the health of our families: the climate crisis."
Today marks the end of an era for dirty power plants that have spewed dangerous pollution into our air without limits for too long. It signifies a new era of growth for affordable and safe clean energy sources that don’t fuel climate disruption and sicken our communities. With 200 coal plants announced to retire and clean energy growing at record levels, the US is now taking a huge next step to curb dangerous carbon pollution. Today is a victory for every American who wants clean air to breathe, and for the millions of activists and concerned citizens who organized to make sure this day would finally come. “The Clean Power Plan is an opportunity for workers, entrepreneurs, and businesses to prosper as we go above and beyond the goals set by this plan. It is a step towards improving the quality of life for low income neighborhoods and communities of color, which have disproportionately borne the brunt of power plant pollution for decades. And it is a signal to the rest of the world that the U.S. is serious about acting on climate disruption and ready to lead the way toward a strong international climate agreement in Paris later this year. “Public officials around the country have a choice. They can support new jobs, cleaner air, healthier families, and the vast majority of the American people - or they can stand with fossil fuel executives who will say and do anything to maintain the dangerous status quo.
U.S. Representative French Hill (R-2nd District) issued the following:
“The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) emissions rule for our Nation’s power plants is another case of the federal government enacting public policy without taking into full consideration the economic constraints they are placing on the American people -- now and in the future. The President has once again acted unilaterally, circumventing Congress to put forth this harmful rule that could implement a 20 percent rate increase on monthly energy costs for Arkansas families. “This plan’s severe restrictions on our coal-fired power plants will be detrimental for Arkansas, as we currently rely on coal for nearly half of our electricity needs. As a ninth-generation Arkansan, I take great pride in our state’s natural beauty, and I am committed to supporting reasonable rules that protect our environment and prevent pollution while supporting America’s energy production and independence. I am in favor of a true all-of-the-above American energy policy that boosts our goal of North American energy independence, benefits consumers in Arkansas, protects our environment, and preserves our natural resources. I believe the President must work with Congress to establish a market-based, longer-term strategy that assures solid, base generation capacity and encourages growing capacity from renewables like wind and solar.”
A statement from Arkansas's senior U.S. Senator John Boozman (R):
“Arkansans depend on our reliable and affordable source of electricity. Unfortunately, EPA’s proposal makes Arkansas families vulnerable to high energy costs, electricity blackouts and job cuts. That pain falls hardest on low-income families and seniors living on a fixed-income who will be forced to pay more for electricity and many other essential needs. These news rules will drive industry overseas, hurting American workers and creating foreign factories that emit far more than we would. We will fight this mandate in Congress and I suspect it will face strong legal challenges. The Clean Air Act was enacted to protect the public from harmful pollution. It was not intended to address climate change concerns. The Administration has once again overstepped it bounds to enact policy that Congress would reject. The way to continue reducing emissions is through innovation, technology and positive incentives. Arkansans are willing to do their part to protect the environment but with commonsense policies. A real 'clean power plan’ will encourage innovation and promote the use of our natural resources in all-of-the-above energy mix that includes renewables such as solar, wind, hydropower and biomass along with reliable sources like clean coal, emissions-free nuclear and clean natural gas.”