The Environmental Protection Agency has finalized a plan intended to decrease haze in two federal wildlife areas in Arkansas.
It’s the result of an Arkansas Sierra Club lawsuit filed in 2014 that called for federal regulators to implement a plan in the state based on a Clean Air Act rule passed by Congress in 1999. Under the law, the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality is required to work with the EPA to monitor and improve air and visibility standards around the Upper Buffalo River and Caney Creek Wilderness areas. The Haze Rule affects 64 other wildlife areas around the United States.
In March of 2012, the EPA partially rejected a state-originated plan to comply with the rule. Delays involved in negotiations between the state and federal government partially led to the Sierra Club suit.
Last year, a federal judge ordered the federal regulators to institute a plan. EPA Region Six Air Division Chief Guy Donaldson said the key part of the 338-page final plan requires companies to reduce sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions
“The big thing here is the sulfur dioxide emissions. Those are emissions that combine in the atmosphere to form ammonia sulphate. And the way to control those traditionally—what we based our plan on—was the idea of putting scrubbers in place,” Donaldson said.
The cleaning mechanisms are installed on smokestacks or power plants and other facilities. Donaldson said scrubbers aren’t necessarily the only choices companies have, but they can make a significant difference in emmissions.
“Scrubbers are a proven technology that have been implemented at probably hundreds of facilities across the country. And we believe they’re cost-effective and technically effective controls,” he said.
The plan affects seven facilities: three coal-fired power plants, three natural gas plants and one paper mill. The EPA estimates it would eliminate about 68,000 tons of sulfur dioxide and about 15,000 tons of nitrogen oxide from the state’s air each year. But Entergy Arkansas spokeswoman Julie Munsell said installing the scrubbers on its Independence and White Bluff coal plants comes with a price tag of more than 2 billion dollars. So she says the company is evaluating other options.
“You could be looking down the road at litigation…and for us, we need to go back and review all of those and the implications of all of those before we can make a final decision,” she said.
Last year, Entergy had proposed shutting down the White Bluff and Independence plants.
But in praising the final EPA plan, Arkansas Sierra Club president Glen Hooks said that would be the wiser for Entergy.
“We think a better way that using a billion dollars or more in ratepayer money to prop up dirty coal plants—a better use of that money is to invest in clean renewable energy for Arkansas,” he said.
ADEQ Director Becky Keogh says the state is also exploring litigation possibilities to delay the plan. She says Entergy and other companies have a short timeline to comply.
“We will pursue ways to mitigate that initial costs that might be born of rate-payers…should we be successful in modifying the actual requirement,” Keogh said in an interview.
ADEQ officials contend the Regional Haze Rule should not apply to Entergy’s Independence plant, located in northeast Arkansas, because the plant was built after a cutoff date. ADEQ Office of Air Quality Associate Director Stuart Spencer said the state agency’s reading of the law indicates that the rule applies to emissions from plants built before 1977.
In statements released Thursday, both Keogh and Governor Asa Hutchinson characterized the final plan as “federal overreach.”
“It is arbitrary for EPA to force Arkansas ratepayers to pay millions, much less billions, of dollars for new technology that, by EPA’s own admission, will have no appreciable effect on regional haze and improved visibility. I am mindful of litigation in surrounding states regarding their haze plans and I have directed ADEQ to work with the Arkansas Attorney General to pursue all available legal remedies,” Hutchinson said in a statement.
Keogh also expanded on the idea of a federal overreach in her statement.
“Despite Arkansas achieving better-than-required progress in visibility improvements, EPA has ignored the uniquely American cooperative-federalism model and instead has elected to issue this Federal Plan and converted this partnership into a coercive-federalism scheme where the states are now more pawn than partner,” she said.
But the EPA’s Guy Donaldson said the agency is simply trying to carrying out the law.
“We believe we are required to put this plan in place, by the Clean Air Act. In a situation where either a state hasn’t provided a plan or the plan isn’t approvable, we are required to put in a federal plan,” he said.
KUAR's Sarah Whites-Koditschek and Michael Hibblen contributed to this story.