EPA Hears Arkansans' Differing Views On Regional Haze Rule

Apr 17, 2015

Glen Hooks of the Sierra Club, State Rep. Warwick Sabin (D-Little Rock) and other opponents of coal-powered energy rally after hearings on the EPA's proposed regional haze rule.
Credit Chris Hickey / KUAR

The Environmental Protection Agency is extending its public comment period on proposed rules to limit emissions for several coal-fired power plants in Arkansas. The regulations are intended limit haze around national wilderness areas.

Many citizens and environmental advocates signed up to speak at the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality headquarters in North Little Rock. Some invoked   the heavy hand of literary wisdom in their defense of the Buffalo National River, the Ouachita Mountains and the Caney Creek Wilderness area.  Katie Campbell of the Arkansas Arts Center Children's Theater was among them.

“One touch of nature makes the whole world kin,” she said, referencing Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida. “This one touch of nature is some character trait which is common to us all.”

She told EPA officials how the retrofitting of coal plants with cleaner burning technologies should be welcomed.

“Will Arkansans’ touch of nature be the conviction and courage of advocates for clean air, healthy communities and growing economies?”

Rabbi Eugene Levy brought the Bible into the case for curbing the dirty emissions of coal. He explained that Arkansans also frequently use that text to justify their positions and philosophies.

“Thus, in the book of Genesis, when God breathed into us the breath of life, we see that it was pure, untainted, unpolluted breath. And that is what makes us holy as God is holy. Conversely, polluted breath is unholy,” he said.  

An unholy breath characterized more literally by some as respiratory problems like asthma, not to mention heart disease, brought on by the inhalation of particulate matter, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides. The EPA said just over a week ago that 9 coal units at six locations across the state need to reduce emissions of those compounds by more than 86,000 tons per year. That scenario irks some advocates for the state's largest energy consumers, like Jordan Tinsely of the Arkansas Electric Energy Consumers Incorporated and the Arkansas Gas Consumers Incorporated.

“This federal implementation is going to require billions of dollars in controls on stationery sources, including much of the low-cost electric generation capacity in Arkansas,” he said.

Chad Wood of the Energy and Environmental Alliance of Arkansas reiterated several of the concerns of electricity providers.

“The chief among these concerns is that the EPA has failed to realistically assess the true cost of this proposed rule for owners of Arkansas’s electric utilities and their customers, including the actual costs of the controls proposed for many of Arkansas’s electric generating units,” he said.

Operating under the Federal Clean Air Act, the EPA set forth the mandate with the goal of increasing visibility on certain national lands, referred to by the EPA as “Class 1” areas. But utility companies say the rule has been implemented too quickly, with little time to comment and respond.

“Our driving concern is that any of the costs resulting from the rule not unfairly or adversely affect our customers or our co-owners,” said Sally Graham, a spokeswoman for Entergy Arkansas.

Estimates for retrofitting the Arkansas plants with cleaner burning technologies had previously run up to a billion dollars. Utilities like Entergy and the Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas say that cost may end up largely resulting in higher rates for consumers. But the changes were praised in a post-hearing press conference, where Glen Hooks of the Sierra Club drove home the point for clean air.

“When I go to the Upper Buffalo River, I want to see the river and the bluffs. When I go to the Caney Creek Wilderness areas, I want to see the wilderness. And someday I want my grandchildren to see it. The plan being discussed today…is a roadmap to how we protect our important Arkansas areas from haze for generations to come,” he said.

And Hooks said measures to clear haze will also have their side-benefits.

“Cleaner air, better public health, plus the creation of thousands clean energy jobs right here in Arkansas,” he said. Though he said the Sierra Club has not  

Discussion will continue on the proposed rules, as EPA officials say they're extending the public comment period by at least 30 days past the initial May 16th deadline.