Top Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy was in Little Rock Wednesday, touting the city's water quality project along Main Street's Creative Corridor.
The project, completed earlier this year, was largely funded through a 900,000 dollar grant from the federal agency. McCarthy also visited with science students from eStem charter school and with city officials. She said the water quality project shows a commitment by the city toward sustainable development.
“Little Rock has been outstanding in terms of being able to work with us and to leverage federal dollars so that a project like this is not only important for our water quality efforts to manage storm water well—which we know is going to be an increasing challenge as the climate changes—but it's also about making sure the community themselves design it and the kids get engaged,” she said.
The “low-impact” development uses plants to absorb street water runoff and filter out pollutants. The first of its kind in Little Rock, the project also received funding from the city for a total bill of about 2 million dollars.
Dennis Pevey, the eStem K-12 Science Specialist described the students' work in the corridor as adhering to a continuum of projects studying sustainable developments. Model homes and heat lamps, imagining cities of the future, building model developments with card board
“Before the corridor was here we didn't have any sort of real world example,” he said. “Everything was just something that we looked at in another city. You know we looked at Chicago, we looked at Portland, we looked at other cities and we said 'oh, well, that's something that we might do,' but now the students can actually see that sustainability.”
Students used arduinos, which one student described as a mini computer with sensors to measure things like light, pH and temperature, to test the soil and see what affect the plants have. Pevey said the students can look at how soil closer to the street is different from soil away from the street and compare it to soil near the river and assess what contaminants are there and at what rate the soil is processing the contaminants.
Clean Power Plan
McCarthy said she would be meeting with Governor Asa Hutchinson later in the day to discuss various issues the state faces in meeting environmental regulations. McCarthy's visit coincided with as stakeholders prepare for a meeting to plan implementation of the EPA's Clean Power Plan. The plan calls for a 36 percent carbon emissions reduction target in the state by 2030.
Arkansas is one of 14 states involved in a federal lawsuit seeking to block the plan. Despite this, the state Public Service Commission and Department of Environmental Quality say they will move forward with implementing the plan.
McCarthy said she believes Arkansas and it utilities are in a good position to comply.
“They've been heavily engaged in energy efficiency which is one of the least cost ways to comply with the Clean Power Plan their building renewables in terms of one of the first large solar utilities in the state, so there's a lot going on so we're basically looking to encourage that,” she said.
On Wednesday, the litigating states sent out Freedom of Information Act requests to the EPA, contending that the agency has been slow to publish the entirety of the Clean Power Plan in the federal register. To this McCarthy told reporters her agency is abiding by all federal rules regarding the publishing of its regulations.
“We have filed the appropriate paperwork with the federal register,” she said. “The federal register is moving forward as quickly as [it] can. This is a very long record that takes a while to do, but there's no way that we're influencing that and we're doing this as expedited as we can.”
Those in Arkansas we've expressed discontent with the Clean Power Plan have argued that implementing it would present an enormous cost hike for the state's electric consumers, largely because it might require the retirement of coal plants in the state. Coal, which provides Arkansas with more than half of its electricity, is seen as a cheaper source of energy than many alternatives.