Local & Regional News
10:33 am
Mon August 25, 2014

As Griffin Concludes Congressional Role, Says Fighting Clean Air Rules A Priority

U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin
U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin

As Republican 2nd District Congressman Tim Griffin prepares to conclude his time in the U.S. House of Representatives, he says he will continue to advocate for the state to join a lawsuit with other states challenging the Environmental Protection Agency’s draft of new carbon emission standards. The proposed standards would require Arkansas to reduce its carbon emissions by 44 percent by the year 2030.

Rep. Griffin points to Arkansas's heavy reliance on coal power. The proposed standards would likely cause a significant rise in energy prices, he says, as local utilities would have to shift away from that cheap, but carbon-heavy resource.

“That means if there are companies and folks that are thinking about Arkansas for jobs, they've now got to factor in higher energy costs. So it will make us less competitive. This is a serious, serious issue that could impact thousands of jobs here in Arkansas and could make it harder to attract jobs here,” says Griffin.

So far, Arkansas has not chosen to join a lawsuit with 12 other states over the new emissions guidelines. However, On August 4th Attorney General Dustin McDaniel met with the General Counsel of the EPA, Avi Garbow, to discuss the drafted changes and some concerns the state has in meeting the standards. Those concerns were detailed in a letter sent by McDaniel to Garbow. The letter's complaints range from an insufficient timeframe in which Arkansas could plan for and meet the standards to a lack of renewable sources of energy in the state, among other issues.

Griffin says if Arkansas does not join the lawsuit, there is little else it can do to significantly challenge the measures. He says legislation was recently introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives to stall the new emissions targets, but notes the bill “is not going anywhere in the Senate”' and would likely not be signed by president Obama.

Griffin says he would like for the state' power utilities to consider all forms of energy, but in his view the EPA is calling for too much of an emissions reduction target over too short a time.

“An 'all of the above stategy' is truly is all of the above. It's a diverse portfolio of energy. And this is not about whether we pursue other sources of energy. This is about how long we are given to transition,” he says.

Despite the perceived strictness of timeframes and emissions targets, Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality spokeswoman Katherine Benenati says the agency has not ignored states' uneasiness with the targets. “EPA has been very open to meeting with states individually and as groups. The agency has encouraged states to communicate any concerns they have,” she said in an email.

Benenati said the agency has proposed “building blocks” through which a state may come up with their own plans to meet the emissions targets.

Environmental groups have also disputed the potential negative economic impact of the rules changes, saying the potential hazard of climate change far outweighs possible economic losses. In response to a study released by a group of manufacturers last month saying the new emissions rules would have a harmful economic impact, Glen Hooks of the Sierra Club told KUAR:

“The reality is that the industry no matter what environmental regulation comes down the pike they always say that the sky is going to fall. They always say it’s going to cost jobs, they always say it’s going to cost enormous amounts of money economically and it never pans out. Good health and a good environment means that our people are going to be stronger and healthier and the bottom line for companies and all of our families are going to better.”

The draft of new carbon emissions rules has proven politically unpopular in Arkansas. Both candidates for Arkansas Governor have expressed views opposing the stricter limits, claiming the EPA is “overreaching” its authority. Earlier this month, the Arkansas legislature's joint Insurance and Commerce Committee passed a resolution opposing the new standards.

The two-term congressman Griffin announced last October that he would not seek a third term in the U.S. House of Representatives. Instead, he chose to run as the Republican candidate for Arkansas Lieutenant Governor in this November's election. His Democratic opponent John Burkhalter, issued his own statement in an email to KUAR on the draft of new EPA carbon emissions targets:

“It is critically important that we protect Arkansas’s incredible natural resources, and in doing so we must also provide a balance between the environment and economic development.

The EPA has a long record of overreaching and burdensome regulations. It seems the agency’s recent attempts are an example of upsetting the balance between keeping energy costs low for hard working Arkansas families, protecting our state’s jobs and safeguarding our natural resources.”

Libertarian candidate for Lieutenant Governor Christopher Olson did not respond to an email asking for a statement of his position on the draft of new emissions rules.

8/28/14 Update: Candidate Olson sent this statement on the rules draft:

I am opposed to unfunded mandates by the federal government on the individual states.  I understand that reducing carbon emissions is a worthy goal; however, I feel that, if it must be done, the state is in a better position to determine the best way to do it for Arkansas while doing the least possible damage to the economic prospects and standing of its citizens and businesses.  It is my understanding that the EPA's quota for Arkansas is to reduce carbon emissions in this state by nearly 45%, which is higher than the national average.  Again, a very worthy goal, but one that has the potential of wrecking havoc on our citizens and businesses through increased electric costs.  I support the resolution passed by the Arkansas Senate reasserting Arkansas' sovereignty in this area, and recommend that the proper Arkansas authorities begin developing a strategy of reducing carbon emissions on our own terms in a responsible matter.  It is my understanding that the Union power station in El Dorado is operating at less than full capacity; perhaps we can move towards increasing that while looking at eliminating or upgrading some of our older coal power plants. 

The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality has been holding monthly stakeholders meetings for utilities, environmental groups and other interests about reaching the emissions benchmarks. The next meeting will be at ADEQ headquarters in North Little Rock on August 28th.