Legal Arguments On EPA’s Rules For Coal Plants Begin Today

Apr 16, 2015

The court will hear arguments on two separate but related lawsuits against the EPA in the wake of last June’s proposed rule requiring states to reduce carbon dioxide emission by 30 percent in 15 years. The rule, also known as President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, has been the subject of controversy among power companies, alternative energy supporters and business interests since last summer.

Both lawsuits contend that the rule and EPA’s threats that it will carry out that rule are illegal.

In August 2014, a dozen states originally filed an initial lawsuit to challenge the rule. Those states include West Virginia, Alabama, Alaska, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Wyoming and Kentucky. West Virginia led a group of states in one lawsuit and is an intervener in the other lawsuit.

In February, Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge filed a motion to intervene in a federal lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed 111(d) rule. That motion was granted in early March, allowing Arkansas to join West Virginia and the other 11 states in the case.

“As attorney general, I will seek to protect Arkansans against an overreaching federal government that is attempting to implement heavy-handed regulations that go beyond the scope of the law,” Rutledge said in a statement on March 9.

The EPA regulation would cut existing power-plant carbon emissions from 2005 levels by 30% by 2030. Currently, Arkansas environmental and utility regulators are studying the potential impact in conjunction with various stakeholders with an interest in the new rule. Eventually, a state or regional plan to try to comply with the EPA edict will be submitted.

Earlier this week, officials with Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas leaders met with EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy to outline concerns and offer alternatives to the EPA’s draft 111(d) rule.

Duane Highley, president andCEO of Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corporation, and Mel Coleman, CEO of North Arkansas Electric Cooperative of Salem and president of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), were among a group of the executives from member-owned electric cooperatives across the nation to attend the meeting in Washington, D.C.

“We are seeking to preserve the remaining useful life of existing power generation facilities,” Coleman said. “Many power plants across the United States have outstanding debt as they have not reached the full term of their production life. Flexible state-by-state goals with deadlines respective to each state’s situation are needed as each state’s situation is vastly different.”

Coleman indicated that the cooperative delegation asked McCarthy to eliminate the 2020 interim goals and adjust a 2030 reduction deadline timeframe to at least 2035. These changes would allow states to plan, prepare and reach the goals, while preserving reliability for consumers, he said.

Added Highley: “It would be unfair for consumers to pay twice for their electricity. In some situations, ratepayers would have to pay for the debt on the plants that are being closed, as well as the costs of new power plants that will have to be built to meet energy demands.”

On the other hand, The Arkansas Sierra Club, Audubon Arkansas and the Arkansas Public Policy Panel have been staunch supporters of the proposed EPA “dirty air” rules.

Today’s court hearing in the nation’s capital is expected to conclude around 10:30 a.m. West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey as well as other officials are expected to hold a news conference after the hearing.

The EPA plans to release the final Clean Power Plan rules in June and include a federal implementation plan for any states that do not craft state or regional implementation plans.