EPA's Clean Power Plan Fuels Carbon Debate

by Marty Cook  on Monday, Jul. 7, 2014 12:00 am  

On June 2, the Environmental Protection Agency announced its Clean Power Plan, a proposed regulation that the Obama administration hopes will reduce carbon dioxide emissions in the United States by 30 percent by the year 2030.

For Glen Hooks, the director of the Sierra Club of Arkansas, the governmental action was welcome and a long time coming. For those in the business of producing electricity from coal-fired power plants, the announcement was greeted with less than cheerful enthusiasm and warnings about the costs associated with such change.

Interested parties have until Oct. 16 to comment on the proposed regulation, which is more ambitious for Arkansas than for all but five states. The EPA pegged Arkansas’ reduction goal at 44 percent by the year 2030.

The EPA said the plan would cut emissions by 730 million metric tons in the United States by 2030. The Clean Power Plan gives each state flexibility in how it will attain the goal the EPA set for it.

The agency gave four ways to achieve the goal, including making coal plants more efficient, increasing the production of natural gas-generated electricity and the increased use of renewable energy sources. Arkansas currently gets almost 44 percent of its energy from coal, 26 percent from natural gas and a little less than 24 percent from nuclear, according to the state.

The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality and the state’s Public Service Commission held a meeting on June 25 with stakeholders in North Little Rock to discuss the proposed regulation and how best to formulate Arkansas’ specific response.

John Bethel, the PSC’s executive director, said he and his staff were still studying the EPA proposal and it would be premature to comment on the plan’s merits. Bethel said the commission wants to work with the interested parties in coming to an understanding on the plan and its potential impact.

Teresa Marks, director of the ADEQ, said the federal government has given Arkansas a large degree of latitude in formulating a plan, which will be due by June 2015 unless the state gets an extension. Marks said it was important to work with the energy companies since they are the ones that stand to be most affected by the proposal.

“We are working with the stakeholder group now to try to determine the best way to achieve those emission reductions with the least amount of economic impact to Arkansans,” Marks said. “I think the idea of CO2 emission reductions is definitely a good one. It makes sense to look at reductions in power plant emissions.”

The ADEQ said in the presentation that the state generated about 37 million metric tons of carbon emissions in 2012. The state has five coal-fired power plants, including the 1,678-megawatt Independence power plant in Newark and the 1,480-megawatt White Bluff plant in Redfield, both of which are owned by Entergy Arkansas Inc.

Both plants made a 2011 list of the 50 most polluting power plants in the nation in a study researched by the Environment America Research & Policy Center in Boston. The Independence plant was 35th after producing 11.1 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions in 2011, and White Bluff was 42nd after producing 10.4 million tons.

“Eighty-five percent of emissions come from those five power plants,” Hooks said. “Our position is we’re not going to be able to meet our carbon-reduction goals in the state until we start looking at the big picture, and the big picture includes shutting down some of our older and dirtier coal-powered power plants.”



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