Arkansas gubernatorial candidates Mike Ross and Asa Hutchinson addressed the annual conference of the Arkansas Advanced Energy Association Friday afternoon in downtown Little Rock, and as expected the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's proposed carbon emission regulations were addressed.
The EPA's Clean Power Plan, currently being debated in Congress, would require new coal-burning facilities to emit 43 percent less carbon than current coal units in an effort to reduce the nation's carbon footprint 30 percent by 2030. Many business leaders believe the requirements go too far, too fast.
Earlier on Friday, U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor (D) addressed the conference and endorsed the creation of a national energy review. His opponent in the November general election, U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton (R), was not able to attend.
Hutchinson was asked specifically about the EPA's plan, and said he would "push back" as governor against the EPA. He suggested Arkansas should join a lawsuit filed by other states challenging the plan.
Ross, asked about his specific energy policy, said the EPA plan "lacked some common sense" and stressed that the government shouldn't mandate energy efficiency but simply encourage it.
Ross said Congress would never agree on a national energy policy and, if elected, he would try to partner with neighboring states to form some sort of regional policy.
Both candidates offered their support for a diverse energy portfolio that includes fossil, nuclear, alternative and even hydro power sources.
"I believe in having an Arkansas energy policy which would include all forms of energy," Ross said. "We have to have balance."
Hutchinson told attendees that he recognized the important role of alternate energy in the economy and said he would look into the role of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission's Energy Office to determine if it could be "tweaked" to better promote advanced energy.
"Advanced energy" is recognized by the national group Advanced Energy Economy as including energy efficiency, demand response, natural gas electric generation, solar, wind, hydro, nuclear, electric vehicles, biofuels and smart grid. The Arkansas Advanced Energy Association is one of 23 national affiliates of the AEE and one of just three chapters in Southern states.
'Advanced Energy' and Arkansas
The appearances by Ross and Hutchinson sandwiched a presentation by Jim Metzger of HISTECON Associates. Metzger presented an advanced energy economic impact study commissioned by AAEA. The full findings are scheduled for an early November release, but Metzger provided a tease of advanced energy's impact on the Arkansas economy:
- Metzger's study found that advanced energy that roughly 16,800 jobs in Arkansas could be linked directly to the asdvanced energy sector with another 4,000 indirectly related.
- Those jobs are high-paying and stable, Metzger found, averaging around $20 an hour.
- Advanced energy sales in 2014 had a $1.8 billion impoact on the state economy.
Hutchinson solicited advice from group members which included former Gov. Jim Guy Tucker of Rivers Edge Ventures. Tucker, a Democrat who succeeded Bill Clinton as the state's chief executive in 1993, is a member of the AAEA board of directors.
Tucker advised Hutchinson that the issues surrounding the EPA's plan were "very complex, economically or otherwise."
"I'd encourage someone in your office to really look into reconciling the competing interests in this area," he said.
As he spoke, Hutchinson jokingly acknowledged the differences he likely had with many members of the audience on issues such as the EPA. But, as Ross did before him, he vowed to work with all sides when addressing issues related to advanced energy.
Before he left, Hutchinson was asked specifically about climate change.
"Clearly, there's dramatic things happening," he said. "I believe the science. Let's continue to gather data and follow the science."