Arkansans Respond to Clean Power Plan Rollback

Arkansans Respond to Clean Power Plan Rollback
Katie Laning Niebaum

Arkansas reactions were muted after President Donald Trump used executive directives this week to undercut the Obama-era Clean Power Plan and Climate Action Plan, as well as other policies aimed at reducing carbon pollution.

Nationally, the order was seen as a victory for power companies, oil and gas producers and coal miners, and Trump’s executive order was called his strongest action yet to erase President Barack Obama’s legacy of environmental protection.

Still, Arkansas utilities were largely quiet on the development, Gov. Asa Hutchinson issued no public statement, and the Arkansas Advanced Energy Association chose to accentuate the positive.

While Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge praised the president’s action, the Advanced Energy Association emphasized renewable power’s continuing gains in the Arkansas marketplace and cited signs that advanced energy projects will keep growing with or without national executive-level support.

“Innovative technologies and market forces are driving the nation’s — and Arkansas’ — transition to advanced energy,” AAEA executive director Katie Laning Niebaum said, citing low-cost solar power, LED lighting systems and advanced air conditioning and heating systems that are popping up more often in the state. “The continued reduction of carbon is inevitable,” she continued, as utilities, customers and industries demand low-carbon solutions. “These trends existed without federal carbon regulations in place.”

Julie Munsell of Entergy Arkansas told KUAR’s Michael Hibblen that the electric utility was studying the development and would have no immediate response. On Wednesday, an Arkansas Electric Cooperatives spokesman was preparing a statement expected Thursday.

Environmental groups like the Sierra Club spoke out in defense of the Clean Power Plan, which was stayed by the United States Supreme Court last year and kicked back to a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., only days before the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.

Trump’s order avoided taking a stand on whether the U.S. will remain a part of the Paris climate agreement, a subject of debate within the administration, but the president did tell federal agencies to ease regulations on fossil fuel and to eliminate rules restricting U.S. energy production.

The Clean Power Plant would have required cutting power plant carbon dioxide emissions by about a third by 2030, and Arkansas’ reduction target was 35 percent.

In her written statement, Rutledge called the Clean Power plan “unlawful” and said it “would have brought great harm to ratepayers across Arkansas, which is why I joined a lawsuit in 2015 to stop it … Thanks to the action of President Trump, the EPA can return to the drawing board to craft a plan that seeks input from the states and actually protects the environment, not push the agenda of a liberal few.”

Entergy Arkansas President Rick Riley told Arkansas Business in January that the investor-owned utility derives 69 percent of its power from nuclear sources, including Nuclear One near Russellville, and 24 percent from natural gas. Only 4 percent is produced by coal, and the utility was considering shuttering a coal-fired plant near Redfield in Jefferson County and the Independence Unit in Newark, partly to meet carbon emissions goals. But Riley said scrapping the Clean Power Plan wouldn’t directly affect the two aging coal plants, which he predicted would reach the end of their useful life within a decade anyway.

Glen Hooks, director of the Sierra Club’s arkansas chapter, said in a statement that Trump and his Environmental Protection Agency administrator, Scott Pruitt, are “doing what they do best, enriching their friends in oil and gas while rolling back protections on clean air and water for the rest of us.” Hooks said the rollbacks would bring a heavy toll in deaths and illnesses, and that despite Trump’s actions, “coal is on the decline in Arkansas. The economics do not favor these aging plants.”

On that point, Niebaum of the Advanced Energy Association agreed. “Arkansas’ electric utilities continue to add renewable energy and natural gas to their portfolios, even building their own solar installations. The advanced energy economy, and the 25,000-plus jobs it supports, is bright in Arkansas.”