LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Arkansas' utilities and representatives of business and government will soon hold their first detailed talk about the proposed federal regulations intended to reduce the nation's climate-warming emissions by 30 percent by 2030.
President Barack Obama announced the initiative earlier this month, and each state is asked to develop its own plan for reaching its goal — a cut of nearly 45 percent for Arkansas, which gets about half of its electricity from coal-fired power plants and the rest from a mix of natural gas, nuclear and hydroelectric.
"If not, the federal government will (develop the standards). It's important for the stakeholders in this state who are most familiar with our energy sources and resources to come evaluate this on our own," said Colette Honorable, chairman of the Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission.
The panel oversees the state Department of Environmental Quality, which has organized a Wednesday meeting with the state Public Service Commission for an opening discussion about the emissions plan.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Arkansas is among the top third of the nation's consumers of electricity on a per-customer basis. Food manufacturing, an important source of jobs, and other industries require large amounts of power, as does agriculture. Arkansas produces half of the nation's rice, and demand rises after harvest when the rice is being dried.
Obama's plan has been well-received by the state's environmental groups but businesses and utilities foresee problems on the horizon if the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency puts the regulations in place.
"Anything we can do to reduce carbon emissions and slow the pretty steep arc we've seen in climate change would be a positive first step," said Brett Kincaid, vice president and executive director of Audubon Arkansas.
Kincaid said he's sympathetic to the anxiety over what the measure will cost to implement, but having time to develop a plan enables the state to "do it in what would be the least disruptive way in costs to energy providers and consumers," he said.
But Arkansas Chamber of Commerce president Randy Zook said it doesn't matter how it's done, because he believes business at all levels will be hurt by rising utility prices.
"Any dramatic increase in any cost within most businesses can be constraining or disruptive. It will have an impact across a wide swath of the economy. Not just manufacturers — retail, farmers, all kinds of people," Zook said.
Zook said he didn't see the benefit of reducing emissions.
"What do we gain from this? We gain fewer jobs, increased costs, and we're less competitive in a global economy," he said.
Southwestern Electric Power Co., a subsidiary of Columbus, Ohio-based American Electric Power, provides electricity in western Arkansas. AEP spokeswoman Tammy Ridout said it will take years to develop the regulations, and the company will spend that interval working to protect its customers' interests.
Ridout said it remains unclear whether the government will award credits for reduced emissions already achieved by utilities. She said AEP has cut carbon emissions by 21 percent since 2005.
The company also plans to "retire significant amounts of coal-fueled generation in the next year" and closing 25 percent of its coal-fueled plants over the coming several years.
"The plants that remain are the most efficient in our fleet and are equipped with more than $10 billion worth of emission controls that were installed to meet other EPA requirements. The investments that our customers made in these plants should not be prematurely lost when ultimately, it will have no impact on growing global greenhouse gas concentrations," Ridout said in an email.
Honorable said the involved state agencies will look at the scope of fuels used to generate electricity in the state.
"This proposed rule ... takes into account how energy is produced in Arkansas in an effort to reduce total CO2 emissions," she said.
The Arkansas attorney general's office is also to take part in the meeting.
"We expect attorneys from our office's Environmental Division to work closely with other stakeholders in the group to assist in an appropriate state response to this new federal regulation," said Aaron Sadler, spokesman for Attorney General Dustin McDaniel.