Two legislative committees Tuesday declared their opposition to a proposed Environmental Protection Agency rule to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.
With no dissenting votes, the House Insurance and Commerce Committee and its Senate counterpart approved a resolution opposing the adoption and implementation of the proposed EPA rule, after hearing from witnesses that tougher standards would cost ratepayers more money, hurt the state's economy and likely lead to closure of a couple of the state's five coal-fired power plants.
The nonbinding resolution proposed by the committees' chairmen -- Rep. Tommy Wren, D-Melbourne, and Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Bigelow -- says the proposal rule will be "devastating" to the state's economy and energy industry and, thus, it's "contrary to the public policy of the state of Arkansas."
Rep. Joe Jett of Success, the former whip for House Democrats, said the resolution "is a bipartisan way of telling the EPA we think they have overreached their authority because of the fiscal impact" on constituents in the district.
"I hope in the end, like everybody else, that this [proposed rule] goes away," Wren said.
Randy Zook, president and chief executive officer for the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce, told lawmakers that the proposed EPA rule "is a plan for economic disarmament. I don't think that is overstating this issue at all."
The EPA proposed four ways for states to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and it's "like giving you four knives to choose from to slit your wrists. Take your pick. I'd pick the sharpest. I don't know about any of the rest of you," Zook told about a dozen lawmakers who attended Tuesday's meeting of the legislative committees.
John Bethel, director of Arkansas Public Service Commission, said the EPA's overall national target is a 26 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2020 and a 30 percent reduction by 2030, so "it's a pretty aggressive change in the levels that exist today," he said.
The EPA is proposing sharp emissions cuts -- 44 percent by 2030, he said. Only five states have a higher percentage cut target than Arkansas, he said.
The EPA has proposed four ways to cut the emissions. They include increased efficiency in existing coal-fired power plants, increased usage of natural gas at the natural gas-fired power plants, increased use of energy sources that don't generate carbon dioxide such as nuclear and renewable energy sources, and increasing energy efficiency programs and "other demand side measures that can be used to offset any emissions," Bethel said.
Teresa Marks, director of the state Department of Environmental Quality, said the EPA has made it clear that "states can use whatever means that they can feel like will be best suited for their state to reach those goals and reductions."
Coal generates 43.7 percent of the state's electricity, while natural gas provides 26.3 percent, nuclear energy fuels 23.8 percent, and renewable energy sources supply 5.9 percent, she said.
"We need to know where we can get emissions reductions in a way that won't cause economic harm to the state," she said. About 20 groups are meeting with the commission and department to help them raise concerns and look for the best ways to comply with stiffer EPA standards, she said.
Duane Highley, president and chief executive officer for the Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corp., said there isn't enough time for utilities to make changes for Arkansas to be in full compliance with EPA's target by 2020.
"We talk about shutting down coal plants and bringing power from other parts of the country. It's going to take a long time to make those adjustments in infrastructure. We don't have enough time between now and 2020 to do that without serious cost impacts," he said, adding that projecting the rate increases would be between 10 percent and 30 percent.
Highley said the proposed rule is likely to lead to the closure of a couple large coal-fired power plants in Arkansas, such as White Bluff power plant near Redfield and the Independence power plant near Newark.
The White Bluff power plant "would be at great risk because it needs some additional investment in clean air controls," he said. "I can't imagine my board of directors voting to invest in the air quality controls that are needed to scrub White Bluff with this rule that is going to require such a drastic reduction in carbon dioxide."
The White Bluff plant creates and supports 1,237 jobs and the Independence plant creates and supports 1,267 jobs, according to the cooperative's reports.
After the legislative committees' meeting, Glen Hooks, chapter director for the Arkansas Sierra Club, said the proposed rule "is a good step toward improving our environmental health, public health and economic health here in Arkansas."
"This rule is a good opportunity for us to start looking at ways to generate our energy more cleanly and in ways that can produce a lot of jobs for Arkansas," he said.
At the outset of the nearly two-hour public hearing on the proposed EPA rule, Rapert suggested Democratic Attorney General Dustin McDaniel should join with attorneys general in other states that are fighting the proposed regulations in court.
Twelve states filed a lawsuit nearly two weeks ago challenging the EPA's proposed rule: Alabama, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, West Virginia and Wyoming.
When Rapert asked if these 12 states have good reason to file a lawsuit, Marks said she "personally wouldn't support, just from a lawyer-kind-of-standpoint at this point, bringing this type of lawsuit on the proposed rule.
"I think it is premature until we see what the final rule looks like," said Marks, who is an attorney. She said EPA "has been given a lot of latitude" by the U.S. Supreme Court, and she is not convinced the proposed rule is in conflict with federal law.
After the legislative committees' meeting, McDaniel spokesman Aaron Sadler said that "we are considering appropriate action, which may include litigation, but at this time we are in discussions with the EPA in an attempt to influence the rulemaking process."
Metro on 08/13/2014