2 state agencies: Won't produce EPA power plan

The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality and the Arkansas Public Service Commission have halted planning meetings and will not issue a plan to comply with a new federal policy designed to combat climate change, citing the status of a federal lawsuit over the policy.

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Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, along with several other states' attorneys general, filed lawsuits over the constitutionality of the Clean Power Plan, which was developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency at the direction of President Barack Obama to curb carbon dioxide emissions. In February, after an appeal of a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit not to issue a stay on the Clean Power Plan, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay, halting enforcement of the plan.

The case is before the appeals court in Washington, D.C., which will hear oral arguments this summer before issuing a decision on the Clean Power Plan's merits, said Judd Deere, Rutledge's spokesman.

In a letter to stakeholders this week, Department of Environmental Quality Director Becky Keogh and Public Service Commission Chairman Ted Thomas cited the stay as their reason for discontinuing planning meetings to comply with the Clean Power Plan.

"The Agencies, in consultation with Stakeholders, will continue to evaluate the impacts of potential environmental and energy policies in the State," the letter read. "However, this evaluation will occur on a timeline and in a context that makes sense for Arkansas."

In a statement issued to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Sierra Club of Arkansas Director Glen Hooks said the state shouldn't wait to work toward the goals of the Clean Power Plan.

"The temporary stay does not mean we are required to stop planning -- we should keep moving ahead and be ready when the Clean Power Plan is upheld in the courts," Hooks wrote.

"This work is important no matter what the courts ultimately decide," the statement continues. "Either way, collectively building a strong pathway toward cleaner air and cleaner energy is a win for every Arkansan."

Environmental groups have favored the Clean Power Plan as a small contributor to a worldwide goal of preventing a 2-degree Celsius increase in temperature.

The state agencies' decision to halt the planning process has been met with favor among some utilities.

"The legal process is going to take at least a year or a year and a half to play out before we get a decision on the merits [of the plan]," said Sandra Byrd, a spokesman for Arkansas Electric Cooperatives Corp.

In the meantime, the cooperative and other utilities will continue to do their required evaluation and planning for different energy resources based on potential costs and regulations, Byrd said.

Byrd noted that the cooperative's energy portfolio is 18 percent renewable energy, including solar, wind, biomass and hydropower. She said that carbon dioxide emissions would continue to go down because of utilities' increased pivot toward natural gas and renewables, which keep going down in price.

Both the department and the commission will have a technical session later this year to evaluate future options for the energy sector based on various outlooks for new environmental regulation.

Electrical utilities will continue to do their own required modeling for the future, which the agencies will monitor, according to the letter from Keogh and Thomas.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson said he supports Keogh and Thomas' decision, which was announced in an email Tuesday.

"As a result of the stay, it's clear we should halt any action of implementation during the stay, and I appreciate the leadership of Director Keogh and Chairman Thomas on this important issue," he said in a statement released to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Hutchinson spokesman J.R. Davis said the governor was aware of the state's work on the Clean Power Plan but said he did not know if the governor had urged the agencies to halt any planning.

Metro on 03/10/2016