A proposed state plan to reduce haze in Arkansas and Missouri would eliminate the heftiest requirements of the current in-place federal plan.
Instead of requiring investments of hundreds of millions of dollars in emissions-controlling technology at the state's two largest coal plants, the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality has proposed that the plants continue operating mostly as normal for the foreseeable future.
The department's 1,809-page "Public Review Package" of its most recent changes to the state's plan to implement the Regional Haze Rule details requirements for reducing sulfur dioxide and particulate matter. The department proposed a plan for nitrogen oxide requirements earlier this year.
If adopted today, the latest proposal wouldn't have a huge impact on utilities, but Sierra Club officials argue that it means haze reductions would come later rather than sooner.
"It's not where we want to be, for sure," said Glen Hooks, executive director of the Arkansas chapter of the Sierra Club. "We're not pleased."
The Regional Haze Rule requires Arkansas to take measures to improve visibility at national wilderness areas, typically by reducing nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants.
The state submitted a draft plan for nitrogen oxide emissions, which can only be considered for implementation if the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency withdraws the current federal plan.
The wilderness sites are the Upper Buffalo River and Caney Creek in Arkansas and the Hercules Glades and Mingo in Missouri.
A state plan to implement the Regional Haze Rule is preferred by both the state and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, but the current regulatory protocol in place for haze in Arkansas is a federal plan adopted just more than a year ago.
That plan requires hundreds of millions of dollars in emissions-controlling scrubbers at the White Bluff and Independence coal plants in Arkansas.
Each of the plants is about 1,700 megawatts, more than twice the size of the next-largest coal plant in the state.
Officials with Entergy Arkansas, which owns the majority stake of the White Bluff and Independence coal plants, declined to speak about the new plan until they have submitted their public comment on the proposal.
"I wouldn't say there's too much to be concerned about," Stephen Cain, environmental compliance manager for the Arkansas Electric Cooperatives Corp., said of the state's proposal.
Arkansas Electric Cooperatives is a minority owner of the White Bluff and Independence plants.
Interested parties have until 4:30 p.m. Jan. 2 to submit comments to the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality on the proposed changes.
That same day, the department will hold a public hearing at 2 p.m. at its North Little Rock headquarters.
The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality did not make anyone available to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for an interview on the proposed changes.
The EPA goal is to reduce haze to 11.58 deciviews for Caney Creek and 11.57 deciviews for the Upper Buffalo River by 2064, but the goal of the federal haze plan calls for 22.47 deciviews for Caney Creek and 22.51 deciviews for the Upper Buffalo River by 2018.
The state has argued in court filings that since those goals were determined, Caney Creek and the Upper Buffalo River were measured for haze at 20.41 deciviews and 19.96 deciviews, respectively.
While the four wilderness areas may be on track to meet interim goals before the 2064 deadline, Sierra Club officials said, it's not unreasonable for states to try to reach the 2064 goals sooner.
Joshua Smith, an attorney for the Sierra Club, said coal plants across the country already have the same scrubbers that the federal plan was asking for.
He said if the state's proposal is adopted as is, he anticipates further litigation from the Sierra Club.
While the Regional Haze Rule refers only to visibility at wilderness areas, proponents of the rule have noted the negative health effects of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide and the potential benefits of faster compliance with the rule's goals.
The department's proposal argues that requiring the use of low-sulfur coal at the White Bluff plant is sufficient as Best Available Retrofit Technology, which is the type of technology required for eligible emissions sources under the Regional Haze Rule.
The department also argues the Independence plant is not required under the Best Available Retrofit Technology rules because of the date of its construction.
Sierra Club officials note the plants are already using lower sulfur coal.
A switch to even lower sulfur coal as defined by the department would cost Entergy Arkansas about $1,150 per ton of sulfur dioxide reduced, according to the company's own estimates,
The department states in its proposal that White Bluff has lowered its average emissions rates from 2014 to 2016 and argued that every other option, ranging from $5,403 per ton of sulfur dioxide reduced to $6,405 per ton of sulfur dioxide reduced, was above "what is typically considered cost-effective." That conclusion was not coupled with an explanation of what was considered "cost-effective."
During those years, the utility has reported, the plants were used less because of drops in natural gas prices.
The department estimated that the switch would improve visibility by 0.129 deciviews at Caney Creek and 0.143 deciviews at Upper Buffalo.
With estimated costs of $14.5 million and $11.9 million per deciview of improvement at Caney Creek and Upper Buffalo, respectively, the improvements would cost Entergy Arkansas just less than $1.9 million and about $1.7 million for each site.
Estimated deciview improvements at the Missouri sites were not listed in the department's proposal.
The department determined that visibility progress made at the Missouri sites precluded Arkansas emissions sources from needing to implement controls for their benefit.
Officials with Cooperatives and Southwestern Electric Power Company said they were not fazed by the state's proposed changes.
The Flint Creek coal plant in Gentry has already installed controls -- which also addressed mercury emissions -- in a $408 million project recently completed.
The state's plan also did not change the federal plan's requirements for the Cooperatives' natural gas plants, and officials have already been planning for those, Cain said.
Metro on 11/12/2017
Print Headline: State plan to cut haze tilts toward status quo