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Carbon emissions from the energy sector have been on the decline nationwide, according to a report last week from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

That hasn't exactly been the case in Arkansas, where two carbon-dioxide emitting coal-fired plants have opened in the past 10 years, bucking a national trend of closures of such plants.

The data show Arkansas invested in coal and produced more energy-related carbon emissions but a downward trend in emissions in the state has begun as those investments have shifted to renewable energy and natural gas along with the rest of the nation.

Other states had little carbon emissions from electricity generation and had more from the burning of petroleum in manufacturing and from fossil fuels used to heat and cool buildings.

A pending legal settlement in federal court could trigger the closure of the state's two largest coal-fired plants, principally owned and operated by Entergy Arkansas. The utility has opened solar arrays and announced plans for more in recent years, and would be required under the proposed settlement to invest in hundreds more megawatts of renewable energy in coming years.

That settlement is being challenged before the Arkansas Public Service Commission.

Carbon dioxide, which is emitted from vehicles and other sources, is among the contributors to climate change, scientists have found.

The federal report analyzes state-by-state emissions data through 2016, the latest full year for which data are available. Emissions calculated are from the electricity-generating sector, buildings and transportation.

Arkansas was ranked 17th in the country in the production per capita of carbon dioxide. That's about 20 metric tons per person.

Since 2015, coal usage for power production has declined in Arkansas as utilities and regional transmission organizations rely increasingly on renewable energy.

Nuclear power still provides the bulk of electricity.

Energy-related carbon emissions dropped 13.4 percent from 2005 to 2016 nationally. That decrease was from 6 billion metric tons to 5.2 billion metric tons. In Arkansas in that period, emissions increased 3.9 percent, from 60.1 million metric tons to 62.4 million metric tons.

At its highest point, Arkansas' carbon emissions from energy sources was at 69 million metric tons. That was 2014, a year before the state's use of coal-fired plants declined sharply.

Only nine states had carbon-emission increases from 2005 to 2016: Arkansas, Louisiana, North Dakota, Washington, Mississippi, Texas, Nebraska, South Dakota and Idaho. Louisiana's emissions increased 1.8 percent, and Idaho's emissions increased 16.3 percent. The biggest drop was in New Hampshire at 35.3 percent.

Many of the states with decreases have renewable energy generation portfolio standards, essentially requirements for a certain amount of energy provided by renewable sources. Arkansas does not.

But utilities have largely planned to increase their renewable-energy output.

Entergy Arkansas, one of the largest electricity providers in the state, has opened and planned solar arrays and invested in natural gas plants, which emit less carbon dioxide than coal-fired plants.

Prices have dropped dramatically for both solar and natural gas, including wind power, which has been proposed to go through Arkansas.

Late last year, Entergy agreed to stop burning coal at the state's two largest coal-fired plants and close one fueled by natural gas by 2030, in accordance with a settlement with the Sierra Club and the National Parks Conservation Association.

Moments before filing the proposed settlement, the environmental groups sued Entergy Arkansas in federal court, accusing the utility of violating the Clean Air Act when it undertook projects in 2009 at the coal-fired plants without obtaining proper permits. The work resulted in an emissions increase, the complaint says.

Entergy maintains that it had all of the required permits.

That settlement remains open in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas.

Sierra Club Arkansas Director Glen Hooks said many motions have been filed by numerous parties in the case, including those trying to intervene, but no major decisions have been made.

"We fully expect the settlement to be approved once these interventions matters have been resolved," Hooks said, given the number of groups, and Entergy, favoring it.

A separate petition filed with the Arkansas Public Service Commission by Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge that requests an investigation into the settlement also remains open. In a statement issued in December, Rutledge said the settlement had "not been properly vetted" and expressed concerns for the possible impact to electricity ratepayers who may have to fund future renewable-energy projects required by the settlement.

Rutledge also filed a motion to intervene in the settlement case as the Consumer Utilities Rate Advocacy Division, but Judge Kristine Baker has not ruled on that motion.

Communities near the power plants in Independence and Jefferson counties have expressed concern about a loss of employment and property-tax revenue for schools.

Entergy Arkansas maintains that it will save millions in legal fees from current and unknown future legal challenges related to the operations of its coal-fired plants if it agrees to shut them down.

"We continue to believe that settlement ... is a very good outcome for all of our stakeholders," Entergy Arkansas spokesman Keri Case said. It is in the "best economic interest" of the customers, employees and communities, Case said.

State Desk on 03/03/2019

Print Headline: Report shows state slow to curb CO2

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