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OPINION | GLEN HOOKS: Clean energy up

Good for our economy, environment by GLEN HOOKS SPECIAL TO THE DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE | May 6, 2021 at 3:00 a.m.

All across the Natural State, clean energy is booming. Traditional Arkansas coal-burning utility companies are investing heavily in solar and wind energy for their ratepayers. Cities, counties, and school districts are signing agreements to power themselves with clean energy. Clean energy companies are popping up around Arkansas, providing thousands of good-paying jobs for the people of our state.

It’s a fantastic change of events that is positively affecting communities large and small.

So why does Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge falsely claim otherwise? In a recent Arkansas Democrat-Gazette piece, Rutledge stated that green jobs are jobs “that do not currently exist,” and further said that Arkansans she has recently met with say, “they looked for the green jobs the Democrats are promising, but there’s nothing to be found.” Maybe she is not reading this paper, because there is a story about once a week detailing how a new solar project is going to save a school or municipality money on their energy bills that will be reinvested into the community.

Can it be possible that our attorney general knows nothing about the estimated 16,000 Arkansans who work in advanced energy businesses? According to the Arkansas Advanced Energy Association, some 770 Arkansas companies work in advanced energy jobs throughout our state. Is it even a possibility that Rutledge, who annually notes that she visits all 75 Arkansas counties, hasn’t met anyone from the nearly 30 solar energy companies in our state? Has she not been to the great city of Clarksville, the first Arkansas town to meet all of its municipal power needs with solar energy, or has she not seen the large solar arrays that are helping to power the fine city of Fayetteville?

In just the past few weeks, we’ve seen enormous clean-energy commitments from the Entergy Arkansas and SWEPCO utilities, announcing plans to build thousands of megawatts of solar energy, wind energy, and energy storage facilities. Our attorney general officially represents the interests of Arkansas ratepayers—we’d be mightily surprised if she knew nothing of these plans from our state’s largest utilities.

The truth is this: Attorney General Rutledge has to know that thousands of clean-energy jobs exist in Arkansas but, for her own political reasons, wants to act as if they’re fictional.

By way of this column, we’d like to officially invite our attorney general to visit several Arkansas companies who employ our people in clean energy and meet payrolls right here in our state.

In Central Arkansas, we’d happily introduce her to the good people at companies like Scenic Hill Solar, Seal Solar, Stellar Sun, and Today’s Power, each of which are employing Arkansans, saving their customers money, and reducing pollution.

We might also encourage Rutledge to visit the great city of Camden and see the fine people at the Ouachita Electric Cooperative. The solar power installed in Camden has been so successful that the cooperative recently petitioned the Arkansas Public Service Commission for an electric rate decrease for its customers. You read that right—ratepayers in Camden are paying less on their power bills because of the solar panels installed there.

We are of the opinion that environmental issues should not break down upon partisan lines. All of us here in our home state of Arkansas want to drink clean water, breathe clean air, and hunt and fish in healthy forests and waterways. If we can do that while also employing thousands of Arkansans and saving money on our electric bills, that’s even better.

Unfortunately, Attorney General Rutledge seems to view clean-energy issues in a partisan political light. She’s repeatedly attacked efforts to ensure cleaner air and water, while attempting to protect the interests of the oil and coal industries.

Recently, she even tried to use the power of her office to scuttle an agreement between Entergy Arkansas and environmental groups (Sierra Club and National Parks Conservation Association) to retire two aging coal-burning power plants and build 800 megawatts of clean energy in our state. Thankfully, that effort was unsuccessful, but it illustrates the lengths to which our own attorney general will go to serve the interests of polluters instead of the people of our state.

Attorney General Rutledge, you are the official lawyer for our state. When you make public statements, people listen. When you falsely claim that clean-energy jobs don’t exist and certainly don’t exist in Arkansas, you do a tremendous disservice to Arkansans in general and to employees of the Arkansas companies who live, work, and raise their families here.

We urge you to move past unnecessary partisan posturing and, instead, use the power of your office to encourage the continued growth of clean-energy jobs in Arkansas. You are in a position to do a great deal of good for our shared home state. Let’s work together to benefit our state’s economy, our people, and—yes—the Natural State’s environment.

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Glen Hooks is the director of the Arkansas Sierra Club, representing thousands of Arkansans who care about protecting our state’s air, water, forests, and special places. Learn more at www.sierraclub.org/arkansas .

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