WASHINGTON -- As Arkansas challenges the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's rejection of the state's emissions proposal, U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., is raising concerns regarding the federal plan Arkansas will have to respect.
Boozman spoke against the EPA's decision against Arkansas' state implementation plan during a recent Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing on the "good neighbor" plan. State governments were responsible for submitting proposals directed toward reducing emissions of nitrogen oxides that form ozone.
The proposals also fit within a nationwide focus of protecting communities from interstate air pollution.
The EPA disapproved the full plans from Arkansas and 18 other states -- including Mississippi, Oklahoma and Texas -- in February. Federal officials argued Arkansas made "an insufficient evaluation of additional emissions control opportunities" when it submitted the state implementation plan in October 2019. Arkansas officials did not get an opportunity to revise the state's plan, and the state will instead have to follow the federal implementation plan.
After the federal agency's rejection, Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders and state Attorney General Tim Griffin announced a lawsuit challenging the decision. Officials in Texas and Utah also filed petitions following the EPA's rejections.
The EPA did not have a comment on the lawsuit when reached by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on Monday.
Boozman said during the March 29 hearing that he is concerned about how the federal guidelines will affect businesses that produce air emissions, such as power plants and manufacturing facilities.
"The EPA is great until you disagree with them," he said. "They talk about federal cooperation and all of this stuff, but again, once you disagree, it tends to be their way."
Boozman has been critical of the inability of Arkansas officials to revise the state's plan to fit national Clean Air Act guidelines.
When Sanders and Griffin announced the lawsuit, Boozman and Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., applauded the move, claiming the EPA "acted in bad faith and is imposing an onerous federal mandate on our state."
"As we go forward, for this to work, for it to be fair nationwide, then again, the states need to have the ability to be a part of that," Boozman said during the hearing.
Chris Wells, executive director of the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, told the Senate panel he does not believe the EPA treated his state with fairness, arguing Mississippi's state implementation plan seemed approvable when submitted in September 2019. Like Arkansas, the EPA rejected Mississippi's plan two-and-a-half years after the state's submission.
"Air does not respect the lines drawn on a map. Accordingly, we take our 'good neighbor' obligations under the Clean Air Act seriously," Wells said.
"The process that EPA should have followed as dictated by the Clean Air Act would have allowed Mississippi to determine what emissions reductions and by which facilities would meet our obligations as good neighbors. Instead, EPA imposed requirements that we believe are more stringent than what would be required to address our purported downwind impacts."
The March 29 hearing also provided a window into the contrasts between Republican and Democratic members regarding the "good neighbor plan." Committee Chairman Tom Carper, D-Del., praised the EPA for using a tool for limiting smog and air pollution, noting the health benefits for residents of Delaware and other downwind states. Republican Sen. Shelley Moore of West Virginia -- the committee's top Republican -- described the plan's name as "a bit of a misnomer," emphasizing the effects on energy-producing states like West Virginia.
"This is a committee that is pretty good at finding the middle, a committee that is pretty good at bipartisan solutions. We believe that bipartisan solutions are lasting solutions," Carper said. "We are still going to work on this. We are going to work with the states, [and] we are going to work with EPA until we get to the right place."
The "good neighbor" plan will take effect next month, with limitations on industrial facilities starting in 2026.