Arkansas takes legal action against federal environmental regulators over state plan

Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Attorney General Tim Griffin announce the lawsuit Thursday at a news conference at the Oswald Generating Station near Wrightsville. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Stephen Swofford)

Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin filed a lawsuit on Thursday opposing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's rejection of a proposed state air quality plan.

The petition state officials filed in the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals came after the EPA issued its final disapproval Monday of a plan Arkansas submitted to address updated federal ozone standards.

By discarding the state's plan, the EPA triggered a process that could result in Arkansas falling under a federally mandated plan.

Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders announced the legal action during a news conference Thursday, saying her administration would "get the over-regulating, micro-managing bureaucratic tyrants in Washington off of Arkansans' backs."

In 2015, federal officials tightened national standards for ground-level ozone "based on extensive scientific evidence about ozone's effects on public health and welfare." A "good neighbor" provision of the standards required states to ensure their emissions would not cause nearby states to fail to meet the new regulations, according to EPA documentation.

By permitting states to create their own plans to address the standards, Sanders said the EPA allowed Arkansas to meet federal rules while also "addressing our own unique concerns."

"We took into account all available data at the time to comply with federal regulations while still managing to foster a friendly business environment," the Republican governor said during the news conference. "Our rules would have reduced pollution without reducing jobs."

On Monday, EPA issued its final disapproval for plans submitted by 19 states including Arkansas. Among other concerns, federal officials claimed that emissions from Arkansas could contribute to unacceptable ozone levels in Brazoria County, Texas, according to a filing by the agency.

[DOCUMENT: Read the state's request for a court review »]

Sanders said the "out-of-control federal overreach" could affect Arkansas power plants including the Arkansas Electric Cooperatives Harry L. Oswald Generating Station at Wrightsville, where the news conference was held. She also said a federal plan could affect natural gas pipelines, cement producers, steel factories and facilities manufacturing glass, paper and chemicals.

During the news conference, Griffin said EPA would not allow Arkansas to issue revisions to the original plan. He also said federal officials rejected the state plan based on different standards from the ones state officials were originally tasked with addressing.

"They've moved the goalposts and given the state, the governor, no opportunity to revise," Griffin said. "In this particular case, I believe what's going on is the federal government wants the federal implementation plan for everybody."

Compared with the proposed state plan, a draft of the federal plan "is more prescriptive of the controls we'd have to put in place," said Caleb Osborne, director of the state Division of Environmental Quality.

"In general what happens is you get saddled with some controls that are going to be much more costly to implement," he said. "Based on our modeling, we don't think they're going to have the outcome towards compliance that is really intended by the rule."

Officials with EPA Region 6 were not immediately available for comment on the lawsuit Thursday afternoon. EPA Region 6 serves Arkansas along with four other states.

EPA proposed its disapproval of Arkansas' plan in February of 2022.

The final disapproval ruling Monday starts a two-year deadline for EPA officials to promulgate federal implementation plans to address the relevant requirements. The process will continue unless federal officials approve a subsequent state plan submission that meets the requirements, according to EPA documentation.

  photo  Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Thursday that her administration would “get the over-regulating, micro-managing bureaucratic tyrants in Washington off of Arkansans’ backs.” Attorney General Tim Griffin (right), said the EPA has “moved the goalposts and given the state, the governor, no opportunity to revise” the state’s plan to address updated ozone standards. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Stephen Swofford)