LITTLE ROCK -- Meaningful environmental policies can coexist with economic development, Arkansas' Department of Environmental Quality director said Monday about the state's planning for compliance with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan.
Department of Environmental Quality Director Becky Keogh added at a news conference jointly hosted with Arkansas Public Service Commission Chairman Ted Thomas the state should pursue "plentiful and diverse energy resources" as a part of a "balanced energy future."
"I believe we're ready," Thomas told the room filled with state, industry and environmental leaders and reporters. The public service commission has a team that has already been looking into the plan, he added.
The first stakeholder meeting will be Oct. 9, and the state has about another year after that to submit a plan for implementing the rule, which targets carbon dioxide emissions related to climate change.
State officials can also request an extension in a year, as long as they provide a progress report. Emissions reductions must start in 2022, but states can be rewarded for reducing them earlier.
Keogh and Thomas said the state had gotten most of what it wanted in an earlier lawsuit against the Clean Power Plan's first draft, which would have had Arkansas facing some of the highest mandated carbon dioxide reductions.
Litigation, as well as continued dialogue with the EPA, helped the state end up in the middle of the pack in terms of emissions reduction requirements nationwide, Keogh and Thomas said. Arkansas was previously in the top five states needing to reduce emissions.
Now, the state faces a 36 percent reduction in emissions, instead of 45 percent -- a reduction Thomas called a "relief" when he heard about it. But the state already anticipates reducing carbon dioxide emissions without any Clean Power Plan-related controls by as much as 12.7 percent by 2020, Keogh said.
The plan affects 56 generation units at 19 plants across the state, although some of those plants are not consistently in operation and are considered stand-by facilities, Keogh and Thomas said.
Nationwide, the biggest reductions are required in most of the central states and the Rust Belt.
Entergy Arkansas' proposal to quit using coal at its White Bluff plant near Redfield would have a significant further impact on what the state has to do to reduce emissions, Keogh said.
But whether that proposal will go through depends on the resolution of the 1999 Regional Haze Rule's implementation in Arkansas, which is being disputed among EPA and Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality officials. The state was granted a motion to intervene in the case, which led to a federal implementation plan for Arkansas, on Monday. Entergy Arkansas plans to replace coal at the White Bluff plant with natural gas, solar and/or wind power.
"I think it will get us to landing that goal in 2030," Keogh said, referring the Clean Power Plan's ultimate date for reducing carbon dioxide emissions.
The startup of Big River Steel in Osceola could add problems to the state's effort to reduce emissions, however, Thomas said.
In response to the news conference, the Sierra Club's Arkansas chapter -- which favored the Clean Power Plan -- released a statement supporting the Department of Environmental Quality and Public Service Commission for working together to comply with the rule.
"By working together with all stakeholders, Arkansas can take charge of writing its own plan that will dramatically improve our health, our environment, and our economy," the statement reads.
Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge has joined several states in a lawsuit against the EPA over the final Clean Power Plan issued Aug. 3, but Keogh and Thomas said their agencies did not ask for the lawsuit and are instead monitoring it as they move forward with plans to implement the new carbon rule.
"We have to ready either way," Thomas said. At this point, Keogh and Thomas said they're waiting to see if the lawsuit will clarify questions about state and federal authority in implementing the plan.
"We hope that it will ... move in favor of Arkansas," Keogh said.
Exactly what the state's energy future will look like will depend on stakeholder input and future prices, Thomas said. He said he'd like the state to take an approach that would help natural gas be a big player in the state. He also said that if prices of solar power generation keep dropping, the state could invest in major projects there, too.
The state's final plan must be approved by the Arkansas Legislature, which this year passed Act 382, barring the Department of Environmental Quality from submitting a state compliance plan on the Clean Power Plan to the EPA without Legislative Council or governor approval.
Before that, the agency will co-host the stakeholder meetings to decide how to proceed with the plan in Arkansas.
"The stakeholder process is important," Thomas said.NW News on 08/25/2015