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An 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judge on Wednesday stayed the most contentious portion of a federal air rule affecting coal plants in Arkansas.

The order, entered Wednesday by Court Clerk Michael Gans, halts implementation of the sulfur dioxide emissions reduction requirements at three Arkansas coal plants and other electricity generating units in the state under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's plan for the state to implement the Regional Haze Rule.

The EPA had previously issued an administrative decision to wait for the state to draft its own plan, but a court had not issued a formal stay on the EPA's existing plan, which environmental groups had sued to get in place.

The judge's order, which is signed only by Gans and not a judge, does not offer an explanation for the judge's decision. The decision refers to the motion for a stay filed by Entergy Arkansas, Entergy Mississippi, Entergy Power and the Energy and Environmental Alliance of Arkansas.

The groups argued Feb. 8, 2017, that the EPA's plan did not comply with the Clean Air Act and would cost Entergy $2 billion.

The EPA estimated the sulfur dioxide controls would cost utilities, including Entergy, Arkansas Electric Cooperatives and Southwestern Electric Power Co., less than $500 million.

Utilities had a 2021 deadline to comply with the sulfur dioxide portion of the plan before Wednesday's stay.

"Entergy is pleased that it now has the time to continue working with the state on a new plan," Entergy spokesman Keri Case said.

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said Wednesday that the judge's order "would have cost Arkansas greatly."

The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality has drafted a replacement for the EPA's plan. In January, the EPA accepted the state's plan for nitrogen oxide controls, which utilities have largely already implemented according to the EPA's plan.

Last month, the department received 499 comments on its proposal to replace the sulfur dioxide portion of the plan, which would require only lower-sulfur coal use instead of emissions-reducing scrubbers and would exempt the 1,700-megawatt Entergy Independence coal plant near Newark.

Utilities largely favored the state's proposal, while environmental groups and individual residents expressed concern about the negative health effects associated with sulfur dioxide and associated emissions from coal plants.

In various air quality planning documents, the EPA notes that sulfur dioxide and the fine particles that can form in sulfur dioxide's interaction with surrounding air have been linked to "increased respiratory illness, decreased lung function, and even premature death." Nitrogen oxide contributes to ground-level ozone, which can be hazardous to health at certain levels.

The Regional Haze Rule, approved by Congress in 1999, requires states to take measures to improve visibility in national wilderness areas. The wilderness areas targeted by the Arkansas plan are Caney Creek and the Upper Buffalo River in Arkansas and the Hercules-Glades and Mingo areas in Missouri.

Metro on 03/08/2018

Print Headline: Judge stays part of EPA plan on coal-plant emissions

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