Failing the state
This is environmental quality?
Night is day. Up is down. War is peace. And the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality is using our tax dollars to fight against cleaner air for our state.
For more than a decade, the Arkansas Sierra Club has been pushing our state to follow the law and clean up power-plant emissions that foul our parks and wilderness areas. The Regional Haze Rule, passed in 1999, requires states to reduce visible air pollution, otherwise known as haze, and improve visibility in places like the Upper Buffalo and Caney Creek wilderness areas.
In 2011, several years after the deadline, the state Department of Environmental Quality submitted to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency a haze-reduction plan that was partially approved and partially disapproved, and sent back for more work. Even with the opportunity to continue drafting its plan, the department made an affirmative decision to not do so—that decision, by law, required the EPA to write a federal plan for Arkansas. When EPA failed to meet its deadline for writing its plan for Arkansas, the Sierra Club successfully sued in federal court to force EPA to do its duty.
The result of this suit? EPA announced a draft plan, held a public hearing, received hundreds of comments from Arkansas citizens on the plan, and issued a final plan in 2016. The plan promised significant reductions in air pollution from the two largest sources of air pollution in Arkansas, Entergy’s White Bluff and Independence power plants. These plants are among the largest in the entire country that lack modern technology to reduce smog and other harmful pollutants.
Under the plan, these old, dirty coal-burning power plants would install modern pollution controls no later than 2021. By dramatically reducing air pollution that harms people’s health, the plan would prevent more than 137 premature deaths, 4,000 asthma attacks, and 19,000 lost work and school days every year, saving more than $1.36 billion annually in public health costs and lost productivity.
Sounds like a good plan, right? Cleaner air, better public health, more visibility in our Arkansas parks, and adding pollution controls to aging power plants that can’t compete in today’s energy market. Who wouldn’t want that?
Answer: The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality, the arm of our state government that, according to its website, is “charged with preventing, controlling, and abating pollution that could harm Arkansas’ valuable natural resources.”
The Department of Environmental Quality has joined forces with Entergy in an effort to block the haze-reduction plan in federal court. Let that sink in for a moment. We have the Natural State’s environmental protection team spending Arkansas tax dollars to team up with a polluting utility to fight against an effort to clean up the Natural State. Not only are they seeking to overturn the haze-reduction plan in court, the agency is seeking to replace the plan with a much weaker state plan of its own.
Even in a time when a new outrage is around every corner, this is absolutely maddening. The haze-reduction plan is literally a decade overdue because of delay after delay, resulting in a decade of additional and unnecessary pollution for Arkansans. Now, after the plan is complete, the Department of Environmental Quality wants to write a new, weaker plan that will result in still more delay—and in weaker haze reductions.
Arkansans deserve much, much better than an Environmental Quality department that is unconcerned with reducing pollution. It is beyond outrageous that Arkansans who want clean air and wilderness areas are being actively opposed by the one department specifically charged with protecting our environment. The department is not an arm of our state’s utilities and industrial polluters. The Department of Environmental Quality’s entire “reason for being” is stated right there in its name.
The Arkansas Sierra Club is committed to protecting our state’s air, water, forests, and special places. Our “reason for being” is to serve as a check on those who would harm our health and resources. We are used to fighting against those in industry who are irresponsibly endangering our great state—but having to fight our own Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality is frankly sickening.
There is still time to correct this erroneous course of action and serve Arkansans properly. We call on those to whom our Department of Environmental Quality answers—namely, Gov. Asa Hutchinson and the Pollution Control and Ecology Commission—to strongly remind the agency of its core mission and to order it to drop its opposition to reducing smog in our parks.
In a time of deep divisions, Arkansas’ air quality is an issue that should unite us all.