State, EPA look at options to decrease wilderness haze
Changes to portions of the plans to carry out the federal haze rule are up for public comment as the most debated portions of the plans remain untouched.
The suggested changes are the latest movements in a yearslong debate over how Arkansas should reduce haze, thereby improving visibility, at four national wilderness areas. The debate has largely centered on costs to utilities to reduce emissions, which would be passed down to consumers, and the potential improvements to public health, which is not legally considered a factor in the planning process.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has proposed extending its deadline for Arkansas to comply with the Regional Haze Rule’s nitrogen oxide emissions by another 21 months to January 2020.
At the same time, the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality has amended its plan proposed in 2012 to require the state’s electric utilities to use a different method of calculating compliance with nitrogen oxide.
Both plan changes address only nitrogen oxide requirements for Arkansas power sources, including coal plants.
Opponents of the federal plan for haze — namely utilities — have noted the high cost of installing emissions-reducing scrubbers for sulfur dioxide requirements. Utilities have estimated costs in the hundreds of millions and up to $1 billion for each of the state’s largest coal plants. The EPA has estimated costs of less than $500 million for those coal plants.
The EPA’s plan for Arkansas is officially in place, encoded into the Federal Register last fall. Hoping to take control of the state’s compliance, Arkansas has proposed revisions to a state implementation plan for haze. Because the federal plan is already adopted into regulations, the state plan must overcome legal hurdles before it can be accepted. The federal plan would have to be rescinded, a process that requires public comment and a detailed legal rationale for repeal.
The EPA, under the new leadership of Scott Pruitt, has said it is reconsidering portions of the federal plan.
“If EPA determines through the ongoing reconsideration process that revisions to other parts of the [federal implementation plan] are warranted, we will propose such revisions in a future rulemaking action,” the EPA’s proposal reads.
In its proposal, the EPA says it did not adequately consider the concerns raised by stakeholders about the 18-month compliance timeline for nitrogen oxide and subsequent logistical issues. The change would affect three coal plants: Flint Creek in Gentry, White Bluff in Redfield and Independence in Newark.
The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality’s plan calls for utilities to use the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule instead of the Best Available Retrofit Technology Rule to comply with nitrogen oxide requirements. According to Stuart Spencer, associate director in charge of the office of air quality for the department, the state is essentially given a nitrogen oxide allowance, and utilities can meet their budgets or buy credits from utilities that are below their budgets.
Arkansas is already required to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions under the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, which went into effect in 2011 and has since been challenged in court.
Spencer said the CrossState Air Pollution Rule requirements were more flexible for utilities but not necessarily easier to comply with. He said he anticipated some plants might install low-nitrogen oxide burners on their plants anyway because burners guarantee compliance.
The state intends to unveil
a revamp of the sulfur dioxide portions of its implementation plan in the coming months, Spencer said.
Utilities have responded positively to the proposed changes.
Officials with Arkansas Electric Cooperatives Inc. noted the state plan leaves out the Independence coal plant, of which the cooperatives own a minority share. The federal plan includes the plant, which the cooperatives and Entergy — the majority owner — argued was not legally required to be a part of the plan.
“Entergy supports the state’s proposed changes to its state implementation plan for Regional Haze and CrossState Air Pollution,” a company statement reads.
But the Sierra Club opposes the changes, noting they eliminate the requirement for certain plants to reduce
emissions in their own communities.
“Why should Arkansans have to live next to dirty coal-burning power plants that lack modern pollution controls for pollutants like nitrogen oxide?” said Glen Hooks, president of the group’s Arkansas chapter.
The EPA will accept public comments on its proposed changes until Sept. 22. It will hold a public hearing at 3 p.m. Aug. 23 at the Arkansas Public Service Commission in Little Rock. The suggested changes are available on the Federal Register’s website.
The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality will hold a public hearing on its proposed changes at 2 p.m. Aug. 14 at its North Little Rock headquarters. It will accept public comments through the end of that day. The proposed revisions are available on the department’s website.
“Why should Arkansans have to live next to dirty coal-burning power plants that lack modern pollution controls for pollutants like nitrogen oxide?”
— Glen Hooks, president of the Sierra Club’s Arkansas chapter