State, EPA look at op­tions to de­crease wilder­ness haze

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS - EMILY WALKENHORST

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

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