Ark. becomes 19th state to stop planning for climate rule

Source: Elizabeth Harball and Edward Klump, E&E reporters • Posted: Friday, March 11, 2016

The director of the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality confirmed Wesnesday that her state is pausing preparations for U.S. EPA’s rule limiting carbon emissions from power plants.

“We want to continue to follow what’s being done, but we will not be taking steps to be doing any implementation of a rule that the courts have found to be put in a position of a stay,” Director Becky Keogh said after a Senate hearing yesterday in Washington, D.C.

Arkansas becomes the 19th state to halt writing an emissions reduction strategy as a result of the Supreme Court’s decision to stay the Clean Power Plan.

On Tuesday, the Arkansas DEQ and Public Service Commission released a statement announcing that a public meeting on the rule has been canceled. It said the “meeting is no longer necessary” because EPA can’t require states to submit initial plans this September following the stay.

“I guess you could argue we are suspending” work on the Clean Power Plan, Keogh said, but she clarified that her state will continue looking at private-sector modeling on the rule. The statement issued Tuesday said the Arkansas PSC and DEQ will still hold “a technical session on energy sector modeling later this year.”

“We think that is useful information for us and will help us in implementation of other environmental rules that affect the energy sector in Arkansas,” Keogh said.

She added, “In terms of canceling the meeting, we felt like it was conserving resources from ourselves and stakeholders since it was all focused on a specific requirement.”

No ‘balanced seat at the table’

Under the final Clean Power Plan, EPA required Arkansas to make a 37.8 percent emissions rate reduction from 2012 levels by 2030.

Keogh spoke critically about EPA regulations in general at the hearing yesterday with the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

She said in her testimony that in past years, “both the EPA and the states had a relatively balanced seat at the table.”

Now, the state is “forced to eat what is served,” she said.

The Arkansas regulator said after the hearing that following through with the Clean Power Plan requires “a number of resources just in the first year of implementation,” and that was a concern given the state’s position on the rule’s legality.

Environmentalists in Arkansas object to the state’s decision to halt work on the climate rule. Glen Hooks, director of the Sierra Club in Arkansas, said by email that planning is important for the state.

“Arkansas leaders and stakeholders should absolutely continue working on a strong plan to clean up our state’s air,” Hooks said. “The temporary stay does not mean we are required to stop planning — we should keep moving ahead and be ready when the Clean Power Plan is upheld in the courts.”

He said the Sierra Club has engaged proactively with the DEQ and PSC on the Clean Power Plan and started discussions before the plan was in a draft form.

“That’s the kind of forward-thinking leadership that transcends partisanship and puts Arkansas first,” he said. “Stopping that process now is a mistake that I hope our state leaders will reconsider.”

Not ‘completely shutting down’?

Regulators in states that support the Clean Power Plan also contend that halting planning might put states at a disadvantage should the rule ultimately be upheld.

“My understanding is that states who are challenging the CPP are still concerned that they not be left in the lurch in the event that the [Clean Power Plan] is upheld in the courts,” Deborah Markowitz, secretary of the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, said after testifying at the Senate hearing. “And many states learned a lesson with Obamacare, that they banked on a successful challenge to the law. Then they lost that challenge and didn’t give themselves enough time to build in the compliance that this required.”

Some clean energy advocates in Arkansas don’t view the DEQ’s decision as the state’s last word on EPA’s climate rule.

Steve Patterson, executive director of the Arkansas Advanced Energy Association, said the situation in Arkansas could be worse, citing the state’s intention to continue studying modeling efforts. He believes the process will likely be preserved in some form.

“Our disappointment lies mainly with the stay order that was issued by the Supreme Court,” Patterson said, adding that “unlike some states, it doesn’t appear that we’re completely shutting down.”

Read more about Arkansas’ response to the Clean Power Plan here.

Reporter Pola Lem contributed.