Thursday, August 28, 2014 - 17:20:00
On Thursday, the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ)
and the Public Service Commission (PSC)
held a stakeholder meeting to discuss the economic impact of the EPA's Clean Power Plan
, the major new proposed rule that aims to curtail carbon dioxide emissions by imposing higher standards on existing power plants over the next 15 years. The first in the series of stakeholder meetings —
which bring together regulators, power industry executives and environmental groups — was held in June
; the public comment period on the proposed rule ends on October 16th.
Today, power companies and the Chamber of Commerce
made the case that the EPA carbon rule is a job killer. Cutting back on carbon emissions means burning less coal in lieu of cleaner fuels (ie, natural gas and renewables), which translates to higher electric rates and therefore a hit to the potential hit to the manufacturing sector. Dan Byers
, from the US Chamber of Commerce's Institute for 21st Century Energy
, said that higher power costs will encourage manufacturers to move overseas.
"Because U.S. businesses compete on a global scale, the electricity and related price increases resulting from EPA’s rule will severely disadvantage energy intensive, trade-exposed industries such as chemicals, manufacturing, steel, and pulp and paper," said Byers in his presentation. (That powerpoint, along with the other presentations both pro and con, are available on the ADEQ website
When asked a pointed question from Glen Hooks
of the Sierra Club
about opposition to the rule, Byers responded that "it's not necessarily so much a binary thing of support or oppose" but a matter of making it more amenable to business. Indeed — the rule is still malleable and the point of stakeholder meetings like these is to solicit input about how to shape it. But Byers' statement in pretty stark contrast to Randy Zook
, head of the state chamber, who earlier this summer told a legislative committee that the flexibility afforded by EPA is akin to "giving you four knives to choose from to slit your wrists." He told me today that he stood by such sentiments.
"I'm not going to be polite about stating its effects on the economy of Arkansas," he said. "It's an incredible disruption, a historic disruption."
Such bomb-throwing from Zook — and from elected officials of both parties eager to lambaste the EPA
, however impotently — is standard issue rhetoric. But it's at odds with the more reasoned and nuanced perspective of energy industry experts who are now focused more on negotiating the details of the carbon reduction plan rather than stonewalling it entirely.
of Arkansas Electric Cooperatives
said that EPA's implementation timeline was way too fast. "It's not a glide path, but a crash landing," said Highley.
Highley also warned that the carbon reduction targets EPA sets for Arkansas would mean shuttering coal-burning power plants. "Given these [projected] reductions, it is very likely we would have to close something," he said in his presentation, "and White Bluff
are prime targets." Those are the oldest and dirtiest two of Arkansas' five coal-burning plants. Closing White Bluff alone would lose 1,237 jobs. Highley also warned that rates would shoot up for customers, residential and industrial alike.
Those rate hikes could be offset, suggested Ken Smith
of the Arkansas Advanced Energy Association (
AAEA). Arkansas Electric Cooperatives and others already provide assistance (some public, some not) to low-income ratepayers struggling to keep their lights on. There's no reason why assistance couldn't be adjusted to help the poor cope with this change.
Contra the power industry, the AAEA also said the carbon rule would create jobs on net by increasing investment in energy efficiency, which is now a $1.5 billion industry in Arkansas. It results in more than 12,500 jobs, said the AAEA presentation. A major component of the proposed EPA rule is upping efficiency significantly — which includes everything from insulating homes to improving industrial electricity consumption — and AAEA says that increase would create thousands more jobs, more than offsetting power plant closures.
There's no doubt that closure of the White Bluff and Independence coal plants would be economically devastating for the communities they're located in. But then, there's also no doubt among the vast majority of scientists that cutting back carbon emissions is a necessity; the proposed EPA rule doesn't go far enough, but it makes a good start. Also, said Hooks of the Sierra Club, those plants are nearing the end of their lifespan anyway in the coming years — this rule will merely hasten their demise.
Finally, aside from climate change, there are other good public health arguments for shutting down the dirtiest of coal plants. Dr. James Phillips
of the Arkansas Department of Health
described the multiple threats posed by fine particulate matter released into the atmosphere from burning coal, including asthma, COPD and cognitive decline. Health risks are especially great in a 30 mile radius of the plants. Burning coal also sends mercury into the air, a health risk whose gravity is only now being fully understood.
"Mercury is the new lead," said Phillips. Aside from its well-known toxicity, it's also been linked to lower cognitive ability in children at alarmingly low concentrations. Recent water testing has demonstrated mercury is present in potentially unsafe concentrations in a number of Arkansas rivers and lakes. In 20 counties, he said, public advisories have been issued to limit the consumption of some fish caught wild, especially for pregnant women.
Thursday, August 28, 2014 - 17:12:00
Amy Harder, who covers energy policy for the Wall Street Journals, says President Obama
will nominate Colette Honorable, chair of the Arkansas Public Service Commission
, to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
The possibility of that appointment
has been circulating for some time.
Honorable was reappointed to a six-year PSC term and designated chairman in 2011 by Gov. Mike Beebe. She'd worked on his staff when he was attorney general.
The White House reportedly has made the announcement now. She'll have to face Senate confirmation hearings.
The defeat of an earlier appointment — Ron Binz, another Little Rock native
— paved the way for Honorable's appointment. Binz, a Colorado regulator, was seen by some in the industry
as too friendly to renewable energy. He insisted he wasn't opposed to use of coal to generate electricity. Honorable has presided over the expansion of coal generation in Arkansas.
Sen. Mark Pryor commented:
There is no one more qualified for this position than Colette Honorable, and I strongly support her nomination. Colette is a long-time advocate for clean energy and an avid supporter of consumer protection. When I served as Arkansas’s Attorney General, I brought her on as a leading assistant attorney general because of her strong commitment to protecting Arkansans. She has built on this experience with notable leadership at the Arkansas Public Service Commission, National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, and National Petroleum Council. As a FERC Commissioner, these qualities will serve our nation well as demand for efficient, reliable and affordable energy services continues to rise.
Thursday, August 28, 2014 - 15:24:00
Here's Thursday's open line and the video roundup of news today — Obamacare expansion; new polling; Republican vote suppression; Uber comes to Fayetteville, and a fight about the best dessert.
* ARKANSAS NATIVE'S UPHILL CONGRESSIONAL RUN
: Here's a good profile
on Mark Lester,
the Little Rock native and college professor and lawyer who's gotten the Democratic nomination for a strongly Republican House district around Birmingham now open thanks to retirement. He says he's not naive about his chances. But he has a case to make about partisan gridlock, working across party lines and gerrymandered congressional districts. An appeal to reason in Alabama. That's the pitch.
* TURNER GRAIN
: Arkansas Business is reporting today
on some court developments related to the troubled commodities dealer in Brinkley that has left many farmers holding the bag on unpaid crop sales. It includes testimony about the last contact one business associate had with Jason Coleman, who led one of the troubled companies and has been unavailable since the story broke. He said he was talking from a hospital and was apologetic. He offered to sign over a truck and four-wheeler as a gesture of good faith over the unpaid claims. He reportedly said he'd been on the "wrong side" of some business deals. A judge exempted the associate, Gerald Loyd and his Turner Commodiities, from an order freezing some assets of Turner Grain. He said it was not connected to claims against Turner Grain. Arkansas Business also has details
from a second lawsuit in Lonoke County on claims by farmers.