Burning coal in Logan County? | Arkansas Blog

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Burning coal in Logan County?

Posted By on Sun, Jul 4, 2010 at 5:13 PM

This news release from a citizens group was a new one on me, but it seems, at best, in the idle talk stage at the moment. Forewarned and all that ....

Citizens to Protect the River Valley
News Release July 4, 2010

Brian Bragg (479) 938-2368
Kathy Keathley (479) 438-1557
Ruth Beshoner (479) 979-7256

State Officials Reassure Logan County Neighborhood
A Coal-Burning Industrial Plant Is Not Imminent

MORRISON BLUFF, Arkansas — More than 50 north Logan County neighbors convened just before the holiday weekend to hear state officials explain that a coal-burning plant proposed near Morrison Bluff has no official standing yet.
“I can assure you that no application has been filed for such a proposal,“ said Karen Bassett, chief deputy director of the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ). ”Our department is not aware of any project in this area.“
Ms. Bassett traveled from Little Rock on July 1 to meet with the newly formed Citizens to Protect the River Valley, a community action group which sprang up last month after an outside investor proposed an industrial development in this rural area adjoining the Arkansas River.
Joining the ADEQ official to answer the group’s questions were State Representative John Paul Wells (D-Paris) and Lev Guter, a field organizer from the Sierra Club’s Little Rock office. John Hicks, the community affairs aide from Sen. Blanche Lincoln’s office in Fayetteville, also addressed the attendees briefly to assure them they will have the senator’s attention in any future discussion of the matter.
State Rep. Wells, a veteran legislator who is virtually certain to win election to the Arkansas Senate next fall, said he has conferred with Gov. Mike Beebe’s staff on several occasions since the coal plant proposal surfaced earlier this year. The legislator said he was told clearly that “there will be no coal-burning plant in Morrison Bluff” if the governor’s office has its way.
“Beebe is the strongest governor this state has had in a long time,” Rep. Wells declared, “and if he doesn’t want something to happen, it’s not going to happen.”
Homeowners in the Morrison Bluff-Scranton area have been anxious since Little Rock attorney Daniel Murray Traylor dropped his unexpected bombshell on the community in April.
Traylor is proposing to leverage his family’s mineral rights in Logan County to advance a “carbon sequestration” project that would turn the abandoned coal mines and empty gas fields in the area into permanent storage reservoirs for carbon dioxide effluent. Carbon dioxide is the number one greenhouse gas contributor to global warming. It is the chief gaseous product from coal-burning power plants, which also produce enormous amounts of ash residue, including toxic fly ash periodically scraped from the interior walls of the smokestacks.
Underground carbon sequestration is a theoretical technology which has never been demonstrated. Some see it as a way for humans to persist in burning coal for electrical power without continuing to devastate Earth’s atmosphere as they are today. Others say hiding carbon dioxide underground would give society no assurance that the gas would remain there permanently.
Chief Deputy Bassett of the ADEQ took on the task of explaining the permit requirements for an Arkansas project that would create air and water pollution, as a project like Traylor’s certainly would. Learning about this process was one of the reasons that Citizens to Protect the River Valley was organized last month.
Residents wanted to know if they could be “ambushed” by an industrial project that had cleared regulatory hurdles without their knowledge. Ms. Bassett assured them that could not happen, with her Arkansas department and the federal Environmental Protection Agency, the state Public Service Commission and other state and federal agencies sure to be on the case.
The process would be transparent, she said, with public notices at each major waypoint and ample opportunity for public comment periods.
When a proposed project has filed an application with ADEQ and the application is deemed free of errors, it is accepted by the department and a notice is published, Ms. Bassett said. The notice appears in print and on the department’s website (http://www.adeq.state.ar.us). This occurs well before any construction can begin, she said.
Many prescribed regulatory steps follow the initial application, with the public having ample opportunity to observe and communicate with regulators and elected officials, she said.
Ms. Bassett cautioned that citizens should take full advantage of public comment periods. Persons who fail to raise specific objections against a project during initial public comment periods will, by law, be barred from commenting in any subsequent appeal process.
Guter, the Sierra Club representative, also discussed the regulatory process and explained the available opportunities for citizens to oppose the issuance of permits. Guter has been involved in the fierce legal struggle in Hempstead County pitting the companies Southwestern Electric Power and its parent American Electric Power against environmentalists and landowners battling the multi-billion-dollar project known as the John W. Turk Jr. plant.
Guter told the Citizens to Protect the River Valley they will need to be prepared to mount a public resistance campaign, to present a united front of opposition if the Logan County coal plant conjecture turns into a tangible proposition. He mentioned signboards, buttons, T-shirt legends and other public displays and demonstrations.
“The other side will do it,” the Sierra Club representative said. “They’ll use propaganda and advertising to sell their message. They’ll have an organized campaign. You should be ready to fight back with the same kind of thing.”
Attorney Traylor, who claims to represent an investor group, says his ancestors acquired most of the mineral rights under Logan County and several other counties extending through western Arkansas and eastern Oklahoma. This occurred after the anthracite coal mining in north Logan County played out in the 1930s and the companies that owned the mines went broke. The Traylors later bought the mineral rights cheaply as a speculative investment.
In applying for grants from the U.S. Department of Energy and the Winrock Foundation, Traylor said his coal-burning operation would utilize barges docking at the currently idle River Port terminal just east of Morrison Bluff. He also proposed a railroad spur off the Union Pacific line north of the river in Johnson County, which could bring coal to the area from mines in the western U.S.
Traylor said his proposed plant would burn coal and “biomass”, which would include agricultural waste such as chicken litter and manure.The Logan County neighbors, the majority of whom have lived in this productive agricultural area for all or most of their lives, left the evening meeting with plans to further organize their resistance efforts. Another meeting of Citizens to Protect the River Valley will be scheduled in the next few weeks to solidify action plans while members watch for Traylor’s next move.

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