After the news of the Environment Protection Agency announcement concerning new guidelines for carbon emissions at existing power plants had a chance to settle in on Monday, the reviews on President Obama’s controversial proposal are coming in fast and furious.
The plan mandates a 30 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants by 2030, mainly targeting the nation’s fleet of more than 600 coal-fired plants that currently supplying the lion’s share of the nation’s electricity needs.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, coal has been the largest source of electricity generation in the United States for over 60 years. However, its annual share of total net generation declined from nearly 50 percent in 2007 to 39 percent in 2013 as some power producers switched to more competitively-priced natural gas.
Still, besides the decidedly upbeat statements from former President Bill Clinton and the Sierra Club of Arkansas, the reaction from politicians and most of the stakeholders in Arkansas who will help determine Arkansas’ future power generation needs were mostly negative.
However, an executive for the state’s largest utility said the EPA’s 645-page proposal still has a lot of room for change between now and the end of June 30, 2015, when Arkansas and other states must submit their final plans to the federal government.
“It can change and can change a lot,” said Chuck Barlow, vice president of environmental policy and strategy for Entergy Corp. “There are a lot of places where the EPA asks for comment before it is final, so it is not set in stone.”
Barlow added that Entergy’s main concern is how nuclear energy will be accounted for under the new environmental policy. New Orleans-based Entergy operates the nation’s largest fleet of nuclear power plants, including Entergy Arkansas’ Nuclear I and II facility in Russellville.
“It is unclear how our nuclear generation is going to be treated,” Barlow said. “That is something that is going to be discussed over the coming year. We want (our) nuclear megawatts to participate and get credit just like everything else.”
Entergy’s nuanced comments stand in contrast to other stakeholders who have painted the EPA’s rules mostly in black-and-white terms.
For example, Duane Highley, president and CEO of Arkansas Electric Cooperatives Corp., said he was “disappointed” with the EPA’s proposal because it will reduce the state’ use of coal
“Although the proposed rule leaves the precise implementation details to the states to develop, the inevitable result will be the use of more expensive fuels, such as natural gas,” Hughley said. “Our nation needs and deserves a diverse energy supply portfolio to keep the lights on. By reducing the amount of coal in our generation mix, prices will go up and reliability could go down.”
Currently, coal provides nearly 80 percent of AECC’s power generation. That dependence on “life threatening air pollution” is why the Sierra Club of Arkansas said the president’s proposal to curb carbon pollution from power plants “will not only save billions of dollars, it will also save lives.”
“Sierra Club fully supports the plan to cut dangerous carbon pollution from power plants,” said Glen Hooks, director for the Arkansas Sierra Club chapter. “Reducing carbon pollution is good for both our environmental and public health, plus it will create thousands of clean energy and energy efficiency-related jobs right here in Arkansas. We look forward to working closely with utilities and regulators to help clean up Arkansas’ carbon emissions.”
Former President Clinton said the new environmental guidelines present both “challenges and opportunities” for Arkansas and other states to create a unique energy plan.
“It gives states the flexibility to meet their carbon reduction goals through their own formulas, providing utilities, their employees, and the people they serve the power to choose the options that work best for them, including energy efficiency, investments in natural gas and renewable energy, and improvements in old power plants that emit the most carbon dioxide,” the former president wrote on his Clinton Foundation blog. “States will need to involve all their stakeholders —- utilities and their workers, businesses and their employees, and citizen rate-payers -— to fashion solutions to fit their particular challenges and opportunities.”
However, Arkansas’ congressional delegation was unanimous in their disapproval of President Obama’s so-called “Clean Power Plan,” which is the centerpiece of his global Climate Action Plan.
Republican congressional leaders, including Sen. John Boozman and Reps. Tim Griffin and Tom Cotton, all called attention to a highly-cited report by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The report predicts the EPA proposal will cause the U.S. economy to take a hit of at least $51 billion and destroy more than 200,000 jobs each year between now and 2030 – nearly the opposite of the Sierra Club’s upbeat analysis.
“President Obama’s proposed regulations for power plants will hurt Arkansas families, farmers and businesses, without providing any significant benefits,” Boozman said.
Griffin likened the president’s plan to a military assault.
“The President’s ‘war on coal’ hurts Arkansans, as we rely on coal for nearly half of our electric power,” Griffin said in a statement. “Instead of a ‘war’ on any one energy source, we must focus on an affordable, all-American energy policy that promotes job growth at home and makes us less dependent on foreign.”
Cotton, who is locked in a battle for a U.S. Senate seat with Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor, called EPA’s chief nominee Gina McCarthy a “radical environmentalist” and attempted to tie President Obama’s proposal to his Democratic opponent.
“Arkansans will experience more job losses and higher electricity rates, because Senator Pryor is helping President Obama implement his radical environmental agenda,” Cotton campaign manager Justin Brasell said in a statement.
But Pryor took a softer tone, saying he urges consumers, businesses and utilities to make their concerns known during the EPA’s comment period.
“I have serious concerns that the EPA’s proposal will undermine the affordable and reliable electricity Arkansans currently enjoy,” Pryor said. “I will continue to speak with Arkansas stakeholders to gauge how this rule could impact our state’s economy and jobs.”
Teresa Marks, director of the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality, said her department and Arkansas Public Service Commission officials have scheduled a meeting to discuss the EPA proposal on June 25 with about 20 stakeholder groups representing utilities, state agencies, environmental advocates, energy efficiency experts, consumers and other interested parties.
Originally, the EPA set the deadline to finalize the standards by June 1, 2015. States, including Arkansas, were required to submit their implementation plans to EPA by June 30, 2016. Monday’s announcement, however, opened the door for those dates to be moved back or changed.