Survey: Arkansas Voters Support EPA’s Carbon Emission Rules, Hutchinson Administration Preps For Legal Battle

by Wesley Brown ([email protected]) 170 views 

As the Hutchinson administration prepares to battle the federal Environment Protection Agency on its plan to shutter the state’s fleet of coal-fired power plants, the Arkansas Advanced Energy Association (AAEA) released a poll Thursday (March 19) saying that most Arkansas voters strongly support “advanced energy and a transition to a low carbon economy.”

“Overwhelming voter support for clean energy offers a real opportunity for our elected officials to lead The Natural State to a better energy future that makes clean, secure and affordable energy more accessible to Arkansas,” said Steve Patterson, Executive Director of the Arkansas Advanced Energy Association, the business voice affiliated with the Arkansas Advanced Energy Foundation (AAEF).

Patterson said the recent poll prompted the (AAEA) to launch a new public education and advocacy initiative called “Arkansas Energy Now.” Arkansas-based Impact Management Group conducted the poll for the foundation, officials said.

Officials said the Arkansas Energy Now campaign is a growing network of more than 1,500 energy consumers that believe in a better energy future by making cleaner, safer and more affordable energy technologies available to Arkansas. The network supports a variety of clean energy technologies from efficiency to natural gas, solar, wind, geothermal and alternative fuels.

“Arkansas voters are very clear, they want our elected officials to play a larger role in delivering more clean energy options to The Natural State at an affordable price point,” said Patterson, adding that he believes clean energy generation does not automatically spike electricity costs for consumers.

According to the AAEF poll, 81% of Arkansas voters said it was important for Arkansas’ political leaders to develop policies that encourage energy efficiency and expand access to renewable energy. Another 72% of voters believe it’s a good idea to retire one or more coal-fired power plants and replace them with natural gas-fired power plants as well as using more renewable energy sources and energy efficiency.

Over the next 10 years, Arkansas voters favor incorporating more natural gas (29%), over coal (10%) and nuclear (7%), the poll results showed. Renewable energy was the favorite at 32% and incorporating more energy efficiency was favored by 16% of voters.

Poll results also show that 67% of Arkansas voters favor President Obama’s so-called Clean Power Plan — a rule that would require Arkansas power plants to reduce carbon emissions. Sixty-six percent of voters favored the plan even after hearing arguments against it, according to the survey.

Despite the poll results, Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Attorney General Leslie Rutledge have drawn a line in the sand that they are concerned both about the EPA’s upcoming proposed rules to cut the nation’s carbon emissions, as well as additional regulations to revamp the standards on ground-level ozone or smog, and particulate matter.

In a letter to EPA administrator Gina McCarthy on Dec. 1, Hutchinson urged the administration to postpone the president’s so-called “Clear Power Plan,” which proposes a 30% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants by 2030 from 2005 levels.

Unlike current Gov. Mike Beebe, who largely remained neutral on the EPA’s new rules handed down in early June, Hutchinson is keeping his campaign promise that he will side with coal-friendly opponents who say the Obama administration’s environmental mandate will drive up costs, reduce jobs and lower the standard of living for most Arkansans.

“This means that additional mandates … that close coal powered plants or increase the cost of generating power from coal will cause an increase in costs to Arkansas’s residents and manufacturers,” Hutchinson argued in his letter to McCarthy. “Such increases will negatively affect the economic growth and well-being of Arkansans.”

Hutchinson also said he steadfastly objected to replacing coal-fired electric generation with natural gas.

“Natural gas could be a replacement for cheaper, reliable coal, but without increasing supply and improving the infrastructure of natural gas and other sources of power, the additional demand for natural gas during winter and other cooler months will increase costs … because many Arkansans use natural gas to heat their homes,” the governor wrote.

Rutledge has been even more vocal concerning EPA rules. On Feb. 13, she filed a motion to intervene in a federal lawsuit against the EPA’s proposed 111(d) rule.

On March 9, a U.S. Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia granted intervention status to the state of Arkansas in a case challenging the President Obama’s Clean Power Plan. Rutledge had sought the motion to join the lawsuit with attorneys general from West Virginia, Alabama, Alaska, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Wyoming and Kentucky.

“As Attorney General, I will seek to protect Arkansans against an overreaching federal government that is attempting to implement heavy-handed regulations that go beyond the scope of the law,” she said.

Rutledge also went to the nation’s capital in late February to testify before the House Oversight Subcommittee on the Interior, saying proposed regulations by the EPA would be an “economic disaster” for Arkansas.

More recently, the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality has updated its website under the direction of Hutchinson appointee Becky Keogh, and has signaled that it plans to take the lead from the governor.

ADEQ has relocated much of the information concerning the state’s stakeholder meetings that were convened under Gov. Mike Beebe this summer following the EPA’s announced mandate. That information can now be found here.

ADEQ spokeswoman Katherine Benenati said the ADEQ website has a large volume of information on the EPA carbon emission rules, including a one-page fact sheet from the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity saying there are “many legal and policy questions” about the EPA’s 1,600-page proposed regulations to reduce Arkansas’ aging coal-fired fleet.

Still, EPA administrator Gina McCarthy has not backed down from President Obama’s stance to finalize the carbon emission rules later this summer.

Last month, McCarthy during a conference in Washington, D.C., that the federal agency will take into account the more than 2 million comments from citizens, industry leaders, environmental groups and lawmakers made late last year on the proposed regulations.

“We have made changes as a result of those comments, changes that have always resulted in more flexibility,” McCarthy said. “This rule will be no different.”

In addition to the AAEA, the EPA still has some allies in Arkansas. The Arkansas Sierra Club, Audubon Arkansas and the Arkansas Public Policy Panel have been staunch supporters of the proposed EPA “dirty air” rules.

In December 2014, Brett Kincaid of the Audubon Arkansas, Anna Weeks of the Arkansas Public Policy Panel and the Sierra Club’s Glen Hooks wrote McCarthy a letter advocating that federal environmental regulators move forward with implementing the president’s plan.

“(We) strongly support the use of EPA’s authority under the Clean Air Act to reduce carbon emissions and we commend the Agency on the development of this proposed rule.
Overwhelming evidence exists on the need for reducing carbon emissions and for increasing the speed at which emission reductions are achieved,” the three Arkansas environmental advocates wrote. “This proposal provides the necessary and concrete action to ensure that the US initiates the steps to reduce carbon emissions to the level that must happen over the coming decades.”