EPA revises state’s regional haze plan, withdraws Obama-era regulations

by Wesley Brown ([email protected]) 739 views 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said Tuesday (Sept. 10) it recently approved revisions to Arkansas’ clean-air plan for regional haze and withdrew a portion of the Obama-era federal plan that addressed “downwind” dirty-air emissions from Entergy coal-fired power plants and factories that cross state lines.

The state plan, first submitted by the state Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) in 2015, addresses haze that impacts visibility at national parks and wilderness areas in Arkansas and downwind states. The revisions address Clean Air Act requirements for particulate matter and sulfur dioxide as they relate to the best available retrofit technology for electric generating units.

As expected, the final ruling by the regional office of the EPA in Dallas left state environmental regulators and Entergy Arkansas officials relieved after several years of attempting to complete a final version of the state’s implementation plan under two federal administrations with opposing regulatory philosophies.

“We appreciate and applaud this action by EPA. It is a remarkable day for Arkansans and all who have worked to restore state control,” Becky Keogh, secretary of the newly created Arkansas Department of Energy and Environment, said in a statement. “Arkansas is well-positioned with this approved plan to achieve and surpass the air-quality goals set in federal law, while realizing over $2 billion of savings to ratepayers.”

For its part, Arkansas’ largest electric utility said it was pleased the EPA approved Phase II of the SIP. Like many U.S. utility operators, Entergy and its subsidiaries in Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi and New Orleans are retiring their aging coal-fired fleet and moving away from coal and other fossil fuels over the next decade in favor of cheaper and cleaner energy options such as natural gas, wind and solar.

“The (EPA) plan is consistent with Entergy Arkansas’ ongoing strategy to transform the company’s generation portfolio to better meet customers’ needs today and in the future with cleaner, highly efficient resources of electricity,” said Arkansas’ largest electric utility, which is now led by CEO Laura Landreaux. “Entergy’s Integrated Resource Plan includes moving to new generating resources in a way that is economically beneficial to our stakeholders.”

EPA said it worked with Arkansas for the last two years to update the state’s plan and replace the federal implementation plan. States must submit plans to EPA for achieving progress to reduce harmful emissions of nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide and particulate matter. The Clean Air Act establishes as a national goal the prevention of any future, and the remedying of any existing, man-made impairment of visibility in 156 of the nation’s most treasured national parks and wilderness areas.

The Regional Haze rule requires states to make progress toward achieving natural visibility conditions. Arkansas’ plan includes the reduction of sulfur dioxide, oxides of nitrogen and particulate matter using best-available retrofit technology at seven electric-generating units. In addition, the revisions address all remaining regional haze requirements for sources in Arkansas except for two units at the Domtar Ashdown Mill, which are included in a separate clean-air plan revision that EPA is currently reviewing.

“States are best suited to run their clean-air programs, and Arkansas’ clean-air plan gives our state partner the flexibility needed to improve its air quality,” said EPA Regional Administrator Ken McQueen. “This plan ensures that the skies over Arkansas’ scenic areas will be protected for future generations.”

Three years ago, the EPA on Sept. 1, 2016 released a final draft of its plan to help Arkansas and Missouri meet Clean Air Act requirements to cut about 68,500 tons of sulphur dioxide emissions per year and 15,100 tons of smog-like nitrogen dioxide per year.

That proposal, however, rejected a portion of the state Department of Environmental Quality’s (ADEQ) haze plan, called Best Available Retrofit Technology, or BART. The EPA said the BART plan should have made “reasonable progress” toward protecting the Arkansas Buffalo National River, Ouachita National Forest and Caney Creek wilderness area from haze and the effects of pollution. The proposed guidelines also address “downwind” haze problems from the Entergy power plants and factories that cross state lines. ADEQ is reviewing the Entergy-environmental group agreement.

The EPA’s final 360-page proposal, called the Federal Implementation Plan (FIP), relied heavily on the state’s BART evaluations, but went several steps further by establishing goals, deadlines and long-term strategies that meet the EPA’s “reasonable progress” mandate. For example, the EPA plan limited emissions and five-year compliance schedules for stationary pollution sources across the state, including putting scrubbers, or pollution control devices, on nine smokestacks at six of the state’s largest power plants and factories to limit ozone and carbon dioxide emissions. It also put the White Bluff and Independence power plants on the EPA’s list for possible shutdown of existing power plants by 2030.

In response to the federal plan, former Entergy Arkansas CEO Hugh McDonald proposed what he called “a more reasonable, long-term, multi-unit approach to address Arkansas’ regional haze” in response to the federal EPA’s rejection of the state’s earlier plan. However, the Sierra Club filed a motion for summary judgment in U.S. District Court alleging the EPA neglected its duties to create and finalize a plan to reduce regional haze in the state’s wilderness areas. In the court filing, Sierra Club officials argued the EPA was obligated to issue a federal plan within two years of disapproving the ADEQ’s plan.

Once President Donald Trump took office in early 2017, he immediately rolled back nearly all environmental protections and climate rules implemented by the EPA under his predecessor, including the far-reaching Clean Power Plan that called for the mothballing of the nation’s coal powered utility fleet.

By late 2018, Entergy Arkansas, the Sierra Club and a coalition of environmental groups reached an agreement to shut down two of the state’s oldest coal-fired power plants, despite a protest from Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge. The Arkansas subsidiary of New Orleans-based Entergy Corp. has said it will go before the PSC by 2022 to seek approval of 800 megawatts of renewable generating sources. By 2027, Entergy Arkansas said it also will ask state regulators to approve another 400 megawatts of renewable power, including 181 megawatts of solar power already in the utility’s Arkansas portfolio.

Upon learning of today’s EPA ruling, Sierra Club officials and other environmental groups said the final ruling by the Trump administration replaces a much stronger plan approved by EPA in 2016 that would have resulted in more effective air pollution protections for national parks and wilderness areas in Arkansas and Missouri.

“We are disappointed that the Trump EPA has embraced a plan that will result in dirtier air for Arkansas,” said Arkansas Sierra Club Director Glen Hooks. “Arkansans deserve our strongest efforts at reducing air pollution and we will never stop fighting to make this happen.”

Added Stephanie Kodish, clean air program director for the National Parks Conservation Association: “Nearly every single one of our national parks is suffering from serious air pollution problems, and Arkansas’ parks are no exception. But today’s action by the EPA only puts Arkansas’ public lands and communities at greater risk.”

Hooks said the Sierra Club will consider all of options, including a possible appeal of the “weaker” EPA plan.