EPA pursues cross-state emissions cuts; Sierra Club seeks retirement of Northwest Arkansas coal plant

by Jeff Della Rosa ([email protected]) 1,172 views 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently announced plans to reduce ozone-forming emissions of oxides of nitrogen (NOx) to protect downwind states from air pollution from upwind states. Following the announcement, environmental group Sierra Club named the coal-fired plant in western Benton County a contributor to cross-state air pollution and called for its retirement.

The EPA’s proposed action would ensure the 26 states, including Arkansas, that are covered in the proposal would meet the Good Neighbor requirements in the Clean Air Act by reducing pollution that contributes to problems attaining and maintaining the 2015 Ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standards in downwind states.

The proposed Good Neighbor plan to address ozone pollution is expected to prevent premature deaths, asthma attacks and respiratory illness, according to the EPA. In 2026, the EPA projects that the proposed rule would prevent about 1,000 premature deaths, 2,400 hospital and emergency room visits, 1.3 million cases of asthma symptoms and 470,000 school absence days. The public health benefits would be a result of emissions reductions of NOx, from sources in the power sector by 29% and heavy industry by 15% across the 26 states.

According to the Sierra Club, the United States has more than 150 coal-burning power plants that lack modern NOx pollution control technologies with no plans to retire before 2026. The group noted this includes the Flint Creek coal plant in western Benton County. NOx emissions in the presence of heat and sunlight create ground-level ozone or smog. The emissions can affect air quality and public health in states up to hundreds of miles downwind.

Edward Smith, a spokesman for the Sierra Club, said Missouri is a downwind state from the Flint Creek plant, while Arkansas is a downwind state from Texas and Oklahoma emissions.

According to the EPA, the agency will accept comments on the proposed Good Neighbor plan for 60 days after publication in the Federal Register. The EPA also will host a virtual hearing on the proposed plan. Link here for more details about the plan.

“The announcement is a positive step for public health, especially for people living downwind from coal-fired power plants in Arkansas,” said Uta Meyer, executive committee member for the Sierra Club Arkansas chapter. “For too long, marginalized and overburdened communities have shouldered an unfair burden on their health and well-being without the ability to protect themselves and their families from dangerous air pollution… SWEPCO could alleviate these problems by retiring its Flint Creek coal plant and investing in clean energy.”

Southwestern Electric Power Co. (SWEPCO), a utility of Columbus, Ohio-based American Electric Power, operates the 516-megawatt Flint Creek plant that’s co-owned by SWEPCO and Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corp., a Little Rock-based distributor of power to more than 600,000 members of 17 electric distribution cooperatives in Arkansas.

SWEPCO spokesman Peter Main highlighted the NOx controls upgrades in 2015-2016 and the utility’s investments in renewable energy projects.

“Flint Creek operates with some of the lowest permitted emissions limits of any coal-fueled generating unit in the United States,” Main said. “Flint Creek is a mainstay of the electric grid in Northwest Arkansas and is part of SWEPCO’s diverse energy resource mix, ensuring reliable power for customers across three states, including SWEPCO and electric cooperatives in Northwest Arkansas.

“SWEPCO has significant investments in renewable energy, including $1.1 billion in the North Central Energy Facilities project, which is bringing 810 megawatts of wind energy to SWEPCO customers in Arkansas and Louisiana and 469 megawatts of additional wind energy under power purchase agreements. SWEPCO also has a pending request for proposals for more than 3,000 megawatts of wind and solar power.”

Main added that the Sundance and Maverick wind farms of the North Central Energy Facilities project started to operate last year, and the Traverse wind farm is expected to begin operating in the next two months.

Asked how EPA’s proposed plans might impact the Flint Creek plant, Main said “we are in the early stages of reviewing the proposed rule and how it will impact SWEPCO’s regulated generating facilities.  AEP will engage in the rulemaking process and comment, as appropriate, at a later date.”