The Obama administration has proposed an EPA regulation to sharply reduce carbon emissions at coal-burning power plants. It could be transformative, if it survives the legal and legislative process.
Under the rule, states will be given a wide menu of policy options to achieve the pollution cuts. Rather than immediately shutting down coal plants, states would be allowed to reduce emissions by making changes across their electricity systems — by installing new wind and solar generation or energy-efficiency technology, and by starting or joining state and regional “cap and trade” programs, in which states agree to cap carbon pollution and buy and sell permits to pollute.
The political fallout was instant, particularly in Arkansas, where most of officialdom lined up behind a new coal-burning power plant in Hempstead County that even some solidly Republican jurisdictions rejected.
Republican Senate candidate Tom Cotton, parroted the U.S. Chamber of Commerce line that the rule would cause economic hardship and higher electric rates. Said his release, “Meanwhile, Senator Pryor has done nothing to stand up to President Obama’s job killing, rate-hiking regulations.”
Glen Hooks, director of the Arkansas chapter of the Sierra Club, cheered the news.
In 2013, Arkansas power plants released nearly 41 million metric tons of carbon pollution—with nearly 85 percent of that coming from just five dirty coal-fired power plants. Three of these older plants (Entergy’s White Bluff and Independence Plants, and SWEPCO’s Flint Creek plant) were constructed in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
“Sierra Club fully supports the plan to cut dangerous carbon pollution from power plants,” said Glen Hooks, Chapter Director for the Arkansas Sierra Club. “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’s carbon emissions.”
UPDATE: Vox notes, amid the Republican bellyaching, that the Republicans proposed tougher rules in 2008. Of course, you remember that it was in Republican think tanks that Obamacare was invented.
ALSO: The Arkansas Electric Co-op, which relies heavily on coal-burning power plants, expresses concern and hopes the coal-friendly regulators at the PSC and ADEQ will come up with a state plan helpful to them.
ALSO: Good analysis from Kevin Drum about how this is same old song from business, wrong before, about costs of regulation. In short: Capitalism works. Alternatives are found.
ALSO: A little CYA playing by Mark Pryor, regrettable but not surprising.
I have serious concerns that the EPA’s proposal will undermine the affordable and reliable electricity Arkansans currently enjoy. I will continue to speak with Arkansas stakeholders to gauge how this rule could impact our state’s economy and jobs.
Last week, I asked the EPA to extend the comment period once this proposal was released. I’m pleased this request was granted, and I would urge consumers, businesses and utilities to make their concerns heard.