Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge has filed a motion in federal court requesting that the state be allowed to intervene in the settlement of a lawsuit between the Sierra Club and the Environmental Protection Agency over a clean air rule.
The issue in question is the Regional Haze Rule, under which the EPA requires states to develop plans to reduce air pollution — such as coal power plant emissions — that contributes to haze. Much like, say, the Affordable Care Act or various federal education requirements, the federal agency sets a certain standard and it’s up to the states to create a plan that implements that standard in a measurable way.
But if a state fails to come up with a satisfactory plan, the EPA can step in and impose its own plan. The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) submitted a haze reduction plan to EPA some years ago, but the federal agency rejected the state’s effort. So in 2014, the Sierra Club sued the EPA to make the federal agency intervene in Arkansas and create its own plan for the state. That suit is now being settled, but Rutledge wants to interpose the state into the agreement.
In a statement, the AG’s office said the previous ADEQ plans were “robust” and that the EPA “is attempting to promulgate a Federal Implementation Plan for Regional Haze that fails to consider the best interests for Arkansas.” Rutledge issued the following statement:
“This is a classic example of a ‘sue and settle’ case … the EPA agreed to the demands of the Sierra Club without any real litigation of the issues and without input from the State. Recent data shows that visibility impairment is improving in Arkansas and this federal rule is unnecessary. It is my duty to protect Arkansans from rate increases that will negatively impact them and offer zero benefit to Arkansas beyond those proposed by the State Plans. I am confident the State will be granted intervention in this case. The EPA should put the interests of Arkansans far ahead of the Sierra Club’s political interests.”
Glenn Hooks of the Sierra Club said, “the state had the opportunity to draft a state plan. They submitted that, and it was rejected. It didn’t do enough to control haze. The major component of the regional haze problem … comes from coal-fired power plants. The state’s plan did not do enough to combat the haze coming from, specifically, White Bluff.”
“It’s long past time to clean up this pollution. They’re required by the Clean Air Act to do that. When you don’t write your own plan, you basically abdicate,” he said. “Everybody talks about how we don’t want these one-size fits all Washington mandate, and then you don’t comply.”
Judd Deere, a spokesperson for the AG’s office, said that the state should be given another chance to come up with a plan, on a longer timetable. “We feel that a plan from the state level, taking into account state interests is the better route,” he said.
If the federal court allows Arkansas to intervene in the suit, Deere said that might lead to further litigation, “or it could be that we are brought into the settlement table, and we try to come up with a date or a timeline that is agreeable to all parties.”
Here’s the attorney general’s motion to intervene, and an associated memo: