Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, who’s long been an opponent of environmental protections, now wants to stand in the way of an agreement to shutter Arkansas’s biggest contributors to climate change.
Rutledge announced today that she had asked the Arkansas Public Service Commission to review a settlement between the Sierra Club, the National Parks Conversation Association and Entergy Arkansas. Under the settlement, Entergy agreed to quit burning coal at its White Bluff plant by the end of 2028, its Independence plant by the end of 2030 and to shutter its remaining operating plant at Lake Catherine by the end of 2027.
The settlement ended a lawsuit filed by the Sierra Club and National Parks Conservation Association, which was about poisoning national forests and parks. Rutledge also said she would petition the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District to intervene in the lawsuit.
I’ve sought comment from Entergy and the Sierra Club.
UPDATE II: Statement from Entergy Arkansas:
This settlement is in the best economic interest of our customers, our employees, our community and the company. It allows us to move forward with plans to replace these older generating plants with newer, highly efficient generation resources without incurring the expense of potentially adding scrubbers to the plants at the cost of $1 billion each. The settlement also allows us to put an end to costly ongoing lawsuits over the use of coal at the plants.
The State Implementation Plan, which was approved by the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality with the support of the Governor, had already included the same cease-to-burn coal date at White Bluff of 2028, consistent with the settlement. We do not believe it would be a wise investment or in the best interest of our customers to sink $2 billion into almost 50-year old plants. Customers are best served with an orderly transition and investment in new, more cost-efficient technology. Any costs related to new investments to replace the generation of these plants is required to be reviewed by the Arkansas Public Service Commission at the time it is proposed.
Glen Hooks, director of Arkansas’s chapter of the Sierra Club, released the following statement:
“Today’s actions by Attorney General Rutledge is another misguided attempt to thwart clean air protections for Arkansans. Our settlement with Entergy Arkansas responsibly transitions two of the largest and dirtiest unscrubbed power plants in the nation to retirement, while also committing to hundreds of megawatts of clean energy for our state. This settlement will mean cleaner air and more clean energy jobs right here in Arkansas.
Rutledge is asking the Public Service Commission to review the shutdown dates, but the PSC is already reviewing this information as part of Entergy’s 2018 Integrated Resource Planning process—a lengthy process in which both the Attorney General’s office and the Sierra Club participated. The shutdown dates contained in our settlement and the IRP submitted to the PSC are exactly the same. And Entergy’s modeling demonstrates that those coal shutdown dates are the least-cost option for Arkansas consumers. Rutledge is asking the PSC to waste taxpayer money by opening a new investigation to review an analysis the PSC is already reviewing.
Since 2010, more than half of our nation’s coal-burning power plants have scheduled their retirement. Burning coal no longer makes environmental or economic sense when clean solar and wind energy prices have plummeted . Entergy Arkansas realizes this, as does the Sierra Club and utilities across the country. That’s why you’re seeing utilities rapidly turning away from coal and toward clean energy.
Together, the White Bluff and Independence coal plants emitted over 42,000 tons of sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions and 20,000 tons of nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions in 2017. These plants rank sixth and thirteenth in combined SO2 and NOx emissions out of the hundreds of power plants across the United States, and have also been linked to increased levels of ozone smog, harming communities in St. Louis and Memphis. The replacement of these plants with clean energy will eliminate 75 percent of the SO2 and 34 percent of the NOx from combined emissions from all the power plants and industrial smokestacks across Arkansas.
The two Entergy coal-burning plants have operated for more than three decades without modern pollution controls. They have been the largest sources of air pollution in Arkansas for decades. Combined, these three power plants are responsible for 59% of the carbon emissions from the entire electric sector in Arkansas. These reductions will significantly improve Arkansas’s air quality while reducing health risks for thousands of Arkansans.
While virtually everyone—regulators, politicians, utilities, and environmental groups—are embracing the economic and environmental benefits of clean energy, Leslie Rutledge is attempting to stand in the way of progress that will greatly benefit our state. Why is our state’s chief legal officer standing up for the dirty and dying coal industry, when she should be—at a minimum—applauding Entergy’s efforts to clean our air and our energy system?
The Sierra Club urges Attorney General Rutledge to embrace Arkansas’s clean energy future. We need state leaders who will stand up for progress in Arkansas—not stand in the way.”
From the attorney general:
LITTLE ROCK – Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge today announced she is asking the Arkansas Public Service Commission to review a pending settlement agreement between Entergy Arkansas LLC, the Sierra Club and the National Parks Conservation Association to determine if the settlement is in the public interest. The settlement agreement would require Entergy to speed up the closing of power plants that it co-owns with Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corporation and a number of municipally-owned electric utilities. The early closure of these plants could raise rates and affect service for over 1.2 million Arkansans served by Entergy and by electric cooperatives, as well as tens of thousands of customers served by municipal electric utilities.
Attorney General Rutledge has also petitioned the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas to intervene in the case as a representative of Arkansas utility ratepayers, to protect the interest of ratepayers and inform the federal court that Entergy’s actions should first be reviewed by state regulatory authorities.
“The terms of the settlement between Entergy and the Sierra Club will directly impact Arkansans’ utility bills,” said Attorney General Rutledge. “This settlement has not been properly vetted by the Public Service Commission, my office or other agencies that have the public’s interest at heart. Because of the potential negative impacts on Arkansas citizens and businesses, I am seeking an investigation by Entergy’s state regulator, the PSC, and intervention in federal court to ensure that the State’s interest and those of its citizens and businesses are adequately protected.”
The complaint filed in Sierra Club v. Entergy alleges violations of the Clean Air Act at Independence Steam Electric Station and White Bluff Steam Election Station. The settlement agreement commits Entergy to a number of actions that would impact plant operations at both locations over the next decade. The costs of those actions will ultimately be borne by Arkansas utility ratepayers.