Hutchinson vows to fight EPA rules, AG McDaniel meets with EPA official

story by Roby Brock, with Talk Business & Politics, a content partner with The City Wire
roby@talkbusiness.net

GOP gubernatorial candidate Asa Hutchinson laid out a plan to fight Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rules that are being debated over so-called “dirty coal” power plants.

The EPA has asked states for comments on a proposal made by President Obama called the Clean Power Plan, which mandates a 30% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants by 2030 from 2005 levels, mainly targeting the nation’s fleet of more than 600 coal-fired plants that currently supply the lion’s share of the nation’s electricity needs.

Arkansas energy leaders with the state’s largest electric utilities have said the requirement could force closure of existing power plants and would raise rates for consumers. A manufacturers’ study released last week also indicated that Arkansas could lose 10,000 jobs as a result of the EPA rules. Renewable energy supporters say the EPA rules could benefit Arkansas by providing cleaner air and creating new alternative energy jobs.

Hutchinson said, if elected, he would seek the support of the Attorney General and the State Legislature to oppose the EPA rules. While a comment period is still underway until Oct. 16, 2014, Hutchinson said Arkansas should join a lawsuit that 12 states have started in opposition to the federal government rules.

“I’ve seen this train moving before, you better move early,” he said. “I want to send a signal — nationally and in Arkansas — that this is a position I will take.”

Hutchinson said he expects the current 12-state case challenging the rules’ authority to make its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. He also indicated that he thought the costs to join the existing lawsuit would be minimal and that Arkansas’ addition to the litigation would provide “more strength in numbers,” which he said would make the legal challenge stronger.

While he has visited with GOP Attorney General nominee Leslie Rutledge on the issue, as well as Republican leadership in the Arkansas House and Senate, Hutchinson said he has yet to speak to Attorney General Dustin McDaniel (D) or Democratic AG nominee Nate Steel. He said he planned to visit with them regarding the lawsuit. Rutledge has said many times this year that she would use the Attorney General’s office to push back on “federal overreach.”

McDaniel met on Monday (Aug. 4) with Avi Garbow, General Counsel of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, to discuss the EPA rule. McDaniel also outlined issues in a letter to the EPA.

“I’m very appreciative that General Counsel Garbow made time to meet with me today to discuss how the proposed rule may affect Arkansas,” McDaniel said. “The meeting was productive and a step in the right direction.”

Steel, who announced in June that he had “serious concerns” over the EPA’s new emission guidelines, said he would exercise caution before jumping into litigation over the matter. But he didn’t rule joining the 12-state lawsuit out either.

“While I stand ready to take any action necessary on this issue and protect Arkansas ratepayers, I will not be the kind of Attorney General who sues first and asks questions later. I look forward to learning more about Attorney General McDaniel’s meeting with General Counsel Garbow and how we can best protect Arkansas’s consumers,” Steel said.

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Today, coal-fired power represents 44.5% of Arkansas’ annual net electric generation. Natural gas-fired generation is second at 23.2% and nuclear energy is next at 19.4%. Renewable energy generates about 6.4% of the state’s power needs and hydroelectric fills 5.4% of the state’s electric capacity. Petroleum-fired fuel, once a staple for heating oil, now generates less than one percent of the state’s power (0.6%).

Nationwide, coal has been the largest source of electricity generation in the United States for more than 60 years. However, its annual share of total net generation declined from nearly 50% in 2007 to 39% in 2013 as some power producers switched to more competitively priced natural gas.

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