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Arkansas environmental director says state has flexibility with EPA plan

story from Talk Business & Politics, a content partner with The City Wire

Arkansas’ efforts to grapple with a new EPA rule that will have a huge impact on the economy is still in the education phase and one key regulator says it’s “too early” to tell which direction the state may go in complying with the rule.

Teresa Marks, director of the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality, appeared on this week’s edition of Talk Business & Politics, which airs Sundays at 9 a.m on KATV Channel 7.

“The scope of this plan is wide and it has some far-ranging implications,” Marks said. “What we’re looking at now is how this is going to work in Arkansas. The purpose of this group is not to decide whether or not this rule is legal or whether or not we’re going to attack the rule.”

A stakeholder group of business, regulatory and environmental interests have been meeting all summer since President Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency rolled out the so-called Clean Power Plan, a proposal to reduce carbon dioxide emissions 30% from existing power plants by the year 2030 from 2005 levels. Due to Arkansas’ energy source make-up, the EPA mandate is expected to require the state to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 44% once implemented.

There are four “building blocks,” as Marks described them, that are the components of the rule that she said the state has flexibility with which to work.

One block requires current coal-fired electricity generation units to become more efficient. Another could push Arkansas to shift its reliance on coal-fired power to natural gas combined cycle power. Marks said this could amount to up to 70% of Arkansas’ emission reduction goals.

A third component would push the state to rely more heavily on renewable energy sources, which she said includes wind, solar, and nuclear power. The final “building block” encourages more energy conservation at the consumer level.

Marks said the state has some flexibility in deciding how those four blocks might account for Arkansas’ efforts to meet the EPA rule. Marks said she’s unsure if Arkansas will pursue a state-specific plan or join with other sister states in a regional plan to meet the Environmental Protection Agency’s order.

Marks said while constituencies differ on the positives and negatives of the regulation, there is consensus on how quickly Arkansas may have to react to implementing the final version, which is currently expected on June 1, 2015.

“One thing I think everyone across the board is concerned about is the timing of the rule,” Marks said. “We need to determine how we can react to it in order to cause the least harm to economic development and still provide the environmental benefit that we need.”

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Marks said Arkansas would have until 2017 to submit a state plan to comply with the rules and would have until 2018 to submit a regional plan. She said it is “too early” to determine right now which direction Arkansas may go.

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